Free agency starts tomorrow, and it will be interesting to see how the Flyers approach things now that they have some extra cap space thanks to the Grossmann/Pronger/Gagner trade. For years under Paul Holmgren, the Flyers were perennial major players on July 1st for top free agents. And while it sometimes worked out, more often than not free agency ends up seeing teams overpay players past their prime for dwindling production over the length of their contracts (*coughs loudly* Vincent Lecavalier). With that in mind, I think the Flyers will be mostly conservative on the free agent market this summer, as they aren’t serious Cup contenders next season, and instead focus their attention on utilizing their newfound financial windfall next summer, when Voracek and Raffl are unrestricted free agents and Couturier and Schenn are restricted free agents. That doesn’t mean they can’t improve the team with smart free agent moves, however. They should be targeting undervalued players for short-term contracts. Ron Hextall did that last summer in his first offseason as Flyers’ GM (though, to be fair, he didn’t really have an option to pursue bigger fish with the Flyers’ cap situation) and he found a couple really solid pieces in Michael Del Zotto and Nick Schultz. Signing Schultz to an extension rather than flipping him at the deadline for draft picks wasn’t ideal, but the point remains: signing Schultz and MDZ to 1 year deals worth a combined $2.55M before last season gave the Flyers 2 top-6 defenseman on extremely cheap contracts last year, and they should pursue similar targets this summer. It’s low-risk, high-reward: if the player works out, they’re cheap and can be easily traded at the deadline to a contender for assets. If they’re not good, they’re gone after the season and your salary situation is no worse for wear. This is part of why I’m advocating keeping Sam Gagner for this season, as his contract and track record put him in a similar category to these types of players. Here are some of the guys I’m looking at for the Flyers in unrestricted free agency this year.
Several of my favorite buy-low candidates this year are off of the buyout market, and Parenteau in particular leaps off the page at me. He’s 32, but hasn’t been around the NHL that long. After breaking out with the Islanders to the tune of a 20-33-53 line in 2010-2011 and an 18-49-67 line in 2011-2012, Parenteau signed with the Avalanche where he put up 18-25-43 in 48 games during the lockout season. After a 0.62 PPG season in 55 games in Colorado in 2013-2014 where he missed time with injuries, he was traded to Montreal for Danny Briere and put up his worst NHL season last year, with 8-14-22 in 56 games that saw him miss time both due to injury and as a healthy scratch.
For the life of me, I can’t figure out why teams seem so down on him. Last year was a clear aberration for him in terms of scoring output, and it’s one that to a certain extent can be explained by his career-low 8.2% shooting percentage after an average shooting percentage of 13.3% over the previous 4 seasons. His 50.5% CF% made him one of only 5 regular Montreal forwards to break 50% in CF%, and while he had favorable zone starts that’s still something to be commended.
When compared to his peers over the past 3 seasons, Parenteau looks even more impressive.
He’s a solid second-line player in terms shot and goal generation, shot and goal suppression, and goals/60. He’s a borderline top-line player in terms of ES TOI/game, assists/60, and points/60, and he’s a third-liner in terms of shots/60. These numbers don’t just suggest that Parenteau is an extremely questionable buyout candidate, they suggest he’d be a real asset to the next team that gets him. I think signing Parenteau to a cheap deal, maybe 1 year/$3M or 2 years/$5M, would go a long way in giving the Flyers an ability to roll 3 scoring lines, particularly so if they wanted to keep Scott Laughton in the AHL to start the year. They could use Raffl-Giroux-Simmonds and Read-Couturier-Voracek in the top-6, and have a sheltered scoring 3rd line of Schenn-Gagner-Parenteau that has way more upside than your average 3rd line.
Stalberg was recently bought out by the Nashville Predators. He’s much less of a scoring option than Parenteau would be, as his career-high in points was during his 22-21-43 season in 2011-2012 for the Blackhawks, but Stalberg is a defensively sound and responsible player. While he’s only a 3rd-liner over the last 3 years in terms of ES TOI/game, CF/60, and GF/60, he’s much better by a number of other measures. He’s a strong 2nd-liner in terms of shot suppression (GA/60 and CA/60), and is a middle-of-the-road 2nd-liner in G/60, A/60, and P/60. His shots/60 rank him as a top-line player.
