The NHL offseason is in full swing. We are past the draft, free agency, and now sit and wait for the restricted free agents to sign.
Chuck Fletcher’s first offseason as general manager of the Philadelphia Flyers is nearly over. Shortly after it began, we looked at five things (with a bonus) on his offseason to-do list for the Flyers. Now, let’s break down how he did with each item.
Hire a head coach: Completed
Fletcher made quick work of the first item on his offseason to-do list by hiring Alain Vigneault on April 15, just 10 days after the final day of the regular season.
Most Flyers fans had their eyes on Joel Quenneville ever since Dave Hakstol was fired in December, but with Coach Q off the board, Fletcher went out and got the next best thing.
Vigneault has his flaws, as does any head coach, but his later years in New York as coach of the Rangers are not a true picture of his coaching abilities. He is an experienced coach that has had winning teams everywhere he has gone. He has also been able to help develop young players — especially in Vancouver with the Canucks.
Hiring Vigneault has grown on most in recent months. He has a proven track record of taking teams to the next level and is the right coach to do that for this Flyers team.
While Vigneault isn’t as flashy of a hire as Quenneville, he was one of the best coaches on the market and has a strong track record taking over teams.
Lock up the restricted free agents: In progress
The only item left on Fletcher’s offseason to-do list is one of the most important ones for the short- and long-term future.
The Flyers have already signed their lower-profile restricted free agents in Travis Sanheim, Scott Laughton and Nicolas Aube-Kubel while trading Ryan Hartman and not qualifying Justin Bailey. Now, Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny await new contracts.
Fletcher is having “amicable” talks with Provorov while waiting for the market to shake out, and things are progressing with Konecny, but nothing is done yet.
Sean Couturier and Shayne Gostisbehere are great examples of Ron Hextall locking up RFAs in the past, and hopefully, Provorov and Konecny could follow suit.
Add a top-four defenseman: Completed
While Fletcher didn’t make the big splash that some had hoped for with Erik Karlsson, he made a few moves to solidify the Flyers’ blue line.
Matt Niskanen and Justin Braun bring veteran leadership and experience to the Flyers. Karlsson would’ve been nice, but his price tag would’ve likely been too high for the Flyers. These two moves don’t handcuff the Flyers past next season and give the young guns some room to settle in and put them in position to succeed.
Fletcher let it be known that he didn’t want to overcommit to free agents. By trading for Niskanen and Braun, the Flyers have a solid group of defensemen that will be better at just that: defense. The Flyers allowed 280 goals last year, third-most in the league. Fletcher wanted to address that.
Provorov, Gostisbehere, Sanheim and Philippe Myers will now be able to play in their ideal roles with Niskanen and Braun in the fold. Provorov will be on the top pair, Gostsbehere will have the flexibility to play in the top-four or on the third pair if he is struggling, Sanheim will continue to grow on the middle pair, as will Myers in the bottom-four.
A top-pair right-handed defenseman would’ve been ideal for the Flyers, but they don’t exactly grow on trees. Stabilizing the defense with a pair of veterans while Myers (who the Flyers hope can become a top-pair defenseman) continues to develop is a smart move by Fletcher.
Add a second-line center: Completed
The Flyers got one of the best centers on the market in Kevin Hayes. With Matt Duchene having his eyes set on Nashville, Fletcher went out and made sure to hone in on his target early. He traded for the rights to Kevin Hayes then signed him a few weeks later.
Hayes isn’t a top center, but he doesn’t have to be. The Flyers have Sean Couturier for that, as well as a strong supporting cast in the top six. He is, however, a very strong second-line center in the NHL.
Hayes’ stats aren’t as flashy as some others, but a deeper look into his numbers shows how good he is. He’s one of the best center in terms of even-strength scoring and plays a two-way game that fits the Flyers. He will also provide a much-needed boost to the penalty kill, which is a unit that has been lacking in recent years.
Stabilize the crease: Completed
The Flyers brought back Brian Elliott on a team-friendly deal (one-year, $2 million) to back up Carter Hart and stabilize the crease.
This will be Elliott’s third season with the Flyers. When healthy, he has been solid in net. However, he has dealt with injuries, partially due to workload, in each of the past two seasons.
He’s still managed a .908 save percentage overall and has had very strong stretches in Philadelphia. From November 1 to December 23 in 2017, he had a .926 save percentage. He also had a .928 save percentage in the 11-game stretch prior to his first injury last season and came back with a 5-1-1 stretch (.923 save percentage) in late February to early March.
Assuming Hart and Elliott will split starts — at best — this can be a solid tandem for the Orange and Black.
Bonus – Buy out Andrew MacDonald: Completed
Chuck Fletcher did it.
The Flyers finally bought out Andrew MacDonald.
Buying out MacDonald was not only a move that the fans wanted, but it also opened up a spot on the blue line for a younger player. Robert Hagg and Sam Morin now have an easier road to make the NHL.
While Provorov and Konecny remain unsigned, Fletcher’s first offseason at the helm can be deemed a success. He filled a few of the team’s biggest hole in the form of Hayes as a second-line center while also shoring up the defense and stabilizing the crease.