As the free agency frenzy kicked off for teams at noon on Monday, the Flyers added eight depths players that could more or less see more time in the AHL than the NHL. It made for an uneventful free agency period in Philadelphia.
The main reason is that the cap space remaining has to be dedicated to restricted free agents Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny and Scott Laughton first and foremost. Another reason is that the Flyers made their major changes over the last month. They took a top free agent off the board by trading for his rights and completing a deal before July 1 with Kevin Hayes. They traded for two veteran defensemen along the way as well. They took care of signing a backup goalie.
And at this point, that may be all that they can do as they try to get their own young RFAs locked up.
“I don’t foresee another move as we get closer to camp,” GM Chuck Fletcher said on Monday evening, “but again, there are a lot of teams that are going to have significant challenges this summer. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this many teams over the cap or at the cap. That’s when you factor in future signings that they have to make here with their RFAs and to fill out their roster. There could be opportunity. I spoke with Alain Vigneault at length today and he’s excited about our team. I think we all want to get in and see what we have and how the pieces fit together. We’ll have plenty of time to make adjustments if necessary.
"I like the position we’re in right now. We have some cap space left. We feel it will be enough to cover our RFAs. Our hope is to get into camp, we have a new coaching staff and a lot of new players, and let things sort themselves out in camp. From there, we always make adjustments. Right now, we’ll just focus on our RFAs."
So while the money was flying on July 1, the Flyers were merely spectators, signing eight players on Monday to low-term, low-cost deals. Six of the players are on two-way deals, making them likely pieces for the Phantoms. Organizational depth was a key area to address for Fletcher, and he spent the opening of free agency doing that.
“Several of these players will probably move back and forth between Philadelphia and Lehigh Valley,” Fletcher said. “One of the important things we were hoping to do was to provide a solid veteran cast of players to surround our talented young players that are starting their professional journey down in Lehigh Valley this year. We feel we’ve added a lot of good hockey players, a lot of quality people. Clearly the depth of our organization is much better right now.”
If you are looking for a primary reason that the Flyers didn’t try to use some of the existing cap space on a free agent signing, even on a lower level like the bottom-six, it came back to term more than money. The Flyers could have afforded a deal with virtually any player that signed on Monday and still have been under the cap. But not with deals to make with three RFAs. Not with kids coming soon that they don’t want to block out.
“Today I think what you saw, the majority of the forwards signed today were signed to multi-year, multi-million-dollar deals. Frankly, we didn’t want to get into those types of commitments right now,” Fletcher said. “Over the next 24 months, we’ll have several young forwards knocking on the door of the NHL. I don’t think it’s a very smart thing to box these kids out and take on additional cap responsibilities when we’re going to have a lot of really good pieces that could mature and grow through the system.”
Don’t take Fletcher’s silence on July 1 as an unwillingness to do anything. He made his decisions to try to construct a better team in the last month. He hired a new coach that he thinks can take this team back to where it was as a perennial playoff contender. And his focus on maintaining that is by keeping homegrown talent in house, something his predecessor in Philadelphia made a priority. It’s not much of a different approach, just different execution.
“We went out and added Kevin Hayes, Matt Niskanen, Justin Braun and Brian Elliott. We certainly added some players,” Fletcher said. “Again, I don’t think July 1 is the day you should be building your team. I think it’s a day to supplement your roster. We added some pieces we thought we needed to add prior to July 1.
“Really the best teams, the teams that win Stanley Cups, draft and develop the key parts of their team. Our staff has worked hard the past several seasons to accumulate a lot of top young talent. I think it’s incumbent upon everyone in our organization to make sure we do our best to develop those players. We have an exciting future ahead of us. We have a lot of good young players.”
It is clearer now more than ever that the direction this team goes and the step they take next season relies heavily on the youth of the team, just like it did under the previous GM.