Flyers offseason: Do any free agents on the ‘big board’ make sense?

For the Philadelphia Flyers, this offseason was never going to be about throwing tens of millions of dollars at top free agents. That’s probably at least two summers away, based on what seems to be their internal timeline. They’re already tight to the salary cap, too (although they have some likely candidates for long-term injured reserve and could end up buying out the final season of Cam Atkinson’s contract).

Further, after some of the decisions that general manager Daniel Briere made over the last few months, it seems even less likely now, than even a few months ago, that the Flyers will be overly active once the July 1 signing period opens up.

Prior to the trade deadline in March. other than Sean Walker, no one from the active NHL roster was moved. Nick Seeler was re-signed to a four-year contract extension, while Scott Laughton was retained for his on and off-ice presence. Morgan Frost worked his way back into John Tortorella’s good graces. That was in addition to the Flyers re-signing pending unrestricted free agent center Ryan Poehling to a two-year extension and Owen Tippett, a pending restricted free agent, to an eight-year deal, both in January.

Further, per a team source, the Flyers are likely bringing RFA depth defenseman Adam Ginning back, and may even have further discussions with UFA defenseman Erik Johnson, if the veteran decides to keep playing.

It all adds up to depth chart that suggests there just aren’t many holes on the roster that need to be filled. Whether you like the makeup of the team or not, there are no any easily identifiable positions of need, other than maybe right wing. And, Briere has indicated that aren’t any young players from the AHL Phantoms or kids prepared to make the jump from juniors that scream that they’re ready for the NHL, either.

Of course, things can quickly change, and there are still probably going to be a few players coming and going over the course of the next couple of months.

The Athletic’s Chris Johnston unveiled his free agent big board this week, a list of the top 50 players that will become available in about a month if they don’t have new deals with their respective clubs.

It’s a near lock that the Flyers won’t be signing any of the names at the top of the list. But might there be at least one or two that could fit?

Much of that will depend, of course, on decisions the front office makes over the next month. Let’s examine a few different potential scenarios, and see who the Flyers might target on the open market — and who they should stay away from — in those situations.

Scenario No. 1: Flyers trade Morgan Frost or Scott Laughton for future assets

Potential free-agent fits: Adam Henrique, Alex Wennberg, Sean Monahan

No, we’re not talking a hockey deal, which could be coming. Just a trade for either draft picks and/or prospects that give a boost to the system.

Just because Briere kept these two centers around after the deadline doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll still be on the roster in October. Frost could draw interest with his skillset and manageable salary this season ($2.1 million), and the fact that he’ll still be a restricted free agent next summer. Laughton still has two years left at a reasonable $3 million cap hit, and is just the kind of versatile, depth center with a sterling reputation as a teammate that contending teams sometimes overpay to acquire. If the Flyers re-sign Travis Konecny to a long term extension, which we’ve argued here they should do, they may be more inclined to deal someone else for futures.

Free agents such as Elias Lindholm or Chandler Stephenson don’t fit the Flyers’ timeline or salary structure, but guys such as Wennberg, Monahan or Henrique might if they are willing to take deals that are shorter term (preferably two or three years). Monahan resurrected his career with the Montreal Canadiens and the Winnipeg Jets this season, while Wennberg and Henrique are still competing in the playoffs as the third-line centers for the New York Rangers and the Edmonton Oilers, respectively. All of them look like they can still contribute in depth roles.

Again, these centers would only be stop-gap solutions, allowing the prospects in the Flyers’ system to keep developing in the hopes that at least one or two would be NHL-ready by 2026-27.

Stay away from: Max Domi

Domi is another one of those mid-range centers that could plug a hole for a couple of seasons, but he and Tortorella didn’t always see eye-to-eye in Columbus, so neither may be all that interested in a reunion. The fact that Domi already has been on seven different teams in a nine-year career also raises questions.

Scenario 2: Flyers trade Rasmus Ristolainen

Potential free-agent fits: Nikita Zadorov, Sean Walker

Had Ristolainen remained healthy this season, he very well could have ended up getting moved at the deadline, as playoff teams are always seeking more depth and toughness on the back end. That Ristolainen is a right-shot only makes him more attractive.

The Flyers would still probably like to get rid of his $5.1 million salary cap hit through 2026-27, even if they would have to be willing to retain some of it to get it done. And if they do, they may want to replace Ristolainen’s size, particularly if Johnson retires, as well.

After a good showing in the playoffs with Vancouver, Zadorov might be too pricey for a team such as  the Flyers. He also plays the left side, which might force the Flyers to get creative, as Egor Zamula is probably penciled in on the left side of the third pair (although he did play a bit on the right side this season). Still, Zadorov would give the Flyers the sort of elements that a healthy and effective Ristolainen brings when he’s on his game.

On the other hand, maybe the Flyers will be content enough with their size and toughness with Seeler returning, and revisit Walker instead if they free up enough cap space. The contract projection here has Walker on a five-year deal worth approximately $5 million per season — the same contract that the Flyers rejected before dealing him to Colorado — but if that price tag comes down a bit and they’re able to move the bulk of Ristolainen’s deal, perhaps re-acquiring Walker is something they’d at least consider. It’s not a coincidence that the Flyers’ late-season decline coincided with Walker getting dealt to Colorado.

Stay away from: Shayne Gostisbehere

Yes, the former Flyers defenseman would probably give a boost to their awful power play. And while it was Briere’s predecessor, Chuck Fletcher, who essentially gave Gostisbehere away for free, the optics of bringing back a player that didn’t work out here the first time wouldn’t be great. The Flyers are hoping that Jamie Drysdale becomes the top-unit power-play quarterback, anyway.

Scenario 3: No trades, and Matvei Michkov does not arrive

Potential fits: Stefan Noesen, Daniel Sprong

I’m going to go ahead and assume that Flyers fans would rather see Michkov as a right wing underneath Travis Konecny than someone like Noesen or Sprong, but if the talented prospect’s arrival to North America is delayed for another year or two, they’re going to need a little more scoring punch on that side of the ice.

Preferably that someone will produce on the power play, too.

Noesen has 27 goals in last two seasons with Carolina, playing a depth role. Notably, 10 of those have come on the power play, where he seems to have a real, um, nose for the net.

Sprong was in and out of the lineup late in the season in Detroit, but he’s a strong skater and can rip the puck. He has nine power-play goals over the last two seasons, playing mostly on the second unit with the Kraken last season and the Red Wings in 2023-24.

The real X-factor when it comes to right wing next season, particularly if Tippett and Tyson Foerster remain on the left side, could be Bobby Brink. Neither of these mid-level free agents would block Brink from potentially taking another step in his career, but he’d have to earn it. Part of the Flyers’ rebuilding philosophy seems to be that they’re not just going to hand jobs to young players without them first proving that they should be playing ahead of guys that have already established themselves as NHL players.

Stay away from: Anthony Beauvillier

Yes, Beauvillier, whom I covered in New York, has some offensive skill, but as a player that sometimes lacks hockey sense and compete, I just can’t see him working out under a guy like Tortorella.

Scenario 4: No trades, and Matvei Michkov arrives

In the event that Michkov is able to join the team, and they know by the end of June, I could see the Flyers simply sitting out free agency. That would allow them maximum flexibility to pursue a hockey trade later this summer, particularly if they believe the addition of Michkov moves up their timeline to compete.

(Photo of Alex Wennberg: Bruce Bennett / Getty Images)

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