Equal parts expensive and inadequate, the Flyers roster is primed for an overhaul. The team’s ugly 13-21-8 record attests to this. With the head coaching role, captaincy, and perhaps even the general manager position all up in the air as the season nears the halfway point, the Flyers of 2022-2023 could (and should) look very different. See below which players they need, and how they can acquire them.
Flyers’ second all-time leading scorer Claude Giroux is almost certainly playing his last games in orange and black, which will concurrently open up the captaincy and some $8 million in cap room. Kevin Hayes will make nearly as much for the next 4 seasons, though given his injury record the Flyers will be keen to move him. The team would be lucky to move on James van Riemsdyk and any of the $7 million he is owed in 2022-2023 and could listen to offers for Travis Konecny as they try to load up on draft capital at the deadline. All this is to say that the Flyers will be chock full of vacancies in a forward group where it seems only Sean Couturier, Joel Farabee, and Cam Atkinson are certain to stay for the long haul. How should they fill them? Let’s take a look.
Sign: RW Jesse Puljujarvi, Edmonton Oilers
The Edmonton Oilers are in deep trouble, which is ironic given that they have two of the five best players in the world. It is, after all, difficult to round out a top-heavy roster in the salary cap era. The Oilers, who have won three times since December 2nd, know that well. Thanks to the monster deals they gave to superstar duo Connor Mcdavid and Leon Draisatl, top-six goalscorers Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Zach Hyman, and imposing defenseman Darnell Nurse, the Oilers have virtually no financial wiggle room. In the case of RFA winger Jesse Puljujarvi, their struggles can work for the Flyers. Puljujarvi is a 23-year-old forward enjoying his best season to date in 2021-2022, having already tied his career-high in points in just 35 games, notching 10 goals and 15 assists. A 6’4 netfront presence, Puljujarvi is the sort of player the Flyers are starving for. Sean Couturier and Wade Allison, still with the AHL Phantoms, are the only power forwards currently in the organizational setup. Acquiring Puljujarvi should be as simple as overpaying based on his potential. The Oilers’ MO is keeping young talent on bridge deals until they can afford to pay them long-term. If the Flyers jettison all of their dead weight before free agency, they can tender Puljujarvi somewhere in the 5 year, 4.5 million AAV range, which would surely take financially hamstrung Edmonton out of the equation. That price for a potential 30 goal player is far more reasonable than $7 million for a reliable 25 goals (sound familiar?).
Trade: C Alex Kerfoot, Toronto Maple Leafs
Like the Oilers, the Maple Leafs have tied nearly all of their cap space into an elite group of players, in their case forwards Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares, and William Nylander, as well as newly-extended defenseman Morgan Reilly. That means Toronto will have difficulty re-upping what affordable deals it does have on the books. They are keenly aware of this predicament, which is why they dealt Kasperi Kapanen to the Penguins before they had to pay him. The Flyers should take a hint from their cross-state archrivals and make an offer for centerman Alex Kerfoot, whose reasonable contract (3.5 million AAV) runs out after next season. With the number of question marks surrounding the Flyers’ top two lines, the 27-year-old Kerfoot is the sort of sure thing they could use. A solid passer whose 4-year college career means he has minimal wear and tear, the left-handed shot would be a candidate to stay long term without breaking the bank. Kerfoot is having his best season so far in terms of points-per-game (.71), and thanks to the Leafs’ elite forwards, has had to collect all of his 21 assists and 27 points at even strength. The Maple Leafs will undoubtedly listen to offers for Kerfoot, lest they lose him for nothing in 2023. The Flyers would be wise to pounce.
The Flyers dedicated the better part of last summer to beefing up their defensive corps, paying steeply for Ryan Ellis and Rasmus Ristolainen via trade, and signing veteran lefty Keith Yandle in free agency. Ellis has played just 4 games, though his contract from Nashville has years left on it. Ristolainen has been solid if unspectacular, though is a free agent in the offseason who the Flyers should not pay much more than the $5.4 million he is making this season. Yandle has had a difficult time, and along with the surprisingly reliable Justin Braun, will almost certainly be plying his trade elsewhere in 2022-2023. Additionally, Travis Sanheim is on a short contract and could be traded given his solid season. In short, Ellis, Ivan Provorov, and Cam York are the only defensemen that will surely be with the Flyers in 2022-2023. So who will man the blueline next year? There are certain players the Flyers should go after.
Sign: D Tony Deangelo, Carolina Hurricanes
Tony Deangelo, thanks to a colorful past including incidents of intrasquad feuds and racial abuse, is a very tricky free agent to evaluate from a monetary standpoint. He has kept his nose clean with the Hurricanes this year, who brought him in for just $1 million after his disgraceful exit from the Rangers. The one-year gamble has paid off for the NHL’s 4th best attack in goals-per-game, as Deangelo has collected an outrageous 32 points in 31 games. In a league where offensive d-men are all the rage, Deangelo should be one of the most valuable upcoming free agents on the market. Because of the associated risks, he probably will not get paid as such. Still, fellow right-handed blueline shot Ethan Bear, an RFA coming off of a bridge deal he inked in Edmonton, might make him too pricey for the Hurricanes. Bear is a defensively sound defenseman, making him more valuable to the already explosive ‘Canes than Deangelo. Bear will not want to chance another prove-it deal. That should make it easier for the Flyers to take Carolina out of contention for Deangelo, with, say, a 5-year/$21 million offer sheet. His talent demands at least $7 million AAV, which would make him a serious steal if he can continue to behave himself.
Trade: D Joel Edmunson, Montreal Canadiens
The Montreal Canadiens are among the top candidates to be a selling team this summer. They are the worst team in hockey and among the most expensive. If the Habs do not start offloading veteran assets and surrounding Cole Caulfield and Nick Suzuki with prospects they could be in deep trouble far into the future. The Flyers should be among the vultures circling the Bell Centre. One of their more coveted trade targets will be Joel Edmunson, who led the team with a +28 rating in his lone season in Montreal thus far. Edmunson has had bad luck this year, having missed every game to date with back issues, which should drive his market down somewhat. He may well suit up elsewhere to begin 2022-2023. The Flyers would be lucky to have Edmunson. His player comparison on the current team is Justin Braun, a stay-at-home defenseman who can slide between pairings. Unlike Braun, Edmunson, who is just 28 and will make $3.5 million AAV through 2024, is still in his prime and could still be a valuable depth player once the Flyers escape the mediocrity that plagues them. The biggest obstacle for acquiring Edmunson may be convincing him the outlook in Philadelphia is positive enough for him to waive his no-trade clause.
Carter Hart is locked in as the Flyers’ top netminder for next year. He is just 23 and performing respectably under difficult circumstances. The backup situation in South Philadelphia is less clear, with Martin Jones an unrestricted free agent and very much average. If and when he is replaced, who will take over as Hart’s deputy? One candidate, in particular, stands out.
Sign: G Thomas Greiss, Detroit Red Wings
First thing’s first: Thomas Greiss is having a bad year. Greiss is over 3 goals-against by some distance (3.36) and is south of .900 in the save percentage department (.894). At 35, he could go either way from here. Continue to slide, and he probably will not get another shot at the highest level. Still, his ceiling is too high to ignore for what will presumably be less than the $2 million Jones is making this season. Throughout his career he has excelled in limited playing time; 10 of his 13 seasons have finished with a 2.74 GAA or better. In 2018-2019, he finished with career bests in goals-against and save percentage, 2.28 and .927. If he plays anywhere near that level in 2022-2023 for the Flyers, they will have done some very frugal business.
Photo: Perry Nelson/ USA Today Sports