April 30, 2019 | 10:19am ET
By Anthony Di Marco, The Fourth Period
FLETCHER’S FIRST OFF-SEASON POISED TO BE BIG
Chuck Fletcher, GM
MONTREAL, QC – The year was 2007. The Philadelphia Flyers had just finished off their worst regular-seasons in franchise history, compiling a mere 53 points and ending the season dead last in the NHL. Paul Holmgren, who had taken over for Bob Clarke in the first month of the 2006-07 campaign, was entering his first summer as General Manager of the team.
Holmgren had already made changes in the season, most notably trading team Captain Peter Forsberg to the Nashville Predators, and seemed determined to give a quick turnaround to a team that had promising young stars Jeff Carter and Mike Richards coming into their own as everyday NHLers.
Holmgren did not disappoint, bringing in Joffrey Lupul, Scott Hartnell, Kimmo Timonen and Jason Smith in two separate trades in June of 2007. Then on July 1, Holmgren landed the biggest free agent fish available, signing Danny Briere to an eight-year contract. The rest is history, as the Flyers mega off-season laid the blue print for competitive teams for the next half a decade, winning seven playoff series in five consecutive post-season berths.
Fast forward 12 years, six Head Coaches and three General Managers later: the Flyers are set for another off-season of this magnitude.
Chuck Fletcher is entering his first summer as GM and is rumored to be big game hunting. The days of Ron Hextalls’s “two-three year” approach are long gone, and Fletcher is poised turn this ship around in the short-term. But don’t just take the rumors’ words for it, as Fletcher has already made a splash in the young off-season in Philadelphia by bringing in Alain Vigneault to be the next bench boss. Vigneault, who signed a five year deal worth $25 million, is the first established Head Coach in Philadelphia since Peter Laviolette was hired in December of 2009.
If Vigneault’s hire is any indication, it is that Fletcher will be aggressive this summer.
Thanks to Hextall’s brilliant drafting and cap manipulation, Fletcher has many bullets in his chamber to put to work this off-season. With a projected $31.7 million in cap space (not including the impending cap increase) and a total seven first round selections dating back to 2015, the assets and resources Fletcher has to work with left to him by his predecessor are seemingly endless. But how will Fletcher go about using this to his advantage?
The Flyers have two glaring needs that have to be addressed: a top-six centre and a top four, right shot defenseman.
With an abundance of cap-space at his disposal, it is expected that Fletcher will take a healthy look at this year’s free agent crop. Headlined by San Jose superstar defenseman Erik Karlsson, this year’s UFA class is one above average. With the Flyers in need of help on the blueline, specifically a right shot rearguard, expect Fletcher to look into Karlsson and the Jets’ Tyler Myers. While Karlsson will be in the hunt for a Drew Doughty type of contract (eight years, $11 million AAV), bringing in Myers may be the more realistic and cap-friendly option.
Up front, the class is headlined by Matt Duchene and Brock Nelson, as Artemi Panarin does not appear to be a likely option for Philly.
Duchene, 28, will be looking to cash in big, on what figures to be his last mega contract in the NHL. Considering this, Nelson or Kevin Hayes would likely be the better fit down the middle for the Flyers financially. The problem is, Fletcher will most certainly be in a bidding war with apposing clubs should any of the previously mentioned four players even get to the market. Players of such magnitude rarely get to market, and when they do, are often overpaid to do Supply and Demand; basic economics.
If such is the case, Fletcher will have no choice but to look to improve via trade.
As mentioned, Fletcher has a ton of cap room and a healthy prospect pool to work with; something not many teams have in duel fashion. Fletcher’s biggest trade chip figures to be the 11th overall selection in the upcoming NHL Draft, which could be attractive to club’s that do not own a first-round pick this year and are hard up against the salary cap.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are in for a tough summer, as budding superstar Mitch Marner can become an RFA and is rumored to be commanding a deal with an AAV north of $10 million. With John Tavares and Auston Matthews already locked up to deals that pay them over $11 million each, GM Kyle Dubas has to shift money to sign Marner.
Nazem Kadri, 28, is a name rumored to be on the market. With the Leafs paying so much to their top two centreman, they may have to sacrifice Kadri and his $4.5 million AAV. William Nylander, soon to be 23, is fresh off of a down year after signing a six-year contract with an AAV of just less than $7 million. Could he be on the outside looking in as Dubas looks to manipulate the cap? With no first-round selection this Draft, could Fletcher look to pry one of them away using the 11th overall?
With forwards Kyle Conner and Patrik Laine and defenseman Jacob Trouba all set to become RFAs, the Jets will be forced to make some tough decisions this coming summer. With less than $24 million to work with, rumors are that Trouba could be available. The Jets don’t own a first round pick either this summer, and would likely command one in any deal involving the 25-year-old Trouba.
After a first round exit, the Nashville Predators are rumored to want to shake things up this summer. With a plethora of impact defensemen on their roster, P.K. Subban and his $9 million AAV figure to be on the market. Earlier this week, Sportsnet analyst John Shannon mentioned that he believes GM David Poile will entertain calls on Subban. Last summer, while in conversation on TSN 690 Montreal Radio, TFP Editor-in-Chief David Pagnotta reported that he believed Subban would be traded out of Nashville prior to the end of his contract.
With three years left on his deal, Fletcher could very easily absorb Subban with the enormous amount of short term cap-space without being tied into a longer-term contract that would come with a UFA like Karlsson or Myers. Considering Subban is an elite-level defenseman and a Norris Trophy winner, it would take a lot more than a first-round selection to pry him away from the Predators. With the Predators likely wanting to stay competitive, a player like Shayne Gostisbehere (who has been rumored in trade discussions since Fletcher’s arrival) and his modest $4.5 million AAV could be an attractive add for Nashville.
Time will only tell which direction Fletcher ends up going in this off-season, but one thing is for certain: the Flyers will not be dormant. Coming out of an era of being passive and patient, expect a throwback to the summer of 2007 as the Flyers enter the off-season.
As Holmgren’s was 12 years ago, Fletcher’s first summer as GM figures to be an exciting one; filled with aggressive moves and big acquisitions.