In less than two weeks the crazy season of NHL free agency will begin. Unrestricted free agents will be paid astronomically high salaries and few will live up to their hype.
Whether it is a five year, $22.5 million contract to an aging star or a seven year, $36.75 million contract to a gritty winger who had 30 goals one time, signing “big name” free agents is almost always a disaster.
And it is not just the forwards who get unrealistic paydays. Although neither Mark Streit nor Andrew MacDonald were technically UFA’s when they signed in Philadelphia, both players were given “market value” to make sure they did not hit the market.
Whether you are a “fancy stats” person or not, there is little to like in a six year, $30 million dollar contract to an average (at best) defenseman in MacDonald. Although Streit ended up having a solid year, it is hard to fathom that he is currently the teams highest paid defenseman and is under contract until he is 39 years old.
It is for this reason that the Flyers need to stay away from free agency. But, you say, the Flyers need help on defense! They need a top six left winger too! You said so yourself!
True. If the Flyers wish to be a Cup contender, I believe they are missing two key pieces, a top six LW and a top pairing defenseman. Even if Matt Read can slot into a top six LW spot, the Flyers need another skilled winger who can be a long term fit with Giroux (even if Read were put on the top line for the time being, I still see him as a second line LW, playing with Couturier, long-term). As we all know, the Flyers also need a top pairing, two-way defenseman who can eat up minutes.
So why should the Flyers stay away from free agent frenzy on July 1st? Because there is no UFA this year who fills one of these needs.
Sure, Anton Stralman or Matt Niskanen would look good on the blue line. Their mobility, right-handed shot, and positive possession metrics would improve the Flyers quite a bit. But at what cost? With five defenseman signed past next year, and a stable of young defensemen who will eventually need to play (unless, of course, we prefer seeing our promising young defensemen sign KHL contracts...), signing another defenseman to a long term deal would only make things more complicated for the future.
As good as both Stralman and Niskanen can be, in the right situation, neither player will turn the Flyers into a bonafide Stanley Cup contender. In essence, the Flyers would be throwing away valuable cap space for a modest improvement.
The same goes for wingers. Both Thomas Vanek and Matt Moulson may be great goal scoring left wingers, but neither will be a long term fit next to Claude Giroux. Both players are 30 years old, making them much older than the Flyers core group of forwards, and they are at least a couple of seasons removed from their best scoring seasons. Neither player has great possession numbers either.
Jussi Jokinen is a solid winger who has garnered attention lately. His stock is inflated due to his seven goals in 13 playoff games, but some people have been high on him for a while due to his good possession numbers. But is he really a top line player? He scored 30 goals once in his career, and at 31 years old he has only eclipsed 20 goals two times. He only managed 21 goals last season while playing predominantly with Evgeni Malkin. Can we expect him to do much better next to Giroux and Voracek?
When it comes to filling the Flyers organizational needs, the Flyers will either have to make trades or hope that a team allows a star player to hit free agency. For all that has been made recently of teams locking up their talented defensemen to long term contracts, the truth is that teams are locking up all of their highly skilled players.
It is rare to see a high end UFA, whether forward or defenseman, hit the open market these days (which is why Zach Parise and Ryan Suter received such massive contracts in 2012). Therefore, teams are left bidding on whoever is left. Are Stralman and Niskanen worth $6+ million? Is Vanek worth $7 million? Can the Flyers even afford an inflated Jussi Jokinen right now?
With names like Evander Kane, Dimitry Kulikov, David Perron, and Dustin Byfuglien on the trading block, the Flyers would be much wiser to bypass this years free agency crop when looking to improve for the future.