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Flyers plan to keep Gagner, may move him to wing

by Adam Kimelman / NHL.com

Philadelphia Flyers general manager Ron Hextall wasn't very active the first day of NHL free agency Wednesday, because of salary-cap constraints and by choice.

Although help on the wings and more mobility on defense are offseason needs, the Flyers' only significant signing was backup goaltender Michal Neuvirth. Terms weren't released, but Sportsnet reported the two-year contract will pay Neuvirth $1.5 million in 2015-16 and $1.75 million in 2016-17.

The Flyers have about $5 million left under the $71.4 million NHL salary cap, according to war-on-ice.com, and that doesn't include a contract for restricted free agent defenseman Michael Del Zotto.

The only new forward is Sam Gagner, acquired from the Arizona Coyotes on June 27 in a trade for defenseman Nicklas Grossmann and the contract of defenseman Chris Pronger.

Gagner had 15 goals and 41 points in 81 games last season, but the Flyers were considering buying out the final season of his contract; he has a $3.2 million salary-cap charge, according to war-on-ice.com.

Instead, Hextall said Gagner will play for Philadelphia and potentially move from center to right wing.

"He is a very skilled forward," Hextall said. "I think in the right situation he can be a productive player for us. He is a player we were going to try and seek whether it was through a trade or free agency or whatnot. We felt like he was a good fit. We did our homework, we did our research, and everything came out good. So we feel good about Sam.

"Again, it upgrades the skill level of our team. It's a one-year deal, which was attractive to us. We're good with it, and quite frankly I've always admired Sam's skill."

With Gagner at right wing, Brayden Schenn could shift back to center. Schenn had his best games late in the season at right wing on a line with center Sean Couturier and left wing Matt Read. Hextall said first-year coach Dave Hakstol would have the final decision on the lineup.

Moving Schenn to center would create a logjam in the middle behind Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier, with Schenn, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Nick Cousins and top prospect Scott Laughton competing for the final two spots.

It also would further muddle the future of Vincent Lecavalier. The 35-year-old had an NHL career-low eight goals last season and was a healthy scratch 20 times. He has three years left on his contract, with an average annual value of $4.5 million.

"If we can move him and put him in a better situation for himself, we'd certainly be open to that," Hextall said. "But as of right now, he's a Flyer, and we expect him to be in camp unless he is moved, and be in shape and give it his best shot."

Hextall said he would continue to look to upgrade the roster, but with the Flyers' salary-cap situation, he knows it will be tough.

"Ideally we'd like to clear a little bit of space there, but we'll see," he said. "We're under the cap, albeit slightly when we plug Del Zotto in, and you want some space to call players up too. We're close; we'd like to clear a little bit more, but you've got to have a partner there. We'll see as we move along here."

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