Less than a week has passed since the Philadelphia Flyers were knocked out of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. General manager Chuck Fletcher can’t waste time dwelling on what could have been.
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said this week that there’s no firm start date yet for the 2020-21 regular season, but the goal is still to complete a full 82-game campaign. Regardless of when hockey returns, the 2020 NHL Draft is now set to be conducted virtually on Oct. 6-7. Free agency is expected to open almost immediately afterward, on October 9.
October Draft Preview
Barring any additional trades, the Flyers will have seven picks in the upcoming draft. They don’t have a third-round pick. That was dealt to the San Jose Sharks last summer as part of the payment for defenseman Justin Braun. They do have two seventh-round picks — their own, plus one that was acquired from Montreal last June in exchange for their seventh-rounder in 2019.
In the first round, the Flyers will be picking 23rd in what’s believed to be a deep draft.
Fletcher currently has 15 roster players signed for next season, at a cost of just over $72.5 million. The salary cap will remain flat at $81.5 million in 2020-21. That leaves just under $9 million to sign eight players, including restricted free agents.
Don’t expect to see Philadelphia making any splashy free-agent signings this offseason. There will be nothing on par with the $50 million deal that was handed out to Kevin Hayes last summer.
Up front, three forwards are entering unrestricted free agency: Tyler Pitlick and trade-deadline acquisitions Nate Thompson and Derek Grant. All three were fixtures on the penalty kill. Thompson and Pitlick both brought some much-needed physicality, and Pitlick also showed he could move up the lineup when needed.
Pitlick turns 29 in November. He was acquired last summer in exchange for winger Ryan Hartman and is coming off a three-year contract that paid him $1 million a year. If Pitlick is amenable to a similar deal next season, he could be a good value piece for Fletcher.
The only defenseman heading for unrestricted free agency is Braun. The 33-year-old just completed a five-year deal that paid him $3.8 million per season. That’s pricey for a third-pairing blueliner. It’s unlikely that Braun will be back unless it’s at a steep discount. Older veterans like Braun could be the type of players who get squeezed significantly by the flat salary cap.
In net, Brian Elliott is also approaching UFA status again. He signed a one-year deal that paid him $2 million to stay in Philadelphia last season. Now 35, Elliott is an effective mentor and partner for Carter Hart — and he had a pretty decent year between the pipes, too. Don’t be surprised to see Elliott sign another one-year contract for the same money, or perhaps a little less.
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In The System
Oskar Lindblom’s return for the final two games of the playoffs was an inspiration for the Flyers. He’ll be even valuable next season, once his cancer treatments are farther in the rearview mirror and he has a few more months to train. Lindblom, 24, had been in the midst of a breakout campaign, with 11 goals in 30 games, when his season was halted by his Ewing’s sarcoma diagnosis last December.
Joel Farabee, 20, has shown that he’s ready to move into a full-time NHL role next season. Morgan Frost, 21, should also be one step closer.
It remains unclear whether Nolan Patrick, who turns 22 later this month, will be ready to return to action after missing the entire 2019-20 season and playoffs with migraine disorder.
Fletcher on Patrick: Nolan is feeling better, he's skating, he's golfing, he's living mostly a normal life. Until we get him back into a contact situation, it's hard to know when he'll be cleared to play.
— Charlie O'Connor (@charlieo_conn) September 10, 2020
Patrick is now a restricted free agent, so he’ll also need a new contract before he can suit up for the Flyers again. Philippe Myers, who had a bit of a coming-out party in the playoffs, is also an RFA without arbitration rights. Two other restricted free agents do have arbitration available to them: forward Nicolas Aube-Kubel and defenseman Robert Hagg.
Fletcher took over the Flyers’ general manager’s chair in December of 2018. Over one offseason and two trade deadlines, he has already remade the team significantly — with good results.
Chuck Fletcher mentioned flat salary cap and how they have young players that need new contracts.
He said he doesn't expect Flyers to be major players in free agency over next few seasons. They will be open to the trade front.
But Fletcher and Flyers like their young players. pic.twitter.com/tpVwBY0nA1
— Jordan Hall (@JHallNBCS) September 10, 2020
The rate of change may slow from here, but expect to see Fletcher continue to be active as he strives to move his team further up the NHL ranks.