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Carchidi: Flyers Whiff on Johnny Gaudreau, Gain Ground in Connor Bedard Sweepstakes



Johnny Gaudreau, Philadelphia Flyers
Left winger Johnny Gaudreau, the NHL's No. 2 scorer last season, would have been a big draw for fans of the Philadelphia Flyers.

The Philadelphia Flyers’ management had said the plan was to make an “aggressive retool” this summer.

Could have fooled us.

The Flyers failed to sign star left winger Johnny Gaudreau — who wanted to come home and play for the Orange and Black — when the free-agency period opened Wednesday at noon.

Instead, they settled on steady defenseman Justin Braun, 35, and tough-guy Nic Deslauriers, a left winger who has 521 penalty minutes and 44 goals in 506 career games. Deslauriers, 31, was given a four-year contract with an annual cap hit of $1.75 million. Braun got one year at $1.75 million.

Aggressive retool? The Flyers appear to be building a team that will contend for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 draft, Connor Bedard, a center who is a projected generational player.

Hey, if you look at it that way, the Flyers did great Wednesday!

The Flyers should be rebuilding. From the core. That means stockpiling draft picks and adding a veteran piece here or there while waiting for the young talent to blossom.

Adding Gaudreau as one of the veterans to build around — like the Rangers did when they signed Artemi Panarin — would have been a good start. (It also would have put fans in the seats at the Wells Fargo Center.)

Stockpiling draft picks would also be a good plan — again, like the Rangers did when they started their highly successful rebuild.

Instead, the Flyers acquired defenseman Tony DeAngelo for three draft picks last week. And paid him $10 million for two years.

DeAngelo, Rasmus Ristolainen and Deslauriers are below-average defenders, so the Flyers should be in the Bedard hunt.

Projected lineup

Assuming defenseman Ryan Ellis and left winger Joel Farabee are not ready when the season starts, here is the Flyers’ projected opening-night lineup:

Sean Couturier centering James van Riemsdyk and Cam Atkinson.

Kevin Hayes centering Scott Laughton and Travis Konecny.

Morgan Frost centering Noah Cates and Owen Tippett.

Tanner Laczynski/Patrick Brown centering Nic Deslauriers and Wade Allison/Zack MacEwen.

Defense: Ivan Provorov and Justin Braun; Travis Sanheim and Rasmus Riostolainen, and Cam York and Tony DeAngelo.

Extra: Nick Seeler.

Goalies: Carter Hart and Felix Sandstrom.

Godspeed, John Tortorella.

Hello, Columbus

As for Gaudreau, he surprisingly signed with Columbus, getting a seven-year-deal with an annual $9.75 million cap hit.

Gaudreau, who turns 29 next month, grew up in South Jersey as a Flyers fan. He starred at Gloucester Catholic and Boston College, then became a six-time NHL All-Star with the Calgary Flames.

Known as “Johnny Hockey” since his days at Boston College, the diminutive Gaudreau (5-foot-9, 165 pounds) set career bests in goals (40), assists (75), and points (115) last season, when he finished tied for second in the NHL in scoring, behind only Connor McDavid (123).

He wanted to sign with the Flyers, one of his family members told Philly Hockey Now, but they didn’t make it happen. GM Chuck Fletcher said he was never in the Gaudreau Sweepstakes simply because he would have had to move several players to get enough cap space.

The Flyers had $3.5 million in cap space to start the day; they could have signed Gaudreau because teams can go 10 percent over the cap in the summer, and they would have had to make moves to become cap-complaint before the season opener.

But the “aggressive retool” plan changed somewhere along the way

And so now the Flyers are a hope and a prayer. They hope the return of Sean Couturier from back surgery will help. They pray having Kevin Hayes available from the start of the season will bolster an anemic offense. The Flyers finished next-to-last in the NHL last season, averaging 2.56 goals per game.

They were last in the NHL on the power play, clicking at just 12.6 percent, second-worst in franchise history.

Philly could be missing gifted left winger Joel Farabee at the start of the season. He underwent neck surgery in late June, and it has not been determined when he will be able to return.

It’s been a heck of a summer for Flyers fans. The injury news on Farabee; a less-than-upbeat report on Ellis’ progress; the buyout of heroic Oskar Lindblom, and a promising goalie prospect, Ivan Fedotov, forced to go into the Russian Navy.

And then they failed to sign Johnny Hockey or acquire Alex DeBrincat.

Come to think of it, Gaudreau is probably happy he isn’t coming home.

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