End to End: How should the Flyers approach free agency?


Going End to End today are NBC Sports Philadelphia’s John Boruk, Tom Dougherty and Jordan Hall.

The topic: How should the Flyers approach free agency?

For an organization that hasn’t won a playoff series since 2012, you can sense a loyal fan base starting to grow tiresome with “the process.” I’m not a believer in making deals or trades to just shake things up, but we’re at a point when Ron Hextall should stray (not completely deviate) outside his comfort zone. 

According to CapFriendly.com, the Flyers currently have $21.7 million in cap space with the upper limit increasing to $79.5 million. That’s more financial flexibility than teams like the Lightning, Bruins and Sharks have and they're all currently courting John Tavares, who just recently narrowed his list down to six teams. 

The Flyers should have been part of that group. 

Tavares is a generational player that comes along once in a lifetime. The reality that he could be available come July 1 is mind-blowing. There’s not a free agent on the market that instantly makes an organization better and more dynamic than Tavares does. Even if Hextall and the Flyers never had a realistic shot at acquiring the 27-year-old superstar center, you at least make the pitch. Just the thought would galvanize the fans knowing the Flyers are thinking more like the Rangers and less like the Senators. 

Imagine the Flyers down the middle with Tavares, Sean Couturier and Nolan Patrick. That would certainly give the Penguins all they could handle in a seven-game series. 

If the Los Angeles Kings proved you have to build from within, remember they also ventured outside the organization to acquire not one, but two centers with Jeff Carter and Mike Richards on their road to winning a pair of Stanley Cups over a three-year period.

Right now, the Flyers' plan is similar to that of a highway construction project: a slow-moving apparatus painful to sit through but necessary for long-term sustainability. Hextall’s plan looks like miles traveling down a single-lane road.

It’s OK to speed it up just a little bit. 

I don't expect Hextall to spend big, but I do believe he’ll be more aggressive than in the past. Stop, Tavares isn’t coming, but the Flyers need an upgrade at third-line center and could use another top-six winger. Hextall said he’d like to bring in a defenseman too, preferably a righty.

While I understand the desire to bring in another veteran defenseman, I also believe by doing so the Flyers would be virtually taking away a roster spot from a kid — unless they move Radko Gudas or Andrew MacDonald or envision one of the two being the seventh defenseman.

Perhaps a player like Cody Franson, a right-handed shot who could come in and out of the lineup, makes sense. But Hextall has indicated he’d like a top-four guy. The Flyers have been linked to Calvin de Haan, though loosely, and he’d be a decent addition.

I’d love to see the Flyers target Paul Stastny or Tyler Bozak, but I believe the market there will drive Hextall out. Riley Nash, Derek Grant and Derek Ryan are names to watch too.

The Flyers desperately need help killing penalties. Michael Grabner would fit there — a speedy winger who can add some offense but also help kill penalties. I would prioritize the forward group over the defense because I would rather have the young D-men get more playing time.

Stastny would be the dream because he would alleviate some pressure offensively off Nolan Patrick, but at 32 years old, anything more than three years doesn’t make sense.

Remember, the Flyers have money to spend this summer. It doesn’t mean they’ll use it, and I don’t think they’ll go crazy, but I could see a short-term splurge.

Is now the time for the Flyers to splurge a little on the free-agent market?

They have a sizeable $21.7 million in cap space, unlike the tighter figures we've seen in years past. They are also looking to build off career years from some of the core, which suggests the prime is now for those pieces. And the youthfulness is already spreading throughout the roster, making this summer a decent time to augment everything in place and aim for a big step during Year 4 under Dave Hakstol.

But don't count on the Flyers reeling in a monster fish like Tavares or James van Riemsdyk. While I believe now is a great time to make a push for a player the caliber of JVR, it doesn't look like it's in the cards at all. Or at least I'll believe it when I see it.

The Flyers, this offseason, will look to improve at the margins. Like usual, they need more depth in the bottom six, while a veteran defenseman to stabilize the back end and a player with penalty-kill pedigree will likely be priorities for Hextall. And that's not to mention a possible extension for Wayne Simmonds.

Many of the accomplished, notable players set for unrestricted free agency are in their early-to-mid 30s, so years and money on potential signings won't be easy, especially for Hextall, who will continue to build prudently and internally.

Depending on how the 2018-19 season transpires, next offseason may be the one in which the Flyers loosen the pockets a bit. They'll know a lot more about where they are contention-wise and that free-agent class (for now) looks strong.

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