Johnny Berman The Hockey Writers
Flyers Set Up for Sustained Success
The Philadelphia Flyers have a lot to be excited about. They are in a strong playoff position following an impressive regular season; they have a talented roster without any glaring weakness, and they are set up for sustained success.
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The first two should come as little surprise. After finishing sixth in the Metropolitan Division last season and failing to make the playoffs, the Flyers responded emphatically this season. They began the season with a mediocre 22-15-6 record, but found a different gear in January and closed out the season on a 19-6-1-run. That run included a nine-game winning streak which began in mid-February.
Or course, the main reason why the Flyers were so successful is that they have such a talented roster. Veteran forwards Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek had unsurprisingly strong seasons, while 22-year-old Travis Konecny broke out with a team-high 61 points. Among the blueliners, Matt Niskanen and Justin Braun brought veteran leadership, while youngsters Ivan Provorov and Travis Sanheim emerged as stars. Meanwhile, in net, Carter Hart continued to progress and had a strong second season with a 2.42 goals-against average.
While these reasons should be more than enough cause for excitement, it is the third point that is most important: sustained success. Thanks to the work of general manager Chuck Fletcher, the Flyers should have a lot of that, too.
Fletchers’ 2019 Offseason
Fletcher had a busy offseason and wasted very little time getting started. Less than two weeks after the 2018-19 season concluded, he hired Alain Vigneault as the 21st head coach in team history. He then made a flurry of trades, acquiring Niskanen, Braun, Kevin Hayes and Tyler Pitlick. That same week, he had a pretty strong draft and snagged the talented defenseman Cam York with the 14th overall pick.
While these moves brought a first-rate coach and several key players into the organization, his most consequential moves were internal. Fletcher signed Hayes (seven years), Konecny (six years), Provorov (six years), Sanheim (two years) and Scott Laughton (two years) to multi-year extensions.
In doing so, he ensured that this emerging core of young stars would remain intact for at least the 2020-21 season, and in the case of Hayes, Konecny and Provorov: for several years to come.
Flyers’ Pending Free Agents
Four years earlier, Fletcher’s predecessor Ron Hextall signed Couturier and Voracek to lengthy extensions. Just two years before that, his predecessor Paul Holmgren signed Giroux to a massive eight-year extension.
What this all means is that several of the Flyers’ key players are now signed through next season, and in some cases, for a few seasons after that. In fact, the Flyers’ top 12 point leaders this season are all signed through at least next season. Meanwhile, the top five are all signed through at least the next two.
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As it turns out, Fletcher will only have a few free-agent decisions to make this summer. However, there will be a couple of important ones to make on pending RFA blueliners, Robert Hagg and Philippe Myers. Hagg led the Flyers in hits this season, while Myers paired nicely with Sanheim before succumbing to a season-ending injury. It’s possible that the Seattle expansion team will take one of these players if available, so Fletcher will need to account for that, too.
Fletcher will have a much easier time navigating the rest of the lineup, however. Forwards Nate Thompson, Derek Grant and Pitlick will be UFAs, while Nicolas Aube-Kubel will be an RFA. Thompson and Grant, who joined the Flyers as rentals at this season’s trade deadline, are likely on their way out. Pitlick and Aube-Kubel have a shot at coming back.
Meanwhile, Brian Elliott may be gone after an unimpressive season as the backup netminder. That shouldn’t be a huge issue for Fletcher though, as there will be solid backup goalies available, including perhaps Thomas Greiss.
The one problem with all the lengthy contract extensions handed out by Holmgren, Hextall and Fletcher is that the Flyers do not have much cap space. Per Spotrac, the Flyers will have $11.1 million in cap space this summer, ranked 18th in the NHL. Nonetheless, they will need to allocate that among seven players, while some teams with less cap space have fewer roster spots to fill. Therefore, Fletcher may have to shuffle the roster a little bit if he hopes to retain Hagg and Myers.
The salary cap might be an even bigger issue the following offseason when Hart, Sanheim and this season’s most improved Flyer, Laughton, all need new contracts.
Still, Flyer fans can take solace in the fact that several of their key players are locked up for years to come. No matter what happens with the rest of the roster, Konecny, Provorov and Hayes will each be wearing the orange and black for at least the next five seasons. Even if some of their teammates come and go, these three still form a pretty strong core. Not to mention, Giroux, Couturier and Voracek are all signed through at least the next two seasons as well.
So yes, Fletcher will continue facing important contract decisions, but maybe this summer he can at least relax a bit knowing that he has already re-signed these key players. In doing so, he has guaranteed a strong Flyers roster for the next few seasons, and more generally: sustained success.
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