I could see him having a couple different roles on the Flyers. One would be if Dave Hakstol, against my best wishes and against the best interests of the team, continues to make the same mistakes as his predecessor and utilizing Sean Couturier in a purely shutdown role as the team’s 3C. Stalberg could fit with Read and Couturier on that line, opening up the rest of the top-6 as Raffl-Giroux-Voracek and Schenn-Gagner/Laughton-Simmonds. The other option would be if Hakstol wants to roll out a 4th line that can actually handle some defensive responsibilities (and the Zac Rinaldo trade from yesterday is a great sign of that being the case). Stalberg’s explosive speed and big 6-3 frame would look pretty good on a 4th line with Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and newly re-signed Chris Vandevelde that could play sound 2-way hockey and potentially create some offense too. I wouldn’t give Stalberg more than 1 year, $1.75M but he could help this team and, if he rebounds, be an asset to use at the deadline for teams needing a cheap bottom-6 upgrade.
Hodgson is in a similar situation to Sam Gagner, and for that reason I don’t think he’s much of a fit for the Flyers. He’s had a couple good seasons, particularly his 15-19-34 line in the lockout season and his 20-24-44 season in 70 games in 2013-2014, but he’s a mostly 3rd-line level talent who needs to play sheltered minutes similar to Gagner. He’s only 25, and he’ll rebound somewhere this season as he won’t shoot 4.7% again, but for his sake and the Flyers’ sake I hope it’s not Philadelphia.
Similar to Stalberg (although not a recent victim of a buyout), Condra would only make sense in a clear bottom-6 role on a shutdown line. He finished as a positive possession player for Ottawa last year despite the lowest number of offensive zone starts in the league, and through the years he’s been consistently a positive possession player despite tough deployment. Though his scoring levels are that of a 4th-liner (his 9-14-23 line last year was the 2nd-best of his career), both his shot suppression and shot generation are at a 2nd-line level. He would look great on a line with Vandevelde and Bellemare on a cheap 1-year deal if the Flyers wanted to deploy their 4th line with some actual defensive responsibilities this year.
Frolik doesn’t fit in with the other names on this list, as he’s a pretty high-profile target in free agency who has been receiving a lot of interest, but i just wanted to highlight Frolik’s value as a player. He really took off after getting traded to Winnipeg before the 2013 season, where he was able to be utilized more than his previously held depth role in Chicago. Frolik turned in back-to-back 42 point seasons (15-27-42 and 19-23-42), but he has far more underlying value than just his scoring.
He’s a clear top-line player in terms of both shot generation and shot suppression over the past 3 seasons, and he’s a quality second-liner in terms of A/60 and P/60, while his G/60 is that of an elite 3rd-liner and his SOG/60 are that of a solid top line player. Last season, his CF/60 was 4.1 higher than his teammates, and his CA/60 was 4.1 lower, meaning that he improved the Jets at both ends of the ice when he played. And finally, an interesting note: when using War on Ice’s Similarity Scores tool, one jumped out at me: his season this past year was 96.12% similar to…Claude Giroux’s season last year. Frolik had 0.58 G/60, 1.01 A/60, 1.59 P/60, and a 3.74 CF Rel% compared to Giroux’s 0.53 G/60, 0.97 A/60, 1.5 P/60, and 5.2 CF Rel%. He’s a right wing, so the fit isn’t ideal here with Voracek and Simmonds already down the right side, but he could really help the Flyers. I think him with Read and Couturier would be an excellent line at both ends of the ice, leaving Raffl-Giroux-Voracek as the top line and freeing up Schenn-Gagner/Laughton-Simmonds for more sheltered minutes while still giving the Flyers the ability to roll 3 legitimate scoring lines. I would give Frolik 4 years, $16M and might even be inclined to go all the way up to 4/$18M, but I can’t justify giving him more than that with the looming specter of contract extensions for Voracek, Raffl, Couturier, and Schenn next summer. Frolik is one of the few big name free agent targets I would be excited to see the Flyers pursue this summer, but for the most part I’m hoping for some buy-low acquisitions that could potentially be flipped down the road for assets closer to the deadline.