Which Free Agents Best Fit Hextall’s Long Term Plan?

Finding Missing Pieces In Free Agency

We all know Flyers GM Ron Hextall is serious about his “build through the draft” mentality. Considering the Flyers have arguably the best prospect pool in the league, I have total faith in the future of this organization. This season Claude Giroux had the best year of his career. Sean Couturier broke out as a top-line center. Nolan Patrick showcased flashes of brilliance to give us hope for years to come. The bottom six, however, has been underwhelming, to say the least. The Flyers should seriously consider some help from certain free agents this offseason to help bridge the gap until the prospects are developed and ready to play in the NHL.

Although we all hope Hextall makes a push for five-time All-Star John Tavares or offensive minded defenseman John Carlson, it won’t be happening. If either player decides to leave their prospective organizations, it will be for long-term contracts worth more than the Flyers would be willing to give. Granted, both players would make an immediate impact and would better this Flyers team, no argument there. But signing either one does not fit into Hextall’s long-term plan, so here we will be looking at more realistic offensive free agents the Flyers may target this offseason.

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Free Agents To Add Depth Down The Middle

One thing the Flyers lack is strong centers all throughout their line up. With the season that Giroux had, its safe to say that he will remain on the wing heading into next season. That leaves Couturier and Patrick as viable centers. Scott Laughton, Jori Lehtera, and Valtteri Filppula can all be fill-in players, but the Flyers need someone with more talent on the third and fourth lines.

Besides Tavares, the next best player who may become a free agent is Paul Stastny. Where Tavares will be looking to get in the realm of ten million dollars a season for at least six years, Stastny comes at a more reasonable price. At 32 years of age, he is five years older than Tavares, but will probably look to get around five million a year. Stastny had 53 points in the regular season this year. He found a new level to his game after being traded to the Jets at the deadline. He has hovered around 40 points each of the last few seasons and has shown that he can produce even more. Stastny could fit in on either the second or third line, depending on chemistry during camp. The Flyers second power play unit could also use some help, and Stastny could be the missing piece.

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Another Option, For A Bargain Price

Among cheaper free agents that could help the Flyers immediately, another fit would be center Riley Nash. The 21st overall selection in the 2007 draft,  Nash has had a lackluster career. He’s averaged 19.4 points per season since coming up to the NHL prior to this year. In 2017-18, however, he erupted for 15 goals and 41 total points. When Patrice Bergeron was hurt for the Bruins this year, Nash stepped up. He looked comfortable on a line with Brad Marchand and Davis Pastrnak and could help the Flyers on the penalty kill, which has been mediocre at best.

The best part? The Flyers could probably sign Nash for around $2 million per year, for just two to three years. That’s less than both Michael Raffl and Dale Weise’s contracts, but for more production. Raffl is on contract for one more season at $2.35 million. Weise is getting the exact same amount, but for an additional year. The two players combined for 30 points this regular season, eleven short of Nash’s productivity. Nash could make a great option for either third or fourth line center.

Surrounding The Centers With Talent

Once the Flyers are content with their talent at center, they will need to fill holes on the outside. There are several free agents that could make an immediate impact. The first is none other than James Neal. Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t forgotten about his actions during the 2012 playoffs. He has grown into a different player since then. After being coached by Peter Laviolette in Nashville, his style of play has changed drastically. His penalty minute totals in the last three seasons have dropped from 65 to 35 to 24, according to hockey-reference.com

Throughout his career, he has become a leader on his respective teams and at 30 years old, he still has a lot left in the tank. This season with the Vegas Golden Knights, he had 25 goals and 19 assists in the regular season. At whats expected to be around six million dollars per year, signing him isn’t exactly cheap. As Flyers fans, you are used to seeing older guys get too much money. With Neal, you will actually get what you pay for. He has tons of playoff experience, playing in 90 postseason games so far. He could make a great third line winger, and provide leadership in the locker room.

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Fast and Curious

One name that Flyers fans will certainly be familiar with: Michael Grabner. He has played for four teams in the Eastern Conference, three of which are in the Flyers division. He has one unavoidable glaring trait when watching him play: speed. His ability to separate himself from opponents, with or without the puck, is nearly unmatched. He has a shoot-first mentality, which is something the Flyers desperately lack. His overall hockey talent level puts him in the middle six, however, his creativity is something special. Crazy as it may sound, experimenting a line with him, Giroux and Couturier might be something worth trying.

His career has seen ups and downs, and its hard to tell which version of Grabner you are signing. With 40 points in 2016-17 and 36 this past season, he may still be worth taking a risk on over other free agents. After being benched during the Devil’s postseason, he might be available at a bargain rate. To guarantee himself a spot on a bench for three years, the Flyers might be able to get him for $1.3-1.5 million per year. For the type of production, we have seen he is capable of producing at a high level, it just might be worth the risk.

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All stats for this article are from www.nhl.com.

Featured image: CummoIslandersFlames12 via Flickr