For teams looking to make a splash in the defensemen market this offseason, there are only a select group of players available. The Philadelphia Flyers are one of those teams and they’ve laralready been linked to several defensemen in the early stages of the offseason.
Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis were rumored during the season with the Predators scouting the Flyers. Then we heard Seth Jones late in May. Dougie Hamilton is the top free-agent defenseman. Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Adam Larsson have both been mentioned recently. Matt Dumba is among the other names out in the ether.
The Flyers reportedly honed in on a certain defenseman in June. They were immediately linked to Seth Jones once it was reported that he wants out of Columbus and that rumor train hasn’t lost any steam.
Jones, 27, is a highly-skilled right-handed defenseman that any team would want. The 2013 fourth overall pick plays 25 minutes a night in all situations and would undoubtedly help the Flyers’ defense corps. But he shouldn’t be the Flyers’ top target. And if he is actually their top target, they need to do a better job of hiding it in order to keep some leverage in negotiations.
Don’t get me wrong; I have nothing against Jones and would be happy if he ends up on the Flyers. There are just better options out there in terms of fit, consistency, and price.
First and foremost, prying Jones out of Columbus will likely cost the Flyers a pretty penny. There haven’t been any real reports of offers, but the chatter around social media is too rich for my blood.
At the high-end of the price range, the Flyers would have to give up one of their young forwards (Joel Farabee, Travis Konecny, Nolan Patrick), a young defenseman (Philippe Myers has been mentioned, but Cameron York and Egor Zamula could also be options that I’d be more willing to part with), and a first-round pick or two.
I have no problem giving up the first-round pick. In fact, Chuck Fletcher needs to trade the Flyers’ first-round pick to make a big splash. However, giving up multiple NHL-ready players with high ceilings for a defenseman that has declined in the past few years makes me hesitate.
I’d be more open to a trade package like that if Jones was coming off of a better season or if his contract price was known, or both. With the Flyers’ –– and Chuck Fletcher’s –– luck, Jones would flop with a change of scenery rather than thrive. Meanwhile, the pieces sent the other way would give Columbus –– a possible division rival –– a foundation for a relatively quick rebuild.
Secondly, as eluded to above, Jones has been shaky in the past few years. We can’t be sure whether that be due to the team’s play or his own –– or a combination of both ––, but giving up multiple high-quality assets for a guy like that isn’t appealing to me. Now, if the price comes down a bit and the Flyers can send a package centered around their first-round pick, Nolan Patrick, and a mid-tier prospect, I’m much more into the deal.
Jones is just one of the names available, but the Flyers –– and their fans –– seem to be all about him. It’s nothing against Jones, but the Flyers need to look elsewhere, too. They can’t get blinded by the Blue Jackets and set their sights solely on Jones.
Seth Jones isn’t Chris Pronger. He’s not a lock for the Hall of Fame. He didn’t even get a Norris Trophy vote this year.
He’s a good defenseman, perhaps even a great defenseman, but selling the farm for a defenseman that has been shaky recently would be a huge swing by Fletcher. You have to make big swings sometimes, but you also have to be smart about it.
I would be all over Dougie Hamilton if I was the Flyers. He’s hands down the best free-agent defenseman this year. He’s one of the best defensemen in the league period.
Hamilton will have a huge price tag attached to him in free agency, but that’s it. Just the contract. The Flyers won’t have to give up multiple assets to land him. Of course, the Flyers will need to clear some cap space. But that could be done rather easily if the Seattle Kraken take James van Riemsdyk ($7 million) or Jakub Voracek ($8.25 million), or even Shayne Gostisbehere ($4.5 million). Assuming Seattle takes JVR, Fletcher would only need to clear a few million to fit in Hamilton.
The Flyers may end up having to trade for a defenseman –– perhaps it’ll even be Jones –– and that’s fine. But they need to do everything in their power to sell Dougie Hamilton on Philadelphia first.
Hamilton is the best defenseman available this offseason, won’t cost anything to acquire (unless Fletcher trades for his rights), and fits in perfectly with the Flyers. He’ll be the top-pair defenseman that they need to mentor and guide Ivan Provorov. At 28, Hamilton would be the veteran (after Justin Braun) on the defense corps and could anchor it for years to come.
Let’s take a look at a quick comparison of Jones and Hamilton:
|P60||CF% (Rel)||xGF% (Rel)||OZFO%|
|Dougie Hamilton||1.15||1.25||56.03% (+3.30)||57.25% (+4.13)||56.55% (+3.76)||57.69% (+4.82)||50.86%||52.76%|
|Seth Jones||0.81||0.87||48.22% (+2.87)||50.43% (+3.04)||45.52% (-0.95)||49.17% (-0.86)||55.50%||55.45%|
Dougie Hamilton has been better both offensively and overall at 5-on-5 play. The Hurricanes had nearly 60% of the shot-attempt and expected-goals share with Hamilton on the ice. Meanwhile, the Blue Jackets had less than 50% of the shot-attempt and expected-goals share with Jones on the ice.
Jones has done better than his teammates in terms of shot attempts, but the quality of shots generated and allowed is reflected in his lower xGF% numbers. Hamilton has pushed play forward and gotten rewarded for it with points, even while starting fewer shifts in the offensive zone than Jones.
This isn’t a knock on Jones as much as it is praise for Hamilton. He finished fourth in the Norris Trophy voting this season and for good reason. Wherever he decides to sign in free agency will be lucky to have him.
Hamilton’s destination will ultimately come down to where he wants to play, and Jones has some say as well with a 10-team no-trade list. Teams will be in bidding wars for both defensemen, but Dougie Hamilton should be the Flyers’ main target.
Whether it be Hamilton, Jones, a Predators trade, or someone else, Fletcher can’t sit back and let the offseason pass him by. He needs to be aggressive and get things done early and often once the market opens.
The Flyers shouldn’t stop at just one defenseman this offseason. They really should add two top-four defensemen to lock things down in front of Carter Hart. Getting two of Ekholm, Ellis, Hamilton, and Jones would likely be impossible, but perhaps Dumba comes cheap enough or the Flyers look for a secondary defenseman in free agency. They are reportedly watching negotiations closely in Edmonton for Adam Larsson, and Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman David Savard would be another good addition.
Assuming the Flyers don’t trade Travis Sanheim or Philippe Myers, they’d have a young and formidable defense in just a few years. Provorov and Myers 24. Sanheim is 25. Cam York looks NHL ready –– at least in a third-pair role –– at 20.
Provorov would be with the top acquisition on the first pair, Sanheim with the other on the second pair, and whoever is left once the dust settles on the third pair. Robert Hagg is still here, so is Justin Braun. York will push for a roster spot and Myers could still be here. A top-four defense of Provorov – Hamilton/Jones and Sanheim – Savard/Larsson would be a huge improvement from last season.
Chuck Fletcher has a lot on his plate this offseason and a top-pair defenseman will be the main course. The Flyers need to do everything they can to get Dougie Hamilton.