With the Stanley Cup Final over and a new champion crowned, Philadelphia Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher’s first offseason is now officially in full swing. Fletcher will have a full plate this summer trying to re-shape the roster into a contending team and the first step in that process will be how he navigates the 2019 NHL Entry Draft.
With a new regime in town, and presumably a new organizational philosophy geared toward winning right now, the draft process could have looked drastically different compared to how Ron Hextall and co. ran the ship. Fletcher and assistant general manager Brent Flahr decided to give a sneak preview into how things may be different at this year’s draft, how negotiations with newly acquired, unrestricted free agent (UFA) center Kevin Hayes are going, potential buyouts, and more.
Draft Philosophy Stays Status Quo
Although there have been major changes at the top of the organizational chain, the scouting department for the Flyers is largely intact, which seems to be a good sign. Drafting was arguably the greatest strength that Hextall’s tenure brought to the table, consistently finding quality players in the first round and beyondwho are already making major impacts at the NHL level or will be in the near future.
The Flyers have consistently targeted one particular trait in all of their prospects over the last half-decade or so, hockey sense and IQ. Unlike the Flyers of old who targeted size and grit, the team has been willing to draft players of all shapes and sizes so long as they display an affinity for the mental aspect of the game. Fletcher and co. seem to value the same traits in their prospect evaluation.
I’ve been very, very impressed with the amateur scouting staff. It’s a strong group, a lot of experience, I think we all recognize the way the game is going. For me, hockey sense has always been a very important part of what you look for in a hockey player. You obviously want the biggest, fastest, most skill player you can get. But the players with those intangibles, with the hockey sense, and the drive and work ethic are extremely important, and I think that has been a priority here through the years.
Chuck Fletcher Press Conference, June 10, 2019.
The biggest question regarding their first pick in the draft is whether they will actually make the selection or the trade the pick for immediate help. Fletcher didn’t rule out the possibility of trading the 11th-overall pick but is comfortable keeping it if nothing major materializes.
If we keep our picks and stay at 11, we are still going to get a really good player. It is a pretty good chip. In certain scenarios, I would not hesitate to move it if it can really help our team.
No Movement on Kevin Hayes Front
When the Flyers moved a fifth-round pick for the rights to UFA center Kevin Hayes, there was never a guarantee that he would sign with the team. The deal was struck to give them the best possible chance at getting it done.
With a few extra weeks to negotiate, show him the facilities, and establish a working relationship, the odds of getting pen to paper would be higher than if they waited for the legal tampering period, where dozens of other teams would be wooing him.
He’s familiar with our coach and our coach is familiar with him. So, we just thought it made sense to try to get ahead of it. There are no promises it’s going to work out, but certainly, we felt if we had an extra couple weeks to speak to him and present our case, it would be better than just maybe having a couple of days at the end of the month. We feel this gives us the best chance of landing him and again, there are no guarantees. It may work, it may not work, but certainly a risk we are taking.
It was a risk, but a risk worth taking considering the team still owns nine picks in this year’s draft, and a prospect pool already stocked with incredible depth. Locking up Hayes will fill the Flyers biggest need, with Hayes handling second-line center duties Nolan Patrick can develop in easier minutes in the third-line center role while also giving the team the roster flexibility to keep captain Claude Giroux on the wing.
The Flyers have until June 23 to sign Hayes before the interview period begins and other teams can begin to negotiate with him. Don’t be surprised however if Hayes decides to wait until July 1 to sign, even if he ultimately ends up with the Flyers. It makes sense for him and his camp to see all of his options before making a decision.
Flyers’ RFAs Still Unsigned
After Hayes, the Flyers biggest priority as far as signings will be taking care of their own restricted free agents (RFAs). Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny, Travis Sanheim, Ryan Hartman, Scott Laughton, and Justin Bailey are all seeking new deals. Fletcher’s biggest challenge will be how he navigates a combination of bridge and long-term deals. If Fletcher feels he can lock these guys up before their primes for a bargain he will. On the other hand, he could push for bridge deals that would afford the club more financial leeway here and now, but then run the risk of getting out-priced if all three of them take big leaps and earn more lucrative contracts once their bridge deals expire.
If we can get the right deal, we are happy to go long term because we believe all of those players will be great players for us. I’m certainly not opposed to doing shorter term. I’ve done both through the past. Some players like to go short and be able to jump back in the market in a couple of years and other players like that security. If the price is right, we will do either.
His choices, as well as the players, will decide how much available cap space he’ll be able to use on the UFA market, where he’ll surely look to make more upgrades especially if Hayes doesn’t get signed.
Buyout Candidate: Andrew MacDonald
At his press conference, Fletcher left the door open on the possibility of a buyout. At first glance, the Flyers roster had one prime candidate to be bought out, veteran defenseman Andrew MacDonald. Should the Flyers need a few extra million in cap space he was the most likely choice to go.
Lo and behold with the first buyout period opening on June 15, MacDonald was placed on unconditional waivers for the purpose of terminating his contract. Buying out the maligned blueliner will save the Flyers roughly $3.83 million in cap space this season. For a team that wants to spend to the cap, that’s a good chunk of change that can be used either to improve the bottom-six forward group or to give the team the flexibility to make a huge free agent signing like Erik Karlsson.