After re-signing forward Michael Raffl to a two-year extension today, the Philadelphia Flyers are in an enviable position heading into the off-season. New GM Chuck Fletcher has his team in position to enter the summer free agent market without any risk of losing any valuable unrestricted free agents. Add that to ample cap space and a deep pipeline of talent at all positions and the Flyers are in position to only get better this summer and the Eastern Conference should be on alert.
Of course, there are still areas of need in Philadelphia. The one gaping hole is in net, where the team needs a long-term option to pair with young phenom Carter Hart. Of their small list of UFA’s, four are goaltenders: Brian Elliott, recent trade acquisition Cam Talbot, injured Michal Neuvirth, and buried Mike McKenna. However, the price of acquiring Talbot earlier this year – young keeper Anthony Stolarz – has led many to believe that the Flyers see Talbot as that long-term fit. An extension has yet to be signed, but the Flyers very well may have the answer to their question in goal already on the roster.
Elsewhere, forward Phil Varone is perhaps the closest thing to a difficult free agent loss that Philly could suffer this off-season. Varone, 28, had 50 NHL games to his credit over five years prior to this season but has ended up skating in 43 more so far with the Flyers while on a minimum two-way contract. It’s possible that Varone could bolt this summer, but a one-way contract would likely be enough to keep him around and, if he does leave, his seven points would not be hard to make up for. Jori Lehtera has the most name recognition among impending free agent forwards, but the 31-year-old has not been the same players since the move to Philadelphia two years ago and was buried in the minors after recording just three points through his first 27 games of the season. Lehtera won’t be back with the Flyers and is likely on his way out of the NHL altogether. Other UFA forwards include Corban Knight, Tyrell Goulbourne, Michael Vecchione, Byron Froese, Greg Carey, and Cole Bardreau, a group of 25-and-over players who have combined for one point in 19 NHL games this season. Carey, the leading scorer of the AHL’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms, is perhaps the only one of group that the Flyers could see as a loss if not retained.
What the Flyers really need, even with many promising forward prospects, is to add another proven top-six forward to the roster and should be able to do so with significant salary cap flexibility. Even after negotiating new contracts with their restricted free agents, the Flyers should have enough cap room to bid for one of the top forwards on the market if they so choose. Even if they lose out on a top name, their offense cannot be any worse than it was this year and it was still good enough to give the Flyers a shot at the postseason.
On the blue line, the Flyers are deep and versatile with a mix of talented young players and established veterans. Not one defenseman in the entire organization is an unrestricted free agent, so that group will be back in full force next season, possibly with some additions.
Simply put, there is no way that Philadelphia can get any worse going into next season barring a bad trade, an RFA holdout, or some other unexpected calamity. They do not have one unrestricted free agent whose loss could really hurt them (unless a Talbot deal falls through). On the other hand, their cap space and depth of prospects give them a great chance to improve next season one way or another. Right now, the Flyers are a fringe playoff team, which is not any team’s goal. However, Philly should enter 2019-20 with that as their floor and, depending on what they do over the summer, could have a much higher ceiling. And that is a good place to be.