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5 Takeaways: Fletcher talks MacDonald, Niskanen and more

Flyers contributor gives his take on GM's Conference Call with reporters

by Bill Meltzer @NHLFlyers

Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher spoke to the media on Saturday via conference call to discuss the two roster moves the team made over the weekend -- trading Radko Gudas to the Washington Capitals on Friday to acquire Matt Niskanen and, on Saturday, placing Andrew MacDonald on waivers for purposes of buying out the final season of his contract. 

He also provided updates on the status of negotiations with impending unrestricted free agent center Kevin Hayes and the team's cadre of restricted free agents.

Here are five takeaways from the conference call:

1. Flyers May Not Be Done with Blue Line Changes. 

Fletcher was asked if the Niskanen trade acquisition completes the team's off-season push for upgrades on the defense corps. He said that he will continue to search for opportunities at defense as well as at forward, whether via the trade or free agent market. However, the GM cautioned that there is a lot of competition for upper-lineup talent if and when it becomes available.

"We're continuing to look at every available option," Fletcher said. "They're not easy to find. If we can find a guy who can play in our top four and that we have the ability to acquire, we'll certainly look at it."

The general manager also praised the talent that is already in-house on defense, citing the work that former general manager Ron Hextall and assistant general manager Chris Pryor did in overseeing the drafting and development of what is largely a homegrown young defense corps.

"I will say that we have some really top-end young defensemen here that have the potential to grow in that [NHL upper-echelon] role, if you look at Ivan Provorov and Travis Sanheim. We're bullish on Philippe Myers's upside. Shayne Gostisbehere is a young man who's been very effective in his young career so far, and by bringing in Matt Niskanen, we feel that we have some quality defensemen," Fletcher said. 

Specific to Myers, the general manager believes that he is ready to parlay his overall solid quarter season in the NHL over the latter part of the 2018-19 campaign into a regular starting role on the right side of the Flyers' third-line defense pair to start next season. The belief that he could step into the lineup right away figured into the decision to trade the popular Gudas, who won the Barry Ashbee Trophy in 2018-19.

"Radko has been a very effective third-pairing defenseman for us. He's been a great member of our organization, he's competed hard, and certainly we appreciate everything he did for our organization. Going forward, we believe we have an in-house player in Philippe Myers that can come in and take on some of that role. He's only played 22 games in the NHL so there could be an adjustment period, but having the ability to maybe slot Philippe into that third slot on the right side we feel is a real proper place for him to potentially start his NHL career," Fletcher said. 

2. Hayes Talks Continue.

Fletcher indirectly denied two national media characterizations of the status negotiations between the Hayes camp and the organization after Hayes was brought in for a personal visit earlier this week. According to Fletcher, the two sides are still working together to "find a mutually beneficial solution" to get the player under contract in Philadelphia.

"We've had some very good, constructive dialogue with Kevin. We're continuing to work with his representation. We'll see how things play out, but so far it's been a positive process," Fletcher said.

3. Fletcher Prioritizing Flyers RFAs.

One of the X-factors affecting the Flyers' offseason budgeting is the time table and final price tag for re-signing the team's group of restricted free agents, which include Provorov, Sanheim, Travis Konecny, Ryan Hartman and Scott Laughton. The sooner there is cost certainty (in other words, the sooner they are under contract), the more clear-cut it is how much the team has left to spend elsewhere for upgrades. 

Thus far leaguewide, Fletcher described the RFA market as one in which multiple prominent players, their agents, and the GMs themselves are in a holding pattern while waiting for some other team to make the first signings that set the market value for comparable talents. 

However, eventually, the ball needs to get rolling. Fletcher plans to make talks with the agents for the team's RFAs part of his to-do list for the week leading into and beyond the Draft.

"We're going to speak with some of the agents at the Draft. They'll be in Vancouver, we'll be in Vancouver, so we'll have a chance to have a face to face meeting and try to push the process forward. There's nothing alarming at this point. These negotiations don't really get going until after the draft and after the July 1 free agency date. We'll continue to work on it. Obviously, we've kept a lot of cap dollars [in reserve] to pay these players and certainly they're going to command a good chunk of change as we go forward here. We're prepared for that, and we'll continue to work with their agents to get to the right players hopefully sooner rather than later," Fletcher said.

One day after the Draft, the window opens for teams to meet with, and present offers to, other clubs' impending unrestricted free agents (UFAs) as well as their own. However, no deal with an outside free agent can be officially signed until July 1. Fletcher plans to use that opportunity to gauge the interest of outside UFAs that he feels could help the Flyers.

4. Multiple avenues explored for goaltending candidates.

Fletcher did not close the door on re-signing either Cam Talbot or Brian Elliott to play in tandem with Carter Hart. However, the GM said that he's also been exploring trade options and would also look at outside UFA goaltenders as a possibility as well as the internal UFAs. 

"We've had some conversations and spoken to some teams about some potential trades, so that's hard to characterize right now," Fletcher said. "It very well could go to July 1, but there could be some opportunities prior to that."

5. Mac Buyout Was a Financial Decision

Andrew MacDonald took a lot of heat from fans during his time in Philadelphia but he was a player whom teammates and coaches appreciated and staunchly defended. MacDonald had an injury-marred down season for the Flyers in 2018-19 -- arguably his toughest season since a rough first full year in Philly during the 2014-15 campaign -- but Fletcher said the decision not to bring him back for the final season of his contract was driven solely by the salary cap implications. 

"We asked a lot of Andrew, and by that I mean he played the left side, he played the right side, he'd be a healthy scratch and then we'd put him back in the lineup. We'd ask him to play with young players and mentor them, and bring stability to our back end. He's just a quality person and a guy who played a very effective two-way game for our team. But we are in a cap world, and we made that tough decision today to reallocate some of those dollars to maximize our chance to stay in the hunt for some players over the next couple weeks," Fletcher said.

Cap-wise, the two-thirds savings that comes off the books on MacDonald for 2019-20 offsets the added salary cap obligations the Flyers took on in the Gudas-for-MacDonald trade. The trade-off for the buyout is that the Flyers will also have a partial cap hit on MacDonald for the 2020-21 season when he'd have otherwise been off the books (barring a contract extension) following the original expiration of the deal on July 1, 2020.

The Flyers still have veteran defenseman David Schlemko, who was acquired from Montreal in the Dale Weise trade, under NHL contract for the 2019-20 season. Thus, they still have a depth option in lieu of MacDonald either at the NHL level or as an experienced veteran recall possibility from the AHL's Lehigh Valley Phantoms in the event of injuries on the NHL roster. Schlemko would have to clear waivers first to be assigned to the Phantoms. 

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