Two guys walk into a bar. One walks out. Why? He got tired of the other guy saying he was trying so hard but couldn’t make things happen. The guy still sitting at the bar? Philadelphia Flyers General Manager Chuck Fletcher.
All bad jokes aside, nothing has happened yet this offseason for the Flyers. While that’s not entirely a bad thing, it’s becoming increasingly frustrating. The stagnancy is a bit alarming considering moves have already been made. The Oilers just acquired Duncan Keith from Chicago. The Blackhawks return included Caleb Jones, brother of Seth Jones. Chicago seems to be making their pitch to trade for the high-end blueline option. Los Angeles acquired forward Viktor Arvidsson from Nashville for the same price as the Flyers paid to acquire Justin Braun. Two different deals, but two deals made nonetheless.
While the Flyers have come out and said that Dougie Hamilton isn’t their top priority, many were left to believe that Seth Jones would become the top target. Now it seems that Seth Jones isn’t going to happen either. The two biggest fish available and Fletcher has pulled his rod out of the water. It begs the question: what’s Chuck got up his sleeves now? The blueline cannot enter the 2021-22 season as-is. Last season made that concrete. If the writing on the wall is true and the Flyers won’t obtain Hamilton or Jones, the Flyers do have other options. Less than appealing options, but options nonetheless.
Some will be a solid fit, others will not. It’s time to discuss some intriguing players who could help the Flyers next season and rate how likely those deals are to take place, or whether they should take place.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson (ARZ)
The Arizona Coyotes are in a precarious position. They have 12 players under contract for the coming season with about $31.4 million in cap space. Three of those 12 players are defenseman. There’s no rhyme or reason to it, but OEL’s name always seems to surface when it comes to trade rumors. The veteran blueliner is 29 years old and carries an $8.25 million cap hit through 2027. He will be 35 when the deal runs out. Is he worth the eight and a quarter million dollars until then?
With Oliver Ekman-Larsson, you have a guy who is good for a point every two games. He averages just under two hits a game, but his ice time has been dwindling since the 2013-14 season, eight years in a row. This past season, OEL averaged 20:58 per night, a far-cry from his 25:54 in 13-14.
His stats certainly are not trending in the right direction, and they do little to convince that they will right themselves. In terms of a fit for the Flyers, he just doesn’t seem to fit what they are looking for right now. If anything, Fletcher should be looking for a long-term solution to pair with Ivan Provorov, or at the very least, Travis Sanheim. While you can pair Ekman-Larsson with Sanheim, they’re both lefties and OEL’s play declining could end up dragging Sanheim down while he should be building up. A move for Ekman-Larsson would make little sense, especially considering the contract that comes with him.
Rasmus Ristolainen (BUF)
Ristolainen is either a dream or a nightmare depending on who you ask. If you ask the analytical crowd, they want to burn him at the stake as if he were a witch in Salem circa the 1690’s. If you ask the eye-test folks, they would do dirty things to have him on the Flyers. If you ask the individuals in that grey area if it exists, they’re indifferent. Ask me, anything is an upgrade on this defense right now, so why not?
The guys is a monster. He’s 6’4” and 218 pounds. He has four straight 40-point seasons, and likely would have had a fifth had the 2019-20 season played out in full. Forget about offense for a second. He’s averaging two and a half hits a game. For a team that lacks an identity and needs some type of physical presence, Risto is the guy. His career minus 163 is concerning, but not a deal-breaker considering he plays on the Buffalo Sabres.
Ristolainen isn’t the answer to pair with Ivan Provorov. Far from. He is, however, a solid option to potentially pair with Travis Sanheim on that second pairing. His right shot paired with his defensive-mindedness could be the key to unlocking Sanheim’s true offensive potential. We’ve seen the flashes and we’ve all gotten excited about them, but Ristolainen could allow Sanheim to truly unlock that potential on a much more frequent basis.
Matt Dumba (MIN)
While still potentially an option, the buyout of Ryan Suter makes this one less likely than it was previously written about. Minnesota now has the option to protect Dumba in the upcoming expansion draft, but could be tempted to part ways with him if the impending deal is too good to pass up. The Flyers have the pieces to make that happen. Pair that with the fact that the Wild will have a lot of dead cap coming up due to the Suter and Parise buyouts, another six million dollars off the books for this year and next could be appealing.
Dumba is a solid right-handed shot that could compliment Sanheim well. His numbers have dipped off a bit recently, but on the cusp of 27 years old, he could absolutely rebound considering some defensemen take a little bit longer to grow into the NHL game. He blocks shots, he throws the body around, he could be a Ristolainen-light to Travis Sanheim, but with more skill.
Again, it cannot be overstated that Minnesota may not look to deal Dumba now that Suter is gone. Only Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, Carson Soucy, and Dumba remain under contract for this coming year. The price may have gone up on Dumba now. Depending on that price, Fletcher should put a call in and see what it may take.
The Nashville Pair
Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm are the two names that likely make the most sense for the Flyers. Ellis makes more sense than Ekholm given his right-handed shot and stats, but Ekholm is one hell of a consolation given his contract. Nashville currently has Roman Josi, Ellis, Ekholm, Matthew Benning, and David Farrance under contract for this coming season. They also have restricted free-agent Dante Fabbro that they need to sign to a new deal. With the expansion draft right around the corner and Nashville having one too many defensemen to protect without having a deal in place, the iron is hot enough to strike for Chuck Fletcher.
Ellis would be as close as the Flyers could get to a potential Niskanen replacement. He won’t wow you with point totals or a dozen hits every night, but his steady, calming presence on the blueline would be a welcome one. He’s logged well over 23 minutes per night during the last five seasons and is blocking plenty of shots. He could help not just the defense, but a struggling Carter Hart regain his footing.
Ekholm would be a very welcome addition to the second pair. While left-handed, he’s simply too good to worry about the righty-lefty dynamic. His stats are similar to Ellis’ while logging slightly less time per night. He could be a secondary option on the powerplay and also add some value to the penalty kill.
While the price for either of the Predator defensemen will likely be steep, it’s a price that Chuck Fletcher can afford considering how putrid the defense has been. Bringing in either player the caliber of Ekholm or Ellis would be an immediate upgrade to an ailing defensive unit.
Adam Larsson (EDM)
Adam Larsson now becomes more available than he previously was after the trade to acquire Duncan Keith. According to TSN’s Ryan Rishaug, contract negotiations are still playing out and Larsson could very well re-sign with the Oilers, despite the acquisition of Keith.
Larsson would have to come via free agency it appears. Trading for his rights makes little sense. If that’s the case, he could come at a bit of an uptick from his last deal that paid him $4.1 million per year. Another right-handed shot, Larsson could be the defensive stalwart the Flyers need in their top-four. He won’t put up points like Provorov or Sanheim, but he can afford them the opportunity to jump up on the play and drive the play. It’s an underrated role he could play, but one that would give the Flyers some flexibility on the blueline with their younger, more offensively-gifted defensemen.
As the big names continue to monopolize the headlines, they’re slowly fading out of sight for the Flyers. Asking prices appear to be astronomical and it would seem that Chuck Fletcher isn’t comfortable giving up what teams are asking. If that surely is the case, there are still options out there that can help this unit.
The problem Fletcher may run into is trying to get value before the market is set. If a big deal goes down for Hamilton or Jones before Chuck can strike a deal, the asking price for any of the players mentioned above could skyrocket. If that happens, we may be left twiddling our thumbs yet again.
Photo by Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire