It feels like the Flyers have been linked to South Jersey native and NHL superstar Johnny Gaudreau for a decade at this point, even though that's impossible.
But for the first time the team actually has a shot at the soon-to-be-29-year-old forward, as he mulls his future ahead of Wednesday's free agency opening. Philadelphia's front office has been shuffling pieces ahead of FA, and there could be more moves incoming to clear space and maneuverability for Johnny Hockey.
So where do things stand before everything goes bonkers on Wednesday?
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The latest news on the Flyers-Gaudreau front comes from Sportsnet insider Elliotte Friedman, who has the Flyers squarely in the mix for the left winger... and considering some interesting avenues to get there:
"Will Philadelphia be busy? If the Flyers are to position themselves for a run at Johnny Gaudreau, they must clear space. Oskar Lindblom is not yet 26, so if bought out, there’s a $3.33M cap saving for 2022-23. (It’s a tough thing to consider. Hard not to root for Lindblom, who overcame Ewing’s sarcoma to resume his NHL career.)
"The Flyers have also been considering another move, although they could go in several directions. GM Chuck Fletcher wouldn’t say much about his plans for James van Riemsdyk, but anyone who scores 24 goals has real value. Philadelphia may have to attach a sweetener to do it, but $1M of his $5M cash salary will already be paid via a bonus. Arizona, Buffalo and Seattle have been linked to the winger."
Moving money around is going to be an obvious must for the Flyers' front office; as it stands, they have just over $118,000 in cap space, which is... not a lot. Third-lowest figure in the NHL, in fact.
Teams are permitted to go over the NHL's salary cap during the summer, but Gaudreau is likely to command top dollar.
He's in line for a new deal at the exact right time: he had a monster career year in 2021-22, scoring 40 goals and 75 assists (both career-highs) while posting a league-best +64 plus-minus and tallying nine (!) game-winning goals. He also notched 14 points during a 12-game postseason run for the Flames. The dude is a monster.
How much money are we talking? An AAV of around $9.5 million (if not higher) has been tossed around by multiple observers, an eye-watering price that would put Gaudreau atop the Flyers' cap table, far clear of Sean Couturier's $7.75 million cap hit. Even if the Flyers can move off van Riemsdyk's money and Lindblom's money, they'll still need to find a way back under the cap by the start of the season. For a team that finished dead last in the Metropolitan Division last year, adding one big star and jettisoning pieces from a team already devoid of pieces doesn't seem like a perfect winning strategy - especially considering Gaudreau is closer to 30 years old than 25.
(The timing of the contentious recent trade for Tony DeAngelo, and his subsequent extension, didn't exactly help the Flyers' tight wallets.)
And yet it sounds like the Flyers are still primed to be near the top of Gaudreau's suitors. NHL insider Kevin Weekes indicated during ESPN's NHL Draft coverage that the Flyers could sign Gaudreau:
That "yes" wasn't framed as hard reporting so it's hard to take it at full face value, but Weekes is a newsbreaker and he probably had at least a little intention behind his words there.
Folks in Calgary are preparing for the worst as free agency looms as Daily Faceoff insider (and former Flyers writer) Frank Seravalli reports there is "no traction" between the Flames and Gaudreau's camp.
Will Gaudreau's South Jersey roots be enough to lure him home - and at a price that allows the Flyers to compete during the life of his contract?
It's going to be a fascinating saga as the Flyers contemplate a move that could feasibly make, or break, the next half-decade of the organization.