Free agency in the NHL opened on Saturday and has now carried into the middle of the following weeks. There are still some key free agents without a home for the upcoming season, but for the most part, the frenzy is finished.
The free-agent period went as expected for the Flyers. There was mild activity and a few names were brought in to round out the roster. Overall, the theme for Danny Briere’s first free agency was about adding veteran players for mentorship and guidance into the rebuilding youth that the team has. It was also about sticking to short-term deals and lower-level players to not block the potential ice time for younger players.
Let’s take a closer look at the four free-agent signings.
Briere’s first free-agent signing was essentially a perfect one. The contract – one year at $1.4 million – perfectly fits the roster and available cap space. The player also fits the timeline.
Poehling isn’t nearly as much of a player filling out the roster. After entering free agency as a non-qualified player, the Flyers are taking a chance on the 24-year-old. At that age, he could become a piece of the puzzle for the long haul if everything pans out. If not, it’s a one-year deal that the Flyers could easily move on from by next offseason. There’s essentially no risk.
Poehling has shown flashes of being a quality NHL player. He was a first-round draft pick by Montreal in 2017, scored a hat trick in his NHL debut, and played on the international stage with the US World Junior teams in 2018 and 2019. That said, injuries have hurt his development and left him looking for an opportunity.
“The upside is pretty interesting. At his age, the position that he can play wing or center, I think it’s very exciting,” Briere said on Saturday. “It’s right in line with what we’re trying to do. I think he fits in with that timeline. For us, it’s very exciting to have the chance to add a guy like that. Usually in free agency, you’re adding older players. Maybe one day we’ll be there. But at the stage we’re at, it was a nice added bonus that he’s a young man. I think it’s a no-brainer to bring in a guy who wants to prove himself, who’s willing to put in the work, and bet on himself on a one-year deal.”
“I think I just want to prove myself. You can never bet on yourself too much. I’m excited for the challenge,” Poehling said on Wednesday. “For me, it’s just doing what I do best and that’s competing hard, playing hard, and trying to become better every single day. But that’s not just myself, I think that’s a team aspect we’re going to have moving forward too. I’m looking forward to all of those things.”
The next signing was much more of a depth signing that could easily be a factor in the minor leagues. Gardiner has 40 games of NHL experience, but has primarily been an AHL player to this point in his career.
Free agency is also about adding players like this to make sure there are veterans at all levels. This should put one of those veterans on the Phantoms roster.
Flyers fans should be very familiar with Hathaway. His years with the Washington Capitals brought him to Philadelphia on numerous occasions. The prototypical pest knows how to get under the skin of opponents and be physical.
Hathaway will most like get the fourth-line minutes on the Flyers roster, allowing the team to focus more on playing younger players in more significant spots. That said, Hathaway does possess some scoring touch, can play penalty kill, and has a motor that never stops. He’s a perfect fit for a John Tortorella team and can be a guide to young players looking to stick in his system.
The two-year term is interesting, and for a fourth-liner, it’s not the cheapest deal, but considering the Flyers won’t be competing for the next two seasons, it’s a suitable deal for the Flyers to make at this time.
“He helps with our young guys, another physical presence. A guy that can skate, that can kill penalties, there’s a lot of assets,” Briere said. “His presence, especially, as a veteran, the way he’s liked on all the teams he’s played for, how tough he is to play against as well, it just helps with the development of our young guys up front as well.”
Through the first couple of days of free agency, the Flyers had made three additions at forward. A depth signing on the blue line seemed like an expectation. With a pending trade in place to move Tony DeAngelo, the Flyers would be relying on young players to fill out the roster immediately with no backup plan. Staal comes in to fill that role.
Again, there is nothing wrong with this deal financially. Staal is a competitor, and with 1,101 NHL games played, teams covet this type of players around the playoffs, especially one that was just on the Eastern Conference champion Florida Panthers. While Staal’s ability has faded a lot over the years, the veteran presence matters for a young team. He shouldn’t be standing in the way of playing time for any defenseman who is ready for the next step.
“We talked about adding a veteran presence to help our young guys. We never thought a player like Marc Staal would have any interest in coming here. We were pretty excited when we found out there was mutual interest,” Briere said. “It almost makes too much sense to add a guy like that who’s played for Torts, understands what Torts is all about, is willing to pass that message. We were very clear with him about what we’re doing here, where the process is going, and he wants to help out. He’s also a competitor. He’s going to play hard and he’s going to try to push our guys.”
“There’s some familiarity there with Torts. I’ve competed against the Flyers for a lot of years and I know from the guys who have played there, everyone has spoken highly of the organization,” Staal said on Wednesday. “That was an easy fit. My family will be close. It’s an easy commute. The opportunity to compete and play again, it just seemed right.”
The Flyers made one additional move on the blue line on Wednesday by adding Victor Mete. The 25-year-old defenseman already has stops in Montreal – who drafted him in the fourth round of the 2016 NHL Draft – Ottawa, and Toronto in his career.
This is essentially a cross between the Poehling deal and Gardiner deal. Its two-way conditions allow Mete to just as easily be more of a minor-league signing, however, his age also makes this a bet on himself to prove he can play at the NHL level.