Just because the signing of free-agent defenseman Erik Gustafsson helps fill a big need doesn’t mean Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher has completed his shopping list.
According to capfriendly.com, the Flyers have about $5.7 million open on their salary cap. Pending the signing of restricted free agents Phil Myers and Nolan Patrick, the Flyers should still have some room to play with over the upcoming days.
Late Friday afternoon, the Flyers announced Patrick had accepted the team’s qualifying offer of one year/$874,125.
During a Zoom media conference call on Friday, Fletcher indicated he might still make a deal, be it by free agency or trade.
“I think we’re still talking to agents and teams to see what’s out there,’’ Fletcher said. “We do have a little bit of cap space left. We’re focusing on re-signing Myers and Patrick. . .we can certainly start the year the way we are now but if there’s a way to improve our team, we’ll continue to look at ways.’’
That might be a hint Fletcher isn’t standing pat. The Flyers may have made it to Game 7 of the conference semifinals this past season but there still could be some work to do.
“We’ll see,’’ Fletcher said. “This is a different offseason than I’ve ever seen. There’s a high number of high-salaried players available, which probably to this extent hasn’t happened before.
“We’re entering a fascinating time, a ‘flat cap’ era. As crazy as it is right now out there, I think next summer could be even worse.’’
What about the possibility of adding another scorer?
“I’m not closing the door on anything,’’ Fletcher said. “But maybe I like our forward group more than some people. I think we’re really deep on the wing, as deep as any team. We have a pretty strong group of forwards in my opinion.’’
Five of the top unsigned unrestricted free agents (as of Thursday night) include forwards Mike Hoffman (ex-Florida Panther), Mikael Granlund (ex-Nashville Predator) and Corey Perry (ex-Dallas Star) along with defensemen Sami Vatanan (Carolina) and Travis Hamonic (Calgary).
Several reports indicated the Flyers kicked the tires on Hamonic but he stated a preference to remain in western Canada.
“I think we’ve been extremely cognizant of the flat cap in all the decisions we’ve made,’’ Fletcher said. “It’s going to be difficult to move money. We’ve already seen some trades that the value of the player has been diminished substantially. We’re seeing a time where cap space is actually more important than players.’’
>Gustafsson a top-pair candidate?
The common perception about Gustafsson revolves around whether he will be slotted on the Flyers’ top defense pair with Ivan Provorov as a replacement for the retiring Matt Niskanen.
Myers is considered another possible option.
Fletcher diplomatically said he will leave the decision up to head coach Alain Vigneault.
“A couple seasons ago he (Gustafsson) played very well on the right side with (Chicago’s) Duncan Keith,’’ Fletcher pointed out. “He’s been used in different situations. We think his skill set matches well with what we need.
“His ability to go back for pucks and make good decisions, transition the puck up the ice is a very important element to add to our group.’’
Gustafsson signed a one-year, $3-million contract with the Flyers earlier in the week.
Fletcher gives the impression it wouldn’t be fair to expect Gustafsson to check off all the boxes left by Niskanen’s departure.
“It’s going to be difficult to replace Matt,’’ Fletcher reiterated off comments he recently made. “There wasn’t a defenseman in our opinion in the marketplace that was nearly as complete the player as Matt with the exception of (Alex) Pietrangelo (former St. Louis Blue who signed with Vegas).
“Whoever we were going to bring in, I was not going to fill the same role or have the same stylistic fit that Matt did.’’
Fletcher pointed out veteran Justin Braun just re-signed and should help with some of Niskanen’s role. Gustafsson can help on the offensive side of the puck.
“Erik is a player, at least the last three seasons, who has had a high-end impact on offense at five-on-five,’’ Fletcher added. “I think he’s 10th (among NHL defensemen) for five-on-five points over 60 minutes for the last three seasons which is a remarkable number.
“He has tremendous deception with the puck, poise with the puck. We don’t have a defenseman who sees the ice like he does.’’
>No rookie camp presents challenge
Circumstances involving the pandemic have led to the cancellation of the usual offseason rookie development camp this fall, denying Flyers’ talent evaluating people the chance to get a good look at prospects prior to the start of regular training camp (whenever that is).
“That’s a great point, we don’t know how long regular training camp will be and how many preseason games we’ll have,’’ Fletcher said. “It’s probably going to be more difficult than usual to evaluate young players.
“But like with any training camp, you often start a certain way and you make adjustments as player performance dictates changes. I don’t think that part will change but certainly there will be less time for players to adjust.’’