Philadelphia Flyers: After uneventful draft, focus now is on free agency

DALLAS, TX - JUNE 22: Jay O'Brien poses after being selected nineteenth overall by the Philadelphia Flyers during the first round of the 2018 NHL Draft at American Airlines Center on June 22, 2018 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
DALLAS, TX - JUNE 22: Jay O'Brien poses after being selected nineteenth overall by the Philadelphia Flyers during the first round of the 2018 NHL Draft at American Airlines Center on June 22, 2018 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

The Philadelphia Flyers stayed the course in the NHL Draft, making seven selections overall. But in order to improve the current roster, the team will need to be active in the upcoming free agency period.

The 2018 NHL draft has come and gone, and the Philadelphia Flyers completed what some fans might call an underwhelming two days of player selections. This is not to say that Flyers management left Dallas without having added some high-end talent, but rather the complete opposite. General manager Ron Hextall and his crew got the player they wanted in Joel Farabee and went off the board with their second first-round pick of Jay O’Brien.

Both Farabee and O’Brien are high-upside, intelligent two-way players that should be huge additions to the Philadelphia organization in the years to come, provided they both successfully transition to the professional level.

No, the Flyers didn’t have a bad weekend, they just didn’t have an eventful one. The lack of enthusiasm from fans is not so much about the draft selections as it is about the lack of major roster moves, namely trades.

Many among the Flyer faithful thought at least one roster move would come on draft weekend in the form of a trade. This offseason, Hextall had made it clear that his priority would be to improve his team. Flyers fans were eagerly awaiting the draft, as Hextall has shown a willingness to make moves, evidenced by his trade of Brayden Schenn at the 2017 draft.

Related Story: 3 reasons Ben Simmons was correct ROY choice

But Flyers fans that were expecting a blockbuster trade in 2018 were sorely disappointed, as Hextall stood pat and calmly made his selections. It was a predictable outcome, as teams now appear less and less inclined to deal picks and other assets to acquire players in trades.

This is one of the ways that the landscape of the NHL is changing. It appears general managers are beginning to wise up, realizing that dealing crucial assets for rental players can have a blowback effect on the franchise for years to come. See Paul Holmgren, circa 2011-12.

In his defense, Hextall has been clear from day one that he is not the kind of general manager who is going to make deals that hurt his team in the long run. His trade of Schenn was one that brought him an extra pick this year, and so that trade was one that made sense for the organization.

Hextall was admittedly frustrated (via Sam Carchidi, that no sensible moves materialized along the trade front this year, despite hope that other teams might be calling about one of their two first-round picks. And so the slow build continues, as Flyers fans are now left to wonder what the cerebral general manager can do to improve his team before the puck drops next season.

The only options left that make sense for Hextall are free agency and the trade market. The 2018 free agency period opens up officially on Sunday, July 1. Two of this year’s biggest free agents are Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson and New York Islanders center John Tavares.

While Carlson has already re-signed with the Capitals (via ESPN), Tavares is seemingly off the Flyers’ radar after reportedly agreeing to meet with five teams (via Evan Sporer, Sporting News) ahead of the official free agency period. The Flyers won’t have the chance to court him.

Philadelphia will most likely try to improve the team through free agency, though don’t expect Hextall to make some sort of landmark signing. This is just not the year for that, as the group of free agents set to hit the market is not exactly overflowing with All Stars. For reference, see the Hockey News’ top 30 free agents of 2018.

Rather, Hextall will most likely attempt to add pieces that not only make sense financially, but will address the biggest problem areas on the roster, namely a penalty-killing forward and a center. Names that have been linked to the Flyers thus far include forwards James Van Riemsdyk, Paul Stastny, Tyler Bozak, Michael Grabner, Riley Nash, and defenseman Mike Green and Calvin de Haan.

Any of a number of combinations of the players mentioned above would appear to be decent fits for the current roster. These are guys that, while not superstars, should be upgrades over guys like Valtteri Filppula, Brandon Manning, and Matt Read. None of these players will instantly transform the Flyers into a cup contender, and it is important to keep that in mind once the free agency period begins.

It is also important to remember that Hextall will look to acquire players that won’t cost the team a lot in terms of average annual value or involve lengthy contract periods. Players looking for a big payday likely won’t be hearing from Hextall.

The goal for the current Flyers team is to get back to the playoffs and prove that it can at least win a series. How and when this rebuild ultimately culminates in a Stanley Cup being raised is a question for another day, but for now, look for Hextall to be active this coming weekend.

The last and least likely option for Hextall is the trade market, which appears to be even thinner than that of free agency. Again, the league is in a place right now where most general managers are looking to improve through asset accumulation, not by sending picks and prospects to other teams for rental players.

Now, that is not to say that player for player trades won’t still happen. The Carolina Hurricanes just completed this type of deal at the draft (via ESPN), so if there is something out there that makes sense for Hextall, he will explore it.

There are a few players that have been linked to the Flyers on the trade front, namely Buffalo Sabres center Ryan O’Reilly (via Tom Doughtery, NBC Sports Philadelphia). O’Reilly is a player that would be a superb fit as the Flyers third-line pivot, though his current cap his is a bit of an issue at $7.5 million AAV for the next five years. Acquiring O’Reilly would likely require Buffalo retaining some of that salary, in addition to whatever the Flyers would need to give up for him.

Next: What happened to Sixers four second-round picks?

Wayne Simmonds is a current Flyer whose name has been floating around seemingly the entire offseason, so he could certainly be involved in a package that gets sent to Buffalo for O’Reilly. However, A recent tweet from Elliot Friedman quoting Hextall’s desire to sign Simmonds certainly lends a fair amount of doubt to that scenario.

All in all, I expect Hextall to be very active during free agency this coming Sunday and beyond. He is not going to make any sexy, blockbuster moves, but what he can do is add some pieces that will compliment the Flyers current roster and hopefully upgrade them just enough to allow them to take a step forward next season.