It wasn’t the empty fish hook on free agent day that left the village starving.
Just a few months after the Philadelphia Flyers finished the 2021-22 season with the fourth-worst record in the National Hockey League, the feelings of hope surrounding a once-proud franchise might be at an all-time low.
You might have heard that the Flyers were unable to clear enough cap space to land prized free agent Johnny Gaudreau, a Gloucester Catholic High School alum who adored the Flyers as a child and made it known he’d like to play here. Gaudreau finished tied for second in the league in points with 115 last season.
But that wasn’t the problem plaguing the Flyers organization. It’s a lack of direction and a puzzling ordeal of roster moves that led us here.
Signing Gaudreau to a similar contract that the Columbus Blue Jackets inked on July 13 would have surely put a few extra bodies in seats at the Wells Fargo Center this season as the team struggles to shine light on a marketable star. But it could be argued the timing wasn’t right to make a move like that, as Gaudreau will turn 29 next month, and the Flyers would have had him on the books gobbling up close to $10 million into his mid-to late 30s. If they were a player away from truly competing, then fine. Pull the trigger.
The Flyers could have taken the other road, forgotten about this upcoming season, and committed to a full rebuild. They didn’t do that, either. The more worrisome thing is how the Flyers handled this entire offseason.
Why sign defenseman Tony DeAngelo to a two-year, $10 million deal? Why buy out Oskar Lindblom just to bring in a fourth-line fighter in Nicolas Deslauriers and a depth defenseman in Justin Bruan? And why sign a 31-year-old Deslauriers to a four-year deal and include trade protection in the deal?
These are just some of the questions that surround general manager Chuck Fletcher’s approach to the 2022-23 season and beyond. And the “beyond” part is even scarier.
The only real significant money coming off the books next offseason is James van Riemsdyk’s $7 million hit. That sounds like a lot, but when you figure Cam York will get a raise from his entry level $880,833 next year, and the team will probably have to push a little more to the backup goaltender position a year from now, that’s at least a few million eaten up already. Travis Sanheim’s $4.675 deal also expires but that’s about the price of a top-four defenseman these days so whether you keep him or not, that money is accounted for.
That’s why it made little or no sense to buy out Lindblom this year without using the cap room to add a significant piece. Although the Flyers gained room with a cap credit this year on the Lindblom buyout, it will result in $666,667 of dead cap space next season. It’s just another unnecessary dagger aimed at a team trying to get out of this mess.
On paper, the Flyers, minus Claude Giroux, are no better than they were a year ago and are apparently betting their chips on a new coach and a hopefully much more healthy squad as their selling point for success.
And if that works, it’ll probably take them right out of the Connor Bedard sweepstakes, which right now is the only thing going for them.
Any way you slice it, the Flyers wasted an offseason by not picking a direction. ••