After a playoff-less 2020-21 season in which they surrendered the most goals in hockey, the Flyers have a pivotal offseason ahead.
While Chuck Fletcher said the Flyers can improve everywhere, they're expected to be in the market for a top-pair defenseman. Acquiring such a player is significantly easier said than done, but last offseason the Flyers "didn't fill the void" left by Matt Niskanen, as Fletcher put it in March, and not doing so proved costly.
"We'll have to look at a few different areas to improve, but I anticipate there being some players available," the Flyers' general manager said at his end-of-the-season press conference last month. "We’ll have to go out and see if we can add the right player. Certainly last offseason, we looked at a lot of different options; some cases didn’t break the way we had hoped and in some cases there wasn’t the perfect fit for the type of player we were looking for. We’re going to have to be creative and find a way to improve where we can."
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Could Seth Jones be available and a fit for the Flyers? It sure appears he's at least available as Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reported Monday that Jones "has informed the Blue Jackets he will not sign an extension at this time and plans to test free agency" when his contract expires after the 2021-22 season.
Given Columbus went 18-26-12 this season and is searching for a new head coach, the odds are against it contending next season. Tie in Jones' reported desire to test free agency next offseason and suddenly the Blue Jackets' defenseman is a popular commodity on the trade market.
And Friedman believes the Flyers are a legitimate possibility. With stick taps to Jason Myrtetus of the Flyers Broadcast Network for highlighting the segment, here's what Friedman had to say Thursday on SiriusXM NHL Network Radio about Jones:
From a Flyers standpoint, there's plenty to like about Jones. He's a righty shot, which would seemingly have him pair nicely with Ivan Provorov. Among all NHL defensemen over the last five seasons, the 6-foot-4, 209-pound Jones ranks seventh in minutes per game (24:49) and tied for ninth with Alex Pietrangelo and Tyson Barrie in even strength points (141).
Some aspects also worth noting:
Over the last five seasons, Jones' on-ice even strength goal differential is plus-2. This season, his defensive zone start percentage at even strength was 44.6 and he has been over 50 only once in his career. For sake of comparison, Shayne Gostisbehere, more of an offensive-minded blueliner, had a 44.2 defensive zone start percentage at even strength this season, just behind Jones. Niskanen had a 55.8 defensive zone start percentage at even strength in his one season with the Flyers.
This season, the Flyers yielded an NHL-worst 3.52 goals per game and clearly want to cut that down next season.
Regardless, Jones was the 2013 fourth overall pick, is still only 26 years old, is a three-time All-Star, plays big minutes and has the ability to help prevent goals. His defensive strengths have been evident in Columbus aside from this past season, which was an ugly one for the Blue Jackets.
Jones, whose father is Sixers assistant coach Popeye Jones, has a cap hit of $5.4 million for next season, per CapFriendly.com and PuckPedia.com. If the Flyers wanted to land Jones, the price in exchange wouldn't be cheap and then they'd have to try to re-sign him.
Many blueliners will be connected to the Flyers in some way this offseason. Dougie Hamilton has been an obvious one and he's still playing in the postseason right now. Jones has been the latest. Both of them won't be the last.
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