Philadelphia Flyers: Provorov’s contract situation could get complicated

(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

With the Philadelphia Flyers having wrapped up their free agency moves, the priority now shifts to the remaining restricted free agents. One of those players is top defenseman Ivan Provorov.

With the days of free agency and the draft now in the rearview, most NHL teams have taken to planning for the upcoming 2019-20 hockey season. This means offseason programs, rookie camps, and for some teams, putting the finishing touches on contracts for unsigned players.

The Philadelphia Flyers currently have several restricted free agents who remain unsigned as we approach the midpoint of summer. One of those players is defenseman Ivan Provorov, a player who has the potential to be the top blueliner on the Flyers for the next decade-plus.

Provorov was drafted in  2016 by then-GM Ron Hextall, who felt he couldn’t pass on Provorov’s talent despite the organization already possessing highly regarded prospects in Samuel Morin, Philippe Myers, and Travis Sanheim.

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Throughout the first two seasons on the ice, the organization and the fan base felt very confident that Provorov had the ability to become a number one defenseman in the NHL- something every team ultimately covets. He ate up 20-25 minutes a night, killed penalties, and flashed some high-end skill in the offensive zone. He struggled at times, as most players aged 19-20 tend to do once they turn pro, but those struggles weren’t viewed as anything particularly concerning.

But then the 2018-19 season happened, and it was one that Provorov would probably prefer to forget. Provorov wasn’t the only member of the defensive corp who struggled, but he and Shayne Gostisbehere were perhaps the most concerning in terms of their mistakes, as the duo proved the previous year that they could make for a very dangerous top pairing.

Coming into the 2019 season, the organization expected Provorov to continue his development and show that he can one day blossom into Philadelphia’s version of Victor Hedman or Duncan Keith. Unfortunately, that type of season never materialized for Provorov, but in all fairness, it would be pretty hard to single just one player out when thinking back to the disastrous season that was 2019.

Even still, Provorov did not appear to be himself in 2019. He had the lowest point total of his career at 26 and was a minus 16. Now to be fair, the Flyers received the league’s worst goaltending, and ultimately ended up firing the head coach and the GM. Those factors certainly cannot be ignored. But on the ice, Provorov uncharacteristically struggled in the defensive zone and was not particularly potent on offense either. It would certainly count as a regression year.

And that down year couldn’t have come at a more complicated time. The Provorov camp is currently engaged with GM Chuck Fletcher as they try to hammer out a new deal that would see the restricted free agent sign a long-term deal and remain with the Flyers for the foreseeable future. The only question is what that will cost the Flyers.

It is believed that Provorov’s agent is looking to score something in the neighborhood of $8 million per year for the 22-year-old defenseman. And this is where the controversy and balancing act begins. Signing young players to hefty contracts is not always in the best interest of the organization. All too often these deals are made at or above market value, only to see a level of production that hardly warrants the price tag.

As The Courier Post’s Dave Isaac recently tweeted, Provorov’s agent is obviously seeking fair market value for his client. Tyler Myers, formerly a defenseman with the Buffalo Sabres, just signed a deal with Vancouver that will pay him $30 million over five years, with an average annual value of $6 million per year.

Myers is nowhere near the player the Provorov projects to be, so the expectation is that Provorov will certainly be paid more than $6 million per year. In addition to that, Columbus’ Zach Werenski and Boston’s Charlie McAvoy are both waiting on new deals. Whoever signs first will surely be the one to set the market for the remaining unsigned players.

So what is a player like Provorov worth? As previously mentioned, number one defensemen are hard to come by, as most who are drafted will not ascend to that role in the NHL. A team’s top blueliner must be able to log the toughest minutes against the opponent’s best players, all while defending at a high level and contributing to the breakout. Players like Erik Karlsson, Hedman, and PK Subban are guys that excel in both ends of the ice, and thus they are paid accordingly.

Provorov has certainly shown that he possesses the ceiling of a number one defenseman, and he’s been used in this role essentially since he joined the Flyers three years ago as a 19-year-old. He already logs the toughest minutes and can succeed at both ends of the ice. But for a player coming off of the worst year of his young career, should the Flyers be willing to take the risk no matter what the cost?

