It’s almost here: NHL free agency begins today at 12 p.m. EDT. The Philadelphia Flyers will be looking to add a backup goalie and depth center in free agency, and it could get done sooner rather than later.
Chuck Fletcher has been quick on the trigger in both of his active offseasons in Philadelphia. Two years ago, Fletcher got ahead of the curve to bring in Kevin Hayes, Matt Niskanen, and Justin Braun. Last year was a stagnant offseason and Fletcher wasn’t letting that happen again. He went out and traded for Ryan Ellis, Rasmus Ristolainen, and Cam Atkinson days before free agency. The Flyers reportedly will sign Keith Yandle, as well. And they aren’t done.
“We wanted to get ahead of the free agent frenzy and felt that by making trades, we could control the price point better and the assets that were coming in and out,” Fletcher said on Saturday. “We felt very comfortable with what we did. We like our team and we think we’re a better team today than we were at the end of the season. Having said that, we still have work to do.”
Flyers need to tie up loose ends with limited cap space
Heading into free agency, the Flyers have $13.5 million in cap space. We know that $900,000 of it will go to Yandle on a one-year deal. That still leaves $12.6 million to work with. But it can’t all be used on unrestricted free agents. At least half of it will be going to restricted free agents Carter Hart and Travis Sanheim. That leaves just around $5 million (or so) in free agency.
“Obviously, we have to add a goalie. I think I would certainly look at another defenseman and another forward up front to add some more depth and yet we know we have some good kids that are going to push for opportunities,” Fletcher said after the Atkinson trade.
“We’re excited. I think we’re going to be a deep team. We’re going to have maybe a little bit more experienced, particularly on the blue line. I think we’re going to have some guys coming back hungry and energized, ready to go. I’ve spoken to several players in the last 24 to 48 hours and they’re fired up. They’re excited. They finally feel like last year’s in the past and that it’s going to be a different world, a different camp, a different and, in my opinion, a better team.”
Keith Yandle fits the bill for “another defenseman” to provide depth. That leaves a goalie and depth forward on their list. With the logjam on the wings, it’s safe to assume that the Flyers will be targeting centers.
Flyers may have to settle for a low-tier center in free agency
With the Flyers’ recent flurry of activity this offseason, they may not be left with much room to add another forward.
“Yeah, I’m not sure we’ll have the cap space to get into those types of players, the higher end 3Cs,” Fletcher said on Saturday. “I think we have some internal candidates that we’ll look at. That’s something we’ll have to sort out through training camp. We’ll see what opportunities come up and certainly there could be opportunities here to add a center in the coming days. We may have to look at internal options for that and have some competition in camp.”
Morgan Frost and Tanner Laczynski are among those “internal options” Fletcher talked about. Frost is a highly-touted prospect that has been unable to stay healthy. Laczynski impressed in a few games last season before suffering a hip injury. He looked poised to be a good fit in the bottom-six during his five games, though.
All eyes on Carter Hart and the crease
The most important addition left for the Flyers is at the most important position: goalie. Carter Hart will likely bounce back after a season where he lost his way, but the Flyers can’t count on that. They won’t be safe with a typical backup goalie that can only play 10 or even 20 games. Getting someone that can split time with Hart –– not necessarily 50-50, but maybe 60-40 –– is crucial.
There are some whispers out there about who the Flyers might be targeting.
Will Hart – Holtby connection work in Philly?
Veteran goalie Braden Holtby was placed on waivers (to be bought out) on Tuesday. He and Hart are good friends off the ice, but Holtby has been on a steep decline in recent years. Holtby’s save percentage has dipped from .911 to .897 to .889 in the last three seasons. That won’t cut it.
If Holtby can find his form again, he’d be a great guy to pair with Hart. He has a career save percentage of .915, and even his last two years in Washington (.907 and .911) would be passable. Unfortunately, that may be a risk that the Flyers aren’t willing to take.
Another trade with Arizona? Flyers interested in Kuemper
Another name to watch in the veteran goalie market is Darcy Kuemper. He would be a trade candidate as he has one year left on his contract at a cap hit of $4.5 million. The Arizona Coyotes may need to retain some of that salary to move him.
Kuemper has had some injury problems in the past but played in 27 games last season (and 29 the year prior). That might be all the Flyers need out of him. In his one season as a starter (2018-19), Kuemper went 27-20-8 with a .925 SV% and 2.33 GAA in 55 games for the Coyotes. Those are some pretty good numbers.
Chuck Fletcher has pulled off one trade with Coyotes general manager Bill Armstrong in the past week. Could the two come together to find the Flyers’ tandem goalie? It’s certainly possible.
What goalies should Flyers target in free agency?
There are a handful of goalies that the Flyers may go after for a tandem role.
Bernier turns 33 in August and spent the last three years with the Detroit Red Wings. His numbers improved each season, with a save percentage of .904 three years ago, .907 two years ago, and .914 in 2021.
Bernier has bounced around a lot in his career. He’s played for five teams across 13 seasons, including winning the Stanley Cup in 2012 as a backup goalie for the Kings. Bernier played in 35 or more games in seven straight seasons prior to last year, when he played in 24 of Detroit’s 56 games due to injury.
Reimer, 33, is coming off back-to-back solid seasons with the Hurricanes. He went 15-5-2 with a .906 save percentage. Reimer has a .913 save percentage in his career, spanning 11 seasons for four different teams.
The good news is that Bernier has never had a save percentage below .900 in his career. The bad news is that it’s been in the low .900s recently: .900 three years ago, .914 two years ago, .906 last season. Still, the Flyers will take that.
The Buffalo Sabres reportedly are pushing to sign Ullmark, but the Flyers should be all over him if he hits the open market.
Ullmark turns 28 this weekend and has been stellar for the Sabres in his career. Even with a bad team in front of him, Ullmark went 9-6-3 with a .917 SV% and 2.63 GAA last season. That wasn’t a fluke, either. He went 17-14-3 with a .915 SV% and 2.69 GAA in 34 games two years ago. In his career, Ullmark has a .912 SV% and 2.78 GAA.
The younger option may be the best one for the Flyers. He may command a higher price than the Flyers can afford, though.