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Flyers Likely Done as Fletcher Makes More Offseason ‘Bets’

By Kevin Durso, Sports Talk Philly editor 

When noon arrived on Wednesday and the free agency period opened, the Flyers made what could likely be their final additions of the offseason. 

Just minutes into the open of free agency, the Flyers had their backup netminder in Martin Jones, bought out by the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday. An hour later, the Flyers brought back a familiar face in forward Nate Thompson. In addition, the reported signing of defenseman Keith Yandle was finalized. All three deals were for one year.

That seems to be a common thread among the newcomers. Outside of acquisitions Ryan Ellis on defense and Cam Atkinson at forward, every new face on the Flyers roster is joining on a one-year deal or with one year remaining on their contract. 

It’s all part of an offseason of gambling. Just about every player the Flyers have brought in this offseason, while certainly already making an impact on the eventual culture of the locker room, can be viewed as a bet.

Perhaps the only thing with Ellis is his health, and he quieted that during his press conference. Assuming he’s healthy, the top defensive pairing immediately got better and Chuck Fletcher had addressed the biggest offseason need in one move.

From there, questions start to arise. With Rasmus Ristolainen, is a change of scenery all that was needed or was he a huge part of the problem in Buffalo and can he turn his game around with a different team and slightly reduced role? We’ll see.

After two down seasons, can Cam Atkinson return to his high-scoring ways? We’ll see.

Similarly, with Martin Jones, does his change of scenery and reuniting with goalie coach Kim Dillabaugh help him get his career back on track after three trying seasons? We’ll see.

Finally, is Nate Thompson a solution to the depth on this team down the middle? Once again, we’ll see. It could prove to be the motto of the 2021-22 Flyers, at least until the season begins and some of these questions are answered.

With that, Fletcher said to expect the Flyers to be done for the offseason, at least for right now.

“I'm not sure at this point. We're just going to take a deep breath,” Fletcher said. “We’re going to engage a little bit more assertively in negotiations with Travis Sanheim’s camp and with Carter Hart’s camp. They're obviously two very important parts of our team. We'd like to lock those guys up, and then we'll see. I think it's important that there's some opportunity for young players to come in and compete for spots. The cap is always an ever-present challenge. We have a little bit of flexibility now to sign the players we need to sign and have a little bit of room left over. Maybe an opportunity presents itself that we can then pounce on.”

All of the recent activity leaves the Flyers with about $8 million in cap space, which should be enough to re-sign both Hart and Sanheim, but not much else. 

If this is indeed it for the Flyers, how should people feel about this team? Certainly, they will be different entering the 2021-22 season – with two new forwards, three new defensemen, and a new netminder. But are they better?

Well, we’ll see.

You see, it all hedges on the bets Fletcher and the Flyers have made. There are bets on multiple new acquisitions to find a new beginning in their career and bring a lot of excitement expressed by these players to have a fresh start. Jones mentioned it in his press conference on Wednesday. Atkinson was overflowing with excitement during his press conference. Yandle passed on other opportunities to play in Philadelphia. If nothing else, this group of newcomers is ready to be here.

But Fletcher has also bet on the returning players too. If you happened to survive the purge that saw Jake Voracek, Nolan Patrick, Phil Myers, Robert Hagg and Shayne Gostisbehere all shipped off in trades, the team has given you a vote of confidence.

The team is betting on Travis Konecny putting last season behind him and returning fresh and ready to go, hopefully producing at a similar rate to the three seasons prior. They are betting on the remaining core members – Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, James van Riemsdyk – to remain key figures on this team as both leaders and producers. They are betting on better defensive play from the remaining defensemen – Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim, and Justin Braun

Perhaps most important, particularly with the acquisition of Jones, it’s as much of a bet on Carter Hart as it is on the new netminder. Ultimately, the Jones’ deal indicates what was already known, that Carter Hart is the Flyers goalie of the present and future. And it sure seems like a lot of their success next season will hinge on his performance and ability to bounce back from struggles last season.

“Two years ago, we were in a really good environment where players seemed to improve and were better. We defended well,” Fletcher said. “We believe in the players we have in our room and believe in our coaches. In particular with Martin Jones, again, I think the relationship with Kim Dillabaugh is crucial. I think coming into a situation where you have Carter Hart here as well. We have two quality goalies that can help each other, that can push each other. We have a very good tandem. We believe in our group. Time will tell, but we think these are quality bets to make.”

These are certainly calculated bets by Fletcher. Ristolainen came to Philadelphia with one year remaining on his contract. Fletcher then signed Yandle, Jones and Thompson to one-year deals. At the very least, should they bets not pay off, the Flyers aren’t locked into long-term deals outside of Ellis and Atkinson. In fact, assuming Hart and Sanheim sign multi-year deals, the Flyers would only have 10 players who would be under contract beyond the 2021-22 season.

So for now, this is more of a tryout. This is a chance at redemption, at revitalizing careers. There’s no guarantees that all or any of these bets will pay off. But the Flyers are hoping these calculated decisions prove to be exactly what the team needed. 

Get it right, and the team could be back in the playoffs and potentially making another run. Get it wrong, and in most cases, it’s only one year lost. For a team that spent the better part of the last decade bringing back a number of familiar faces, perhaps the gamble on some new and potentially re-energizes faces makes a greater difference.

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