Philadelphia Flyers: Justin Braun named to top free agent list

Justin Braun, Philadelphia Flyers (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Justin Braun, Philadelphia Flyers (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

While he may not be a highly-sought-after player, Justin Braun could still be attractive to teams looking for a steady bottom-pair defenseman.

Free agency this season will look a lot different than it has in the past. With the likelihood of the salary cap remaining where it is, teams will be looking for creative ways to keep and sign new players. It will almost certainly affect top free agents such as Alex Pietrangelo, Taylor Hall, and Torey Krug. The Flyers have their free agents to worry about, one of them being Justin Braun.

He was named to the early 2020 Top Free Agents list. He came in at No. 18 on the list. Braun