In what promises to be an active offseason for the Philadelphia Flyers (what else is new?) the first domino fell Wednesday afternoon when the team acquired the negotiating rights to blue-liner Mark Streit from the New York Islanders. Philadelphia sent a 2014 4th round pick and prospect Shane Harper to the Isles for the first crack at signing Streit to a long term contract. In 2013, Streit, who will be 35 by the start of next season, tallied 27 points (6 goals, 21 asssits) while logging 23:21 TOI/Game (time on ice). Streit played in all 48 games for the up-and-coming Islanders and was a crucial cog in clinching the team’s first playoff berth since 2007. In their first round, six game series loss to the top-seeded Penguins, Streit scored two goals and added three assists. Despite being 35 years old, Streit has only six years of NHL experience after being drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in 2004. The Swiss-born blue-liner was set to hit the free agency market after failing to reach a long-term extension with the Islanders earlier this month. It was reported that Streit was offered a three-year deal in the neighborhood of around $5 million/season.
Streit brings several qualities to the Flyers’ blue line that they have been lacking since the gruesome injury to former captain Chris Pronger. Most notably however, is his ability to move the puck and transition from defense to offense. While Kimo Timonen performed admirably last season despite not being 100 percent and young Erik Gustafsson showed signs of establishing himself as an NHL-caliber defenseman, the Flyers generated very little offense from the back end in last year’s forgettable run. While it is expected that Timonen and the drastically improved Jakub Voracek will man the blue line on the first power play unit, Streit should be an exceptional ‘quarterback’ to the team’s struggling second unit. Even if the Flyers do not acquire another defenseman this offseason, a defensive core (depending on injuries) consisting of: Timonen, Gustafsson, Luke Schenn, Braydon Coburn, Nick Grossmann, Streit, and Andrej Meszaros should be an improvement over the revolving door of blue-liners fielded by the team last year.
Streit also brings leadership to the Flyers. He was the captain of the Islanders since 2011 and brought a stabilizing presence to one of the youngest teams in the NHL last season on the way to their postseason appearance. He was second on the team in ice time and was the trigger man for the Islanders impressive power play. While Streit is not considered a ‘shut-down’ defenseman, similar to the emerging Luke Schenn, he is capable on the defensive end and his primary purpose will be triggering the Flyers breakout, an issue that has plagued the team over the past few seasons. Depending on what the team does during the offseason, look for Peter Laviolette to put Streit on a defensive pairing with a more stay-at-home player to compliment his game. I can see Nick Grossmann being the ideal candidate, should he recover from his concussion-related symptoms that cut his 2013 campaign short.
The next step for general manager Paul Holmgren and the organization is to ink Streit to a deal before the July 5th start of free agency. Whether it was an issue with the years or money involved, Streit did not appear interested in settling for the offer on the table from his old team. With this year’s free agent crop being significantly less impressive than last year’s, Streit will not come cheap. There is a premium in the league for puck-moving defenseman and Streit is at the top of this year’s class in that category. Because of his relatively short stint in NHL, I do not expect his age to be too much of an issue at this point in his career. Defenseman especially are able to play well into their 30s and Streit is not the sort of physical player that will be putting his body through too much strain game-in and game-out. While some may question why Streit is leaving a promising, young team like the Islanders at this point in his career, he started his NHL career much later on than most high-profile players and he may only have one chance to cash in on what appears to be an ideal situation for any free agent. I would not be surprised if the Flyers look to ink Streit to something in the four-year/$5-5.5 million range.
What this means in an immediate sense for the Flyers is that they must create the cap space to handle the blow of Streit’s pending contract. While the team is not in a pressing situation entering this season, they have several important pieces to take care of over the next several months, most notably centers Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier, and, most notably, Claude Giroux. To create the necessary long-term space, the expectation is that the organization will use the new buyout clauses that highlighted the NHL’s new collective bargaining agreement. While it was all but certain that the team would use one of these on aging forward Danny Briere, speculation has recently risen that the franchise has grown tired of eccentric goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov and will end that experiment this offseason. While the team cannot officially use their buyouts until after the Stanley Cup Final has ended, the team has already shown that they are not resting on their laurels as they enter another offseason.
As the organization has shown in the past, they will take advantage of their large market status and aggressive ownership to make the moves they think will help hoist the city’s first Stanley Cup since 1975. While some moves have been successful and others have blown up in their faces, one could argue that no franchise in the city has ‘gone for it’ as consistently as the Flyers. I expect the team to ink Streit in the coming weeks before making their next move. As we have come to realize in the past, that will only be the first in a series of transactions to try and bring the team back to promised land and claim the championship that the franchise’s fiercely loyal fans deserves.