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NHL Free Agency: Flyers Targets as Market Opens

By Kevin Durso, Sports Talk Philly editor 

The free agent market officially opens at noon on Wednesday. For Chuck Fletcher and the Flyers, though, a large chunk of the offseason work has already taken place.

Fletcher admitted at his press conference on Saturday following the NHL Draft that his goal was to get ahead of free agency and the crazy bidding period that would likely follow. Instead of waiting for this time to arrive, Fletcher got creative and made four trades in the span of eight days, acquiring defensemen Ryan Ellis and Rasmus Ristolainen as well as forward Cam Atkinson, while sending defensemen Phil Myers, Shayne Gostisbehere and Robert Hagg plus forwards Jake Voracek and Nolan Patrick, as well as four draft picks, out in various deals.

The Flyers free agent work has already begun. Fletcher expressed interest in adding low-end deals at forward and defense in addition to the need to find a goaltending partner for Carter Hart. The defenseman appears to have arrived in reports of the signing of Keith Yandle on Tuesday.

As the market opens, the Flyers are still not finished yet. They will definitely be signing a goalie, likely on the opening day of free agency on Wednesday. Don’t rule out the addition of another forward as well to provide some added depth in that department.

With those things in mind, here are a few candidates at each position that the Flyers could target in free agency.

Goaltenders

Jonathan Bernier - If there’s an early favorite in the goaltending race, it could be Bernier. The Flyers have long been linked to Bernier in the past, and the netminder is certainly used to playing in a 1A role. Last season, Bernier, who turns 33 on Aug. 7, had a 9-11-1 record with a 2.99 GAA and .914 save percentage with Detroit in 24 games. While his record in Detroit hasn’t been pretty over the years, Bernier has finished with a GAA over three only once in his career when appearing in at least 10 games. He also has never finished with a save percentage below .900.

Darcy Kuemper - Ok, so this one is not a free agent. This would require another trade, and it’s fair to wonder if Fletcher even has the means to do this. That said, Kuemper’s numbers have been excellent over the years. Despite a 10-11-3 record last season with Arizona, Kuemper, 31, had a 2.56 GAA and .907 save percentage in 27 games. The season prior, Kuemper had a 16-11-2 record with a 2.22 GAA and .928 save percentage. If Arizona retains some of his $4.5 million cap hit, the Flyers could take interest.

James Reimer - In two seasons in Carolina, it’s safe to say Reimer, 33, has been very consistent. Last season, he had a 15-5-2 record with 2.66 GAA and .906 save percentage in 22 games. The season before, he appeared in 25 games and had a 14-6-2 record with a 2.66 GAA and .914 save percentage.

Braden Holtby - Holtby is a new addition to the list after being bought out on Tuesday by Vancouver, making him a free agent. The last couple of seasons have been a struggle for Holtby. In his final season in Washington, Holtby, soon to be 32, posted a 25-14-6 record with a 3.11 GAA and .897 save percentage in 48 games. In 21 games in his first and only season with the Canucks, he had a 7-11-3 record with a 3.67 GAA and .889 save percentage. Despite that, the Flyers will likely have some interest based on his connections with Hart. Both goalies used the same sports psychologist and have become close through training together.

Jaroslav Halak - While there are rumblings of Halak going elsewhere, the Flyers should take a look here despite Halak’s age of 36. As a second goaltender behind Tuukka Rask in Boston, Halak had a 9-6-4 record in 19 games last season with a 2.53 GAA and .905 save percentage. The season before, he was even better with an 18-6-6 record in 31 games with a 2.39 GAA and .919 save percentage.

Linus Ullmark - Even with the overall struggles the Sabres have endured over the years, Ullmark has proven reliable. While reports suggest that Buffalo is looking to get a deal finalized before free agency opens, Ullmark, turning 28 on Saturday, would be a viable option in Philadelphia at the right price. He had a 9-6-3 record in 20 games last season with a 2.63 GAA and .917 save percentage.

Laurent Brossoit - One final option emerging for the Flyers is Winnipeg backup Laurent Brossoit. The catch with Brossoit, 28, is the workload, only having played 21 games at most in a season. That said, last season he was excellent, sporting a 6-6-0 record in 14 games with a 2.42 GAA and .918 save percentage. 

Forwards

Derek Stepan - Stepan’s name has already been linked to the Flyers in recent days and certainly would be a fit as a depth player. Last season was marred by injury, as Stepan only appeared in 20 games, posting one goal and five assists. The season before that, he played in 70 games and had 10 goals and 28 points, certainly suitable production for a bottom-six player. Stepan, 31, also has connections to current Flyers, playing under Alain Vigneault and alongside Kevin Hayes with the Rangers for four seasons.

Nick Bonino - Bonino’s name has also come up in some speculation and would certainly fit the bottom-six mold as well. Known as a solid defensive forward, Bonino, 33, appeared in 55 games last season for Minnesota and had 10 goals and 26 points. The season before that, he scored 18 goals and had 35 points in 67 games with Nashville. 

Alexander Wennberg - Wennberg’s name has also been floated around, and he could certainly be useful in a depth role. In 56 games with Florida last season, Wennberg, soon to be 27, had 17 goals and 29 points. Prior to that, he spent his entire six-season career in Columbus, playing alongside new Flyers forward Cam Atkinson.

Mikael Granlund - Granlund has been widely viewed as a potential fit with the Flyers since Fletcher took over as GM. It was Fletcher who drafted Granlund at ninth overall in the 2010 NHL Draft. Granlund, 29, then spent the first seven seasons of his career in Minnesota before being traded to Nashville in 2019. Last season, he had 13 goals and 27 points in 51 games.

Nick Foligno - Now we get to the potential free agents where there really isn’t any buzz or speculation about them being targeted by the Flyers, but they could be interesting names to watch. Word is that Foligno, former captain of the Blue Jackets, is going to test the market. If so, the Flyers could be a fit. While Foligno is a 14-year NHL vet and turning 34 in October, he had reached double-digit goals and 30 or more points in each season in his career since 2013-14. There is a connection to Atkinson here as well, obviously, and Foligno’s role as a former captain has been a common thread in acquisitions made by the Flyers this offseason.

Corey Perry - While the Flyers may not necessarily be looking at wingers specifically, Perry, 36, would certainly add more sandpaper to the team. Last season in Montreal, he had nine goals and 21 points in 49 games. The previous season with Dallas, he had five goals and 21 points in 57 games. But in the playoffs, he’s elevated his game. In a Stanley Cup Final run with Dallas, Perry had five goals and nine points in 27 games. In a run to the Final this past season with Montreal, he had four goals and 10 points in 22 games.

Derick Brassard - Brassard’s career has taken him many places, and the Flyers could be a fit for the veteran center in terms of style. Brassard, soon to be 34, embodies the depth center role and still can produce modestly. Last season with Arizona, Brassard had eight goals and 20 points in 53 games. The season prior, he played with the New York Islanders and had 10 goals and 32 points in 66 games. There’s another Rangers connection here, as Brassard played under Vigneault and was a teammate of Hayes for three seasons. Brassard also was teammates with Atkinson for parts of two seasons in Columbus.

Pius Suter - This is an intriguing name that just entered the market in recent days. Chicago opted to not qualify an offer to Suter, making the 25-year-old rookie in 2020-21 a free agent. In his rookie season, Suter had some impressive moments, scoring 14 goals and 27 points in 55 games.

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