Those who believed the Flyers would go out on Friday and sign some big name to fill Matt Niskanen’s retired skates must have been a little disappointed.
Although there are still some talented free-agent defensemen left on the board, most of the flashy backliners had either cut deals or made up their minds to go elsewhere less than 24 hours after the opening bell.
While an Alex Pietrangelo or a Kevin Shattenkirk might have looked good in an orange, white and black jersey, Shattenkirk landed in Anaheim and Pietrangelo looked headed to Las Vegas.
During a Zoom media conference call on Saturday afternoon, Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher indicated he wasn’t going to try to make a big splash just because there seemed to be public sentiment to do so.
“We don’t feel we’re under any pressure to do anything just to do something,’’ Fletcher said. “If we can improve our team we will. Making a big splash doesn’t necessarily mean you make your team better.’’
“As I mentioned last week, I don’t know if we’re going to be able to replace Matt Niskanen in the sense of the role he played for our team. But we continue to speak to teams around the league. If we can find the right player at the right fit and the right price, we’ll do that.’’
With the unusual schedule brought about by the pandemic, the signing of free agents this year could on for days or weeks. Fletcher isn’t ruling out something down the road.
“We may (sign someone in the near future),’’ he said. “But things could drag out, too. If that player is an upgrade for our group, we’ll do it. Cap space is a very valuable commodity and if we’re going to use it we want to use it wisely.
“Otherwise we’re very content moving forward with cap space and let things play out.’’
>Pitlick, Grant expendable
On the flip side, the Flyers lost two valuable veterans – forwards Tyler Pitlick (to Arizona) and Derek Grant (to Anaheim) – on Friday.
Fletcher said he was comfortable with allowing those players to walk because there are so many talented young players coming up in the pipeline.
“I had several conversations with Tyler’s agent,’’ Fletcher said. “At the end of the day (Nicolas) Aube-Kubel has taken on a bigger role. We have a lot of young players coming again.’’
Among the most promising: Linus Sandin, Wade Allison, Tanner Laczynski, Connor Bunnaman, Carsen Twarynski, Isaac Ratcliffe, Maksim Sushko, David Kase and Morgan Frost.
“A lot of these kids continue to get better,’’ Fletcher said. “At some point, I think you need to allow opportunity for players in your organization to take on bigger roles.’’
Fletcher is hoping Nolan Patrick can recover and return from a year-long absence due to a chronic migraine condition. A healthy Patrick could fill the third line center spot.
If not, Fletcher believes the Flyers can make-do with what they have, while keeping their minds open to going outside for help.
“Potentially,’’ Fletcher said of a possible signing or trade for a center. “Last year when we had a need at third line center, we were able to use Claude Giroux at times and I think our record with Giroux at center was incredible.
“Scott Laughton can fill in at center from time to time. . .Michael Raffl can fill in at center. And Frost is a young player that we think can compete for that role down the road. We’re deep. We have a lot of good players. As I said, if we can get the right player at the right price, but we’re not chasing anything.’’
Fletcher acknowledged that in some ways, it might be more efficient to acquire a player through trade without significantly changing his salary cap number.
“Absolutely,’’ he said. “Whether it’s better than free agency, I’m not sure. They both work well. For several weeks, we’ve been exploring different ideas, possibilities.
“More and more teams will be crunched by the cap here. With every day and every signing, there’s less space and there might be more opportunities as we move forward.’’
>Van Riemsdyk’s role
Veteran left wing James van Riemsdyk was in and out of the lineup during the playoffs, a healthy scratch four times in 16 games.
Although he’s paid like a top six forward ($7 million per year), he’s playing a lot on lower lines.
“I spoke to James at the end of the year, I speak to him all the time,’’ Fletcher said. “We’re very frank with each other. We expect James to be a big part of our team next year.’’
>Can ‘Ghost’ return to top four?
Fletcher was asked if Shayne Gostisbehere, who underwent a pair of knee surgeries this year, can possibly bounce back and regain a top-four spot, especially in light of Niskanen’s retirement.
“In 2017-18 he paired with (Ivan) Provorov and both had very good seasons,’’ Fletcher said. “His (Gostisbehere’s) play has slipped a bit with the injuries but he’s only 27. He could have an opportunity to have a bigger role on our team next year.’’