As a break from the doom and gloom of this nearly concluded Philadelphia Flyers season, let’s welcome some optimism into the picture. When it comes to the forward ranks, it appears that the club may have something for next season and beyond. There are good veterans here, and these kids can play.
I won’t try to deceive you and pull some company line about how impressive the all-important “core” is, because anyone can plainly see that the Flyers are currently missing the kind of elite talent that is seemingly vital to winning in today’s league. Heck, even if you aren’t a Cup contender, it’s just a lot more fun to have guys who can put the puck in the net and who give you a reason to tune in on a nightly basis.
Failing that, though, I’m starting to like the mix of what the Flyers currently offer at forward, and I can see things going several ways for next season. For starters, one thing I can totally see happening but that absolutely shouldn’t is that Chuck Fletcher (probably at the behest of Dave Scott) decides to sign one or several veteran-type forwards more for “leadership” and intangible hockey values rather than players who can actually score. Adding third-line-at-best retread types like Derick Brassard again next season would be a colossal waste of time and resources, so let’s please not do that.
The Philadelphia Flyers’ forward mix might be looking up next season.
Let’s turn to a couple scenarios which I see as being more valid, first by looking at the highly paid forwards on this team, and whether or not they’ll be here next year. Simply put, you’re not going to be able to bring in a Johnny Gaudreau or other similarly talented player without moving out one or more big money contracts from the forward group.
First, the unmovable players. Sean Couturier and Scott Laughton (contract length) and Kevin Hayes and Cam Atkinson (no-move/no-trade clauses) all will almost certainly return. And that’s fine. If these four players take up residence on your top three lines, there’s no real issue with that. Among the players who could actually be moved, the most obvious candidate is James van Riemsdyk, who will be going into the final season of a contract that pays him $7 million annually. Others include Travis Konecny (three more years at $5.5 million annually) and Oskar Lindblom, who barely qualifies as highly paid but will make $3 million next year before becoming a restricted free agent and likely needing a raise.
Fletcher and company need to chart one of two courses this offseason. The Flyers can stay status quo with the big money guys and save their cash for another day while hoping that the young/cheap players continue to develop and improve this club from within. Or, they could shed some combo of JvR/Konecny/Lindblom to free up enough money to make a serious run at an elite unrestricted free agent or orchestrate a trade to bring one in. Things simply don’t work financially without shedding these salaries.
Obviously, most everyone wants JvR gone (even though he leads the team in goals); but is it worth it to trade him when you may need to surrender other assets at the same time, as the Flyers had to do with Shayne Gostisbehere? You’d only be getting him off the books for one year, after all. Maybe that can be offset, however, by trading Konecny and getting some value for him. In this case, you’ve freed up a ton of cap room and have essentially swapped these two players for whatever big name you decide to bring in.
Make no mistake, Konecny may very well be expendable thank to the presence of players like Bobby Brink, Owen Tippett, and maybe Wade Allison who will all need right wing spots on this club. Or perhaps the Flyers opt to deal Lindblom instead. We all love Oskar, but the reality is that Noah Cates looks like he brings the same things to the table, is already better at it, and costs way less. Oskar should draw decent interest, and the Flyers would be wise to move him if a sufficient offer comes along, thanks to his likely impending raise after next year.
If the Flyers do not go the “big name” route, and all of the veterans previously mentioned are still here next year, that’s fine too. You’ve got the seven vets, plus the rest of the forward group rounded out by Tippett, Cates, Brink, Morgan Frost, and Joel Farabee, who is still a “young” guy technically but is already paid like an established player and needs to come up big for this club to succeed. Patrick Brown and Zack MacEwen can stick around as the extra forward(s), while young players like a hopefully healthy Allison, Isaac Ratcliffe, Hayden Hodgson and others can come up from the Phantoms as needed.
The Flyers do not, I repeat DO NOT, need to sign any outside forwards unless they are huge difference makers. This team doesn’t need any stereotypical, old, slow, defensive, fourth-liner-type guys. Not all of the young players are going to be stars, so let the coaches (whoever they end up being) earn their pay by molding players who are defensively responsible but still have the skill and speed to contribute offensively instead of being complete black holes. This is a far better option than wasting cap space on veteran nobodies who will be here for a year and take ice time away from younger players.
In the absence of a big addition, rolling with essentially the current group, even JvR, is fine because nobody expects a parade down Broad Street next year. Improvement from the younger players and a return to form by Couturier and others can go a long way toward making 2022-23 much more enjoyable for this organization and its fans. Then you look to spend money next summer.
Notice that I haven’t touched on the defense or goaltending situations, as those are problems for another day that present their own challenges financially and logistically. Just looking at the forwards, however, things aren’t nearly as bad as some people might lead you to believe. There is still a lot to prove within this group, but I’m cautiously optimistic that we can expect bigger and better things from them next season. Assuming that management doesn’t screw it up.