When the Flyers entered the offseason following the 2018-19 season, it was supposed to be a free-for-all for Chuck Fletcher. There were big-name free agents at every position. There were assets that could be included in trades. There was cap space.
It was a spot the Flyers had not been in for some time entering an offseason. They had the flexibility to do whatever they wanted to make the team better.
On Monday, July 1 came and went with little activity of notable impact for the Flyers -- eight signings for depth at the AHL level. There was a reason for it.
The Flyers had spent the previous month using the assets available to make changes. They targeted a big free agent before he ever made it to market, trading for Kevin Hayes and then signing him to a seven-year deal. They also traded for defensemen Matt Niskanen and Justin Braun, two more new faces.
For every team that made a big signing as free agency opened, it is a calculated risk. The New York Rangers landed prize forward Artemi Panarin. That certainly has the whole league talking. But one player doesn’t make a team. It is Panarin and the collective additions by the Rangers that will define their upcoming season and the Rangers are placing a bet on Panarin that he will be the leader of that group on and off the ice.
That goes for the Flyers as well. They placed their bets on Hayes, Niskanen and Braun.
Before Hayes ever signed, the Flyers traded for Niskanen’s $5.75 million cap hit for the next two seasons and added Braun’s $3.8 million cap hit for next season, the last on his deal. In the Niskanen deal, which sent Radko Gudas to Washington, they also retained 30 percent of Gudas’ salary.
This was the real gamble by the Flyers. If these two players have bounce-back seasons, help the Flyers cut down on goals allowed and make them better on the penalty kill and better in front of goalie Carter Hart, then it won’t matter that they made no significant moves on July 1. But the Niskanen/Gudas deal was a big reason they couldn’t make a move on Monday.
The Flyers have five forwards -- Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek, James van Riemsdyk, Sean Couturier and Hayes -- making more than $4 million next season. They have four defensemen -- Shayne Gostisbehere, Travis Sanheim, Niskanen and Braun -- making more than $3 million next season. This does not include the contracts that Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny will get.
With that kind of money already invested in the team, there was very little the Flyers could do on July 1. They had already placed their bets. They are betting on Hayes to be the second-line center to fill a big hole in the lineup. They are betting on Niskanen and Braun to return to form and be veterans who lead.
They are also betting on the young players as well. They are betting that Provorov and Gostisbehere will be back to form and that Sanheim and Phil Myers show continued growth. They are betting that Konecny be a Top-6 point producer again and that Nolan Patrick is relieved of some pressure and breaks out on the third line. And they are making a big bet on Carter Hart to be the goalie he was last season for a full season.
It is too soon to tell what kind of team this will be on the ice in the 2019-20 season. There is a new head coach behind the bench who will bring a new style to the team. Maybe that changes the results too. But on paper, outside of Hayes, it’s fair to question if the Flyers upgraded at all. It will depend on every player doing his part, from the veterans the Flyers have gambled on to have a bounce-back year to the kids that the Flyers are expected to continue to grow.