There was a lot of talk throughout the week about the Flyers, free agency and cap space. It typically went like this.
The Flyers have over $21 million in free cap space for the 2018-19 season. John Tavares is the top free agent available. The Flyers have the cap space to make that happen. Why are they not in the sweepstakes? They must not be willing to jump in and spend for significant upgrades or big-name free agents.
That's the narrative, and it couldn't be further from the truth, especially after Saturday night's events.
No, the Flyers are not in the running for John Tavares and likely never were. But they were in the running, among several teams, for forward James van Riemsdyk, who has reportedly agreed to a five-year, $35 million deal with the team that originally drafted him back in 2007.
What does that all mean? Right now, it means that the Flyers were willing to spend to make upgrades. They were willing to put out the money necessary to make a splash signing. They may not do anything else in terms of this year's free agent class. Maybe there are trades that will be in the works as the free-agent market only gets thinner. But make no mistake, Ron Hextall made a statement with this move. The Flyers are ready to be players on the market, not just on draft weekend.
This is really the first signing of its kind for Hextall. Since taking over as GM in 2014, perhaps the biggest signing he made was for Michal Neuvirth in the summer of 2015. Otherwise, his most notable signings have been for depth players -- Michael Del Zotto, Dale Weise, Nick Schultz, Ryan White.
None of those move the needle, do much to register a wave across the league. This one will certainly do that.
Sure, it's a different kind of deal for Hextall to make -- a five-year, $35 million deal that commits $7 million against the cap every season to a forward who just turned 29 in May. That's not his standard deal. That's usually against the philosophy that he has followed.
With Tavares on the market and the Flyers with money to spend, there was added frustration as the ongoing John Tavares sweepstakes progressed without a mention of the Flyers. It was interpreted as a lack of interest on the Flyers part, that the focus was solely on the future and doing anything that would put that at risk was not even being explored.
Free agency is a two-way street. The player has to have the same interest as the team. Hextall said on Friday that the team would have liked to be in the Tavares sweepstakes, albeit without actually naming Tavares. That indicates that an attempt was made to express interest and perhaps put an offer out, only to be rejected by the player.
In that sense, there is nothing Hextall can do there. He does his part by inquiring, reaching out to an agent and making some sort of pitch. If the player doesn't sign or even want to take things further, so be it.
But at this point, Hextall has to be feeling a little bit of the heat that fans are laying on. He's not making a move just to make one, but you have to try to look into different avenues to make the team better, and not just in the future.
van Riemsdyk isn't going to come in and solve penalty killing woes, be a defensive specialist or get a goalie of the future -- read Carter Hart -- any faster. But what he is going to do is provide more scoring for this team.
Since leaving the Flyers, van Riemsdyk has put up excellent scoring numbers. In the last six seasons, all with Toronto since his trade out of Philadelphia, van Riemsdyk ranks 16th in the NHL in goals scored with 154 in 413 games. Only two players ahead of JVR on that list, Evgeni Malkin and Steven Stamkos, have more goals in fewer games. For perspective, Wayne Simmonds ranks 15th on that list with 159 goals, but in 440 games.
But here's where you really might see the perspective. In the last two seasons, van Riemsdyk has scored 65 goals in 163 games, one short of the maximum for two full regular-season schedules. Simmonds has played in just six fewer games, but has only 55 goals in that time, and that's tops on the Flyers.
The Flyers had three needs coming into the this offseason: third-line center, right-handed depth defenseman, scoring winger. Perhaps the hardest one to find was going to be the scoring winger, not because there wasn't a player on the free-agent market who fit the description, but the question remained would the Flyers be willing to pay up, to make that commitment to a player on the market or in a trade.
With this move, the answer is a resounding yes. Hextall and the Flyers are willing to take the chance and make a move. There is still time before the free agency period opens for more possibilities to emerge, but the Flyers are finally showing signs that they want to be players in this thing, and that's an important step for them to take.