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Fletcher on Free Agent Season: 4 Takeaways

Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher preached patience when discussing the free agency period with media

by Bill Meltzer @BillMeltzer / philadelphiaflyers.com

On the second day of free agency season, Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher spoke with members of the local media about his thoughts on what has gone so far across the league and where the Flyers may go from here. 

"There have been some good deals made, and some cringeworthy ones," Fletcher said.

Thus far, the Flyers have been quiet in terms of signings. The lone signing to date was a depth move to ink offensive-minded defenseman Derrick Pouliot to a two-way contract. However, Fletcher said that he has been in frequent contact with agents regarding their unrestricted free agent clients and with fellow general managers about potential trades.

Fletcher acknowledged that he's looking for ways to upgrade the roster but any moves have to be for the right fits at the right price. He is not inclined to make a move for its own sake. In conversations with agents, Fletcher said that he has made his flexibility known in terms of the average annual value (i.e., cap hits) range he is comfortable paying, as well as length of contract term. He has also been in touch with potential trade partners.

Above all, Fletcher preached patience in the marketplace. This is especially true in terms of potential trades, as there are teams that will likely need to move out players they'd otherwise want to keep if not for cap constraints. The Flyers still have $8,685,273 of cap space available for the 2020-21 season.

Here are five takeaway quotes from Saturday's discussion. 

1, "Making a big splash doesn't necessarily mean you make your team better."

The biggest name in the free agent marketplace this offseason is defenseman Alex Pietrangelo. On the trade market, there were pre-Draft rumors about the Winnipeg Jets making sniping right winger Patrik Laine -- an arbitration-eligible restricted free agent next offseason -- available for the right price. 

Fletcher was asked to respond to fans who would be disappointed if the Flyers do not come away from the offseason with a marquee name added to the roster.

"There's a lot of things at play," Fletcher said. "A flat cap for the next two to three years. An expansion draft. Having to re-sign your own restricted free agents for the next few seasons. There's a lot at play. Certainly, we're always looking to make our team better. If we can, we will. But we've got a very good team right now."

2. " We're comfortable with our group; we like our team."

Fletcher was asked multiple times about making a push to fight a right-side defenseman to play with Ivan Provorov on the Flyers' top pairing. He reiterated that he will look for an upgrade -- via free agency or trade, this offseason or during the season -- if one can be acquired within acceptable parameters. 

Fletcher said that he anticipates that the trade market in particular will become more favorable to teams that hold open cap space when teams that are strapped to the cap ceiling need to sacrifice quality players for much-needed cap space before final rosters must be submitted to the NHL (teams are permitted to exceed the cap by 10% during the offseason).

The GM said that, while Expansion Draft considerations are part of the figuring on any acquisition -- a veteran right-side D who can play 20-plus minutes a night and is also on an expiring contract "certainly would be ideal," per Fletcher -- helping the team at the NHL level takes priority. There will be time to re-strategize the Expansion Draft, if that becomes necessary.

If no veteran signing or trade comes to fruition, Fletcher insisted that he is comfortable with the roster already in place and the idea of giving expanded roles to young players on the club. He feels the team is well set up front especially, with the prospect of Nolan Patrick (if healthy) and Oskar Lindblom returning to the club and several new additions, including rookies Tanner Laczysnki and Wade Allison as well as Swedish import Linus Sandin.

On the back end, Fletcher pointed out that Shayne Gostisbehere had been a top-four defenseman on the team earlier in his career before back-to-back down seasons affected (at least in part) by injuries. Fletcher said that the 27-year-old is capable of bouncing back to the form he showed in 2017-18, when he posted a career-high 65 points and played alongside Provorov for the majority of the season before his struggles of 2018-19 pushed him down in the lineup.

"We have a pretty good group of defensemen coming back for next season," Fletcher said, although he admitted that the retirement of Matt Niskanen creates a need for players to step up across the many different situations that the veteran played.

3. "You can't predict the future but, certainly all signs [with Nolan Patrick] are progressing the right way."

Fletcher was asked for an update on Patrick's status. The GM said that the player, who recently spent two weeks in Brandon, Manitoba, skating and scrimmaging with a group led by former Flyers forward Ryan White. The GM said that the plan is for Patrick to come to Philadelphia ahead of training camp, visit with team doctors, and work out at the Skate Zone. Ideally, things will go well and he'll be able to take the next steps toward resuming his playing career.

On Friday, the Flyers clarified the free agency status of center Nolan Patrick. Patrick falls under the 10.2 (c) classification of restricted free agents. He is an RFA in terms of his entry-level deal being completed and the Flyers have had to make a qualifying offer.

However, due to the fact that he has not yet genuinely played three pro hockey seasons -- two seasons in which he played and one spent entirely on injured reserve -- he is ineligible for an offer sheet from other teams. He is also not eligible for arbitration.

Thus, the Flyers hold Patrick's exclusive negotiating rights this offseason. The 10.2 (c) rule rarely applies but is not unprecedented. Most notably, Calgary star Johnny Gaudreau fell in the same category in the 2016 offseason due to the late season date when the first season of his ELC was burned after he left college and turned pro to play in a single game. 

The GM said that he is pleased with the overall depth of the Flyers' forward corps, including the strength down the middle if Patrick is cleared to play. If not, in-house options include Scott Laughton moving back to the third-line center role or Claude Giroux seeing some time at center. He also mentioned that Michael Raffl has periodically played center in the NHL.

Regarding top forward prospect Morgan Frost, who is entering his second pro season, Fletcher stopped a little short of saying that he sees the 21-year-old forward as being immediately ready to make a heavy push out of training camp for the third-line center role behind Sean Couturier and Kevin Hayes.

"Morgan Frost is a young player we think can compete down the road," Fletcher said.

4. "At the end of the day, [Nicolas] Aube-Kubel has taken a bigger role on our team."

All three of the Flyers' three unrestricted free agent forwards have signed elsewhere. On Friday, Tyler Pitlick signed a two-year contract with the Arizona Coyotes at a $1.75 million AAV. Derek Grant has returned to the Anaheim Ducks, signing a three-year contract at a $1.5 million AAV. On Saturday, center Nate Thompson signed a one-year, $750,000 contract with Winnipeg. 

Pitlick in particular was an effective role player for the team least season. Fletcher said that he had conversations with Pitlick's agent ahead of free agency. Ultimately, the GM felt there were options from within if Pitlick found a deal to his liking from another NHL team. Fletcher pointed to Aube-Kubel as an option to step into an expanded role as an aggressive forechecking forward who can also chip in some offense. He also cited Laczynski, Allison and Sandin. 

"If we are going to use cap space, we need to do it wisely," Fletcher said.

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