This is probably the root of the hangup between the two camps. The Provorov camp obviously feels he should be paid like a number one given that’s the role he’s been thrust into by the Flyers organization. There’s a clear belief that Provorov has the ability to be the Flyers best defenseman for the next decade-although Sanehiem may have something to say about that.

Things could become problematic for the Flyers if Werenski and McAvoy are overpaid. Both players compare favorably to Provorov, which is why Fletcher probably expects to have to contend with whatever deals are handed out in Columbus and Boston.

Werenski has had marginally better offensive production that Provorov, but the numbers for all three are fairly similar. The advanced possession metrics look far better for Werenski and McAvoy compared to Provorov, but both have the luxury of playing in front of elite goaltenders Sergei Bobrovsky and Tuuka Rask.

There’s certainly an argument to be made that Provorov deserves a deal on par with Werenski and McAvoy, but Fletcher must be cautious as he’s running low on cap space, with Travis Konecny still unsigned.

Fletcher and the rest of the Flyers brass value what Provorov brings to the table, and they will most likely pay him what they feel is fair. Whether both sides can agree on that number is something else altogether. One other major concern is that Provorov could hold out for a better contract.

If this holdout begins in the preseason and continues through October, the level of concern will jump dramatically. The Flyers need to get off to a good start in 2019, and that can only happen if the team’s best players are on the ice each night performing their duties. Provorov is a player the Flyers desperately need to have a bounce-back year.

What’s more, a potential holdout would force the Flyers to start the season with a mostly new and unproven crop of defenseman. Matt Niskanen and Justin Braun, two aging players coming off of mediocre seasons, were added in the offseason by Fletcher and the hope is that they will bring a stabilizing veteran presence to the blueline.

In addition to Braun and Niskanen, The Flyers hope Myers will take a big step forward and prove that he is ready to be a full-time NHL defenseman. Sanheim and Gostisbehere would round out the group, which would leave a question mark as to who would fill the void left by Provorov.

This could be why the Flyers still have eight defensemen under contract. As it stands right now, Morin and Robert Hagg should be battling in camp for the 7th and final roster spot. Were Provorov to miss any time, one of those two would be thrust into everyday duties. It’s not an ideal situation, especially with Hagg coming off a nightmarish year by almost every advanced metric used in hockey.

Morin meanwhile, has not had the best of luck with injuries to start his pro career. Drafted in 2014, it’s long been wondered what kind of ceiling Morin has at the NHL level. He just hasn’t been healthy enough to play meaningful games against NHL players, something the organization will need to see out of him in camp. Fans have been clamoring for years to see Morin do some damage in the Orange and Black. His monstrous size and gritty style of play have made him somewhat of a cult favorite among those who follow the organization’s prospects.

But both Morin and Hagg are most likely best suited for the seventh and final spot on the blueline, and not an everyday role. The hope is that Provorov and the Flyers can reach a deal that will make sense for all parties. Fletcher will need to be creative in not exceeding the salary cap but also avoiding sending over an offer that might be seen as insulting to Provorov’s camp.

Either way, the Flyers likely cannot afford to pay him more than 8 million a year, and even that number might create cap problems for the Flyers. With Morin no longer waiver-exempt, they stand to lose him if they decide to try to send him down to the minors, keep Hagg, and save some cap space. It’s a risky proposition, but once Provorov is signed, Fletcher should eventually be able to shave off some cap space by sending one of the remaining two blueliners down. In all likelihood, Hagg would be the best candidate for a demotion, as he can be sent down and recalled at any time.

Fletcher could try to convince Provorov to sign a bridge deal, which essentially says ‘show us you’re worth it, and we’ll pay you more later.’ Sanheim just signed his own bridge deal for two years at $3.25 million per year, which will keep him a restricted free agent in 2021. But the odds of Provorov signing any kind of deal that would pay him less than $6 million a year seems remote. Bridge deals typically come in between $1-4 million for a shorter term of one-three years.

Next. Philadelphia Flyers offseason overhaul, part five: Free agent signings. dark

This situation will be one to monitor as the summer wraps up and the Flyers prepare to kick off the preseason in late September. Fletcher will need to do everything he can to make sure the Philadelphia Flyers number one blueliner is on the ice when the puck drops in October.