The situation surrounding the Flyers’ virtual non-participation in Wednesday’s big NHL free-agent signing extravaganza had a bit of a Catch-22 feel to it.
General manager Chuck Fletcher, who promoted an “aggressive retool’’ in his team’s future midway through last season, said he was never in the hunt for headliners such as South Jersey superstar Johnny “Hockey’’ Gaudreau or recent Stanley Cup champion performer Nazem Kadri.
For that to have happened, Fletcher claims it would have required moving player contracts off his roster to create salary cap space to take part in the Gaudreau “sweepstakes,’’ something he was unwilling to do.
There were also reports the Flyers, who already picked up $3.3 million in cap space on Tuesday by buying out the last year of Oskar Lindblom’s contract, were trying to unload the last year of James van Riemsdyk’s contract ($7 million), but that would have meant surrendering a first-round draft pick in the package – again, a deal-breaker.
So Fletcher settled on some less significant transactions, such as bringing back defenseman Justin Braun, who was sent to the New York Rangers at last season’s trade deadline, and Nic Deslauriers, a renowned tough guy who has accumulated 521 penalty minutes in 506 NHL games.
As for passing on high-powered, high-priced forwards such as Gaudreau and Kadri, Fletcher implied he’s comfortable going into next season with what he has on his roster.
Besides, he wsa more interested in upgrading his defense, particularly in light of backliner Ryan Ellis’ uncertain status.
With both attendance and TV ratings sagging, the Flyers were thought to be in the market for a marquis star such as Gaudreau. But Philadelphia never came close.
“We’re a team who we believe has become a lot harder to play against with some of the moves we made today,’’ Fletcher said during a late afternoon press briefing at the Flyers Training Center in Voorhees, N.J. “We made strides to shore up our defense corps (including the trade for Tony DeAngelo last Friday). We have an opportunity to give our young players a chance to see what they can do.’’
Of course, a lot of a potential turnaround hinges on the successful return of players such as Sean Couturier (back surgery), Ellis (pelvic injury) and Kevin Hayes (multiple abdominal surgeries).
“They have a chance to be healthy,’’ Fletcher said. “And get back to being productive players in the National Hockey League. Joel Farabee had offseason (neck) surgery – we believe he will be able to play pretty early in the season.’’
ESPN reported Gaudreau expressed an interest in signing with the Flyers but the feeling wasn’t mutual. Fletcher was a bit guarded with his explanation about that.
“We’re not involved in the Johnny Gaudreau sweepstakes,’’ Fletcher said. “We don’t have the cap space to pursue those types of high-end free agents.’’
When pressed on the subject, Fletcher said the necessary movement of contracts is hard to do.
“And in some cases, there are players you don’t want to move,’’ he said. “Today was more about depth signings. The price of moving contracts is really expensive.’’
Fletcher insists the 2022-23 season will be a “re-tooling’’ year, not a rebuilding one.
“We feel our biggest weaknesses now were on defense (which Gaudreau and Kadri are not),’’ Fletcher said. “Getting DeAngelo and Braun, we feel helps our group, gives a much better top six in the event Ellis takes longer to heal to get back. Right now my concern was not having enough good defensemen.’’
>Training program upgraded
Fletcher acknowledged the Flyers were hamstrung by injuries last season, with the team losing more than 500 man-games along the way.
“We’re looking into why that happened,’’ Fletcher said. “We’re looking at areas where we can upgrade; bringing in some specific specialists to help in different areas.’’
In addition to Braun and Deslauriers, the Flyers brought back former sixth-round draft pick Cooper Marody (two-year, two-way deal; who had been playing in the Edmongton organization the past two years) and four other players: Goaltender Tony Grosnick (one-year, one-way contract); forward Adam Brookes (two years, two-way); defenseman Louis Belpedio (one-year, two-way) and Kevin Connauton, who played for the Flyers last season (two-year, two-way, $750,000 AAV).
Reacquiring Braun (one year, $1.75 million) looked like a bit of a surprise move. They just traded with Carolina for the rights to DeAngelo last Friday at the NHL Entry Draft in Montreal and the price was a bit high ($10 million for two years).
It was thought that either Cam York or Ronnie Attard might secure a spot with the top six on the roster but with Braun returning, that might toss that plan right out the window.
In 791 NHL games, the 35-year-old Braun has recorded 34 goals/197 points with a career plus-22.
He spent two-plus seasons in his first tenure with the Flyers, playing in 176 games.
Deslauriers, 31, (four years, $1.75-million AAV) has played for four NHL teams and recorded 521 penalty minutes in 506 games.
Former Flyer Claude Giroux signed with the Ottawa Senators, three years, $19.5 million. . .Oskar Lindblom, whose final contract year was bought out by the Flyers on Tuesday, signed with the San Jose Sharks.