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Meltzer: Analyzing the RFA situation

Flyers contributor takes a closer look at the pending Restricted Free Agents

by Bill Meltzer @billmeltzer

Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher noted at his end-of-season press conference that, while the team has significant open cap space to pursue veteran upgrades this season, the cap space is far from unlimited. The team has to re-sign its own group of restricted free agents (RFAs) this offseason and also plan a year ahead for players who are slated to become restricted agents in the summer of 2020. 

The following players are eligible for restricted free agency this summer: defensemen Ivan Provorov and Travis Sanheim and forwards Travis Konecny, Scott Laughton, Ryan Hartman and Justin Bailey. Looking ahead a year, forwards Nolan Patrick and Oskar Lindblom as well as defensemen Philippe Myers and Robert Hägg are potential RFAs in the summer of 2020. Here is a brief analysis of the Flyers 2019 RFA class:

Ivan Provorov: After his first two seasons in the NHL, Provorov appeared to on the brink of breaking through into the top echelon of two-way defensemen in the league. He could still get there, but his 2018-19 season, particularly during a rough first half, fell short of expectations. 

Nevertheless, Provorov still led the team in ice time and played both ends of special teams. He has yet to miss a game in his career, dressing in all 82 games all three seasons. Lastly, although he did not have his "A" game on both sides of the puck with the hoped-for consistency, Provorov's peak all-around game remains the best on the Flyers' blueline (although Sanheim played at a very high overall level at times).

The crux of the negotiation between the Flyers and Provorov's agent, Mark Gandler, will come down to whether the two sides agree to a long-term extension (which will be more initially costly in cap hit to the Flyers, but potentially cheaper down the road) or to a bridge deal that ends at least one year before Provorov is eligible for unrestricted free agency (which will carry a lower cap hit depending on the number of years it runs, but could greatly inflate the price tag of a future contract). 

At his Exit Day interview, Provorov said that he does not expect his camp and the Flyers to have difficulty coming to terms on a new deal; whatever form it takes. For his part, Provorov wants to be a Flyer. 

"I love everything here. Love the guys and love the organization and everything about Philadelphia. It's not going to be a problem," Provorov said.

 

Travis Sanheim: Sanheim had a breakout season in 2018-19; his second in the NHL and third year as a pro. He saw his role and ice time greatly expand under interim head coach Scott Gordon and assistant coach Rick Wilson compared to what it was earlier under former head coach Dave Hakstol and assistant coach Gord Murphy. 

From mid-January to the early part of March, Sanheim went on an overall excellent run that showed not only the growth of his offensive productivity but also all-around improvement and soaring confidence. His stretch drive was inconsistent, as was the case with many Flyers players, but Sanheim had stellar efforts in games against Pittsburgh (road) and Toronto (home) that may have been among his best performances of the entire season.

At his Exit Day interview, Sanheim expressed satisfaction with his overall season on an individual level. He said that he did not have an inkling -- or a preference -- as to whether his next contract will be a bridge deal or long-term. The player will follow his agent's lead and, otherwise, go about his summer training plan to prepare for next season.

 

Travis Konecny:  Konecny has achieved 24 goals in back-to-back seasons and flirted with 50 points (47 in his second NHL season, 49 in 2018-19). He plays with a lot of energy and moxie. Konecny is one of the Flyers' most agitating players. Konecny likes to keep things loose off-the-ice but is an intense competitor on the ice. Clearly, he is part of the plan moving forward and will be paid accordingly as a rising young offensive talent. Whether his primary role will be on the first, second or third line at five-on-five and the extent of his power play usage are issues that will play out next season and will be partially dependent on what else the Flyers do this offseason.

Konecny has shown he can produce in the NHL. That does not mean he is a finished product. There is across-the-board room for improvement in the consistency of his game. Risk management with the puck, situational discipline in avoiding needless penalties, weak-side coverage responsibilities and general positional awareness are all areas where Konecny sometimes still struggles. To his credit, Konecny is aware of these issues and works to improve them. 

 

Scott Laughton:   Over the last two seasons, Laughton has spent time on both the third and fourth lines and has played both center and left wing. He has dealt with some prolonged offensive droughts -- not uncommon for players in his role -- but still managed double-digit goals in back-to-back seasons (10 in 2017-18, 12 this season) and chipped in a respectable 32 points. Most notably, Laughton was one of the Flyers' most effective penalty killers this season, even during the pre-Thanksgiving period when the team's PK as a whole was struggling. 

Laughton's competitiveness and "motor" are among his best traits. While not a blazer, he is a good skater. Whether his role next season is on a wing or at center, or primarily on the third or fourth line at 5-on-5, will be largely dependent on what other moves Fletcher is able to make that are geared toward the upper part of the forward depth chart. In any scenario, and regardless of the choice of head coach, Laughton figures to be re-signed this summer and to remain an every-game starter in the lineup when the 2019-20 season rolls around.

 

Ryan Hartman: Between the Predators and Flyers this season, Ryan Hartman combined for 12 goals and 26 points and ended up dressing in 83 games between the teams. While that does not sound like much, every one of his points came at even strength. That's not bad for a bottom-six forward. 

It should be noted that much of Hartman's production was skewed to October and November. With the Flyers, however, Hartman actually ended up posting more points than Wayne Simmonds did with Nashville. Hartman had six points (two goals, four assists) in 19 games for Philly, while "Simmer" had three points (one goal and two assists) for the Predators in 17 games for Nashville. 

When Hartman is on his game, as Scott Gordon described it, "he has a 'dog-on-a-bone' mentality with the puck, which is something we need more of as a team." He wasn't always on his game. Hartman remained prone to some needless penalties and he was not immune to some defensive miscues or trying to do a little too much at times when a simpler play was in order. 

On the whole, however, the 24-year-old former Chicago 19-goal scorer and 1st-round draft pick looked to be a player with whom the next Flyers head coach (whether it's Gordon or someone else) can deploy effectively in the bottom six of the lineup. Whether that is on the third or fourth line is a question to be answered next season, but Hartman is part of the plan.

 

Justin Bailey: Bailey has good size and outstanding skating ability. However, he has struggled to stay in the lineup in the NHL either in Buffalo or Philadelphia. He spent much of this past season at the American Hockey League level. Bailey is likely to receive a qualifying offer from the Flyers and to re-sign this summer. 

He would have to compete for an NHL roster spot in camp. If he falls short, he is subject to waivers before he could be reassigned to the Phantoms.

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