Are the Flyers done for the 2020 offseason or are there more offseason moves to come? This question was the central theme of general manager Chuck Fletcher’s media availability session on Friday. Fletcher replied that he is not finished exploring trade or free agency possibilities but is sufficiently comfortable with the talent and depth on the roster, as well as the existing $5.685 million of cap space.
“We’re still actively talking to teams and agents to see what may be out there. We do have a little bit of cap space left. We’re focusing on trying to re-sign [restricted free agents] Phil Myers and Nolan Patrick. We can certainly start the year the way we are now, but if there’s a way to improve our team, we’ll continue to look at ways,” Fletcher said.
“Anybody you bring in has to be an upgrade on what you have and has to be a fit in the roster. I said last week and even before that, I think our forward group right now is more talented and deeper than it was at any point last year. I think we have pretty good depth on defense now and we have good depth in goal. We have a good team. We can always make it better. We’ll continue to find ways to make it better, but again we have a pretty strong group of forwards in my opinion.”
On the blueline, the recent signings of Erik Gustafsson for the likely starting six group and Derrick Pouliot for NHL/AHL depth have expanded the roster’s ranks. Last week, Fletcher said that he believes Shayne Gostisbehere, after back-to-back down seasons affected by injuries, is capable of regaining the top-four blueliner form he showed earlier in his career. On Friday, Fletcher opined that, while Gostisbehere’s typical deployment (a high percentage of offensive-zone starts at five-on-five, plus regular power play duty) is similar to Gustafsson’s, he does not see them as interchangeable players or Gustafsson’s arrival necessarily affecting Gostisbehere’s role in the 2020-21 blueline plan. Fletcher said he’d be comfortable if both offensive-minded defensemen were part of the same starting lineup of head coach Alain Vigneault and assistant coach Mike Yeo want to maximize the offensive punch from the defense corps.
“Absolutely. They’re both real good players. I’m not sure stylistically they are as similar as you make it seem. Gustafsson’s just got tremendous deception and vision. I think he generates offense a little bit differently than Ghost. Ghost has probably got the best shot of anybody on our team. Phil Myers has the velocity maybe but right now I’d say Gostisbehere is an elite shooter. I think they’re a little bit different. They are both better offensively than defensively probably, but I think both of them actually defend pretty well. Why not? I think [Ivan] Provorov’s elite defensively. [Travis] Sanheim and Myers in my opinion will become elite shutdown defensemen in this league. Justin Braun is an elite defender. Hägg is a good defender. So why not have a couple guys that can spring your offense? If we can defend less, that would be a great thing,” Fletcher said.
As the Flyers continue to plan for next season, Fletcher noted that long-term salary cap planning is also a must in a flat-cap environment. Both Carter Hart and Travis Sanheim (who will be arbitration-eligible as a second-time restricted free agent) come up on RFA status in the summer of 2021, for example. Additionally, with cap space a precious commodity in the marketplace, teams have often either had to accept cut-rate trade offers for desirable NHL roster players with problematic contracts, offer sweeteners (often two Draft picks), retain a portion of the cap hit or agree to take a contract in return.
“This is certainly a different offseason than I’ve ever seen. There’s a high number of high-salaried players available, which probably hasn’t happened to this extent before. We’re entering a fascinating time, the flat cap era. As crazy as it is right now out there, I think next summer could even be worse, in terms of having some paralysis in the market and just having too many teams having to move money. It’s going to be interesting to see how things get resolved here over the next little while for certain teams,” Fletcher said.
“I think everything we’ve done has certainly been with trying to improve our team in the present, but also with an eye towards the future. It’s going to be more and more difficult to move money. We’re already starting to see some trades where the value of the player has been diminished substantially. Clearly, we’re seeing a time in the NHL where cap space and flexibility is more important than actual players.”
Fletcher pointed to the number of unrestricted free agents who are still on the market and eminently capable of providing on-ice value to many NHL clubs, but who are being “squeezed” by the flat cap ceiling. An increasing number of players, including Gustafsson with the Flyers and, most notably, Taylor Hall with the Sabres, have accepted one-year contract offers.s av
“A one-year deal allows you to have that cap space open up again in the next off-season, so you can reallocate it or re-sign the player. I think having flexibility is so important right now. Our team, I think we got a pretty good look at it last year about how unpredictable it can be, how things can change. Things that you don’t expect to happen can happen. You don’t know where you’re going to be in a year. We’re certainly aware of the players we need to re-sign, the players we would like to re-sign and how we would like to build our team. Flexibility is everything and I think basically every move we’ve made this offseason has been with making our team better for the 20-21 season, but also maintaining as much flexibility as possible going forward,” Fletcher said.
In managing against a flat cap, it is more vital than ever for teams to have in-house options available, especially players who are on their entry-level contracts. Fletcher pointed to three incoming rookies — Tanner Laczynski, Wade Allison and Swedish import Linus Sandin — as players who have the potential to contribute at the NHL level at some point in 2020-21 — and add to the NHL-caliber depth than every team needs to compete. Higher up on the depth chart, the full-season return of Oskar Lindblom and Patrick could provide upgrades to the team’s offensive depth and two-way capabilities.
“I think we’re really deep on the wing. I think we’re as deep as any team on the wing. Anybody you bring in has to be an upgrade on what you have and has to be a fit in the roster. I said last week and even before that, I think our forward group right now is more talented and deeper than it was at any point last year. I think we have pretty good depth on defense now and we have good depth in goal. We have a good team. We can always make it better. We’ll continue to find ways to make it better, but again we have a pretty strong group of forwards in my opinion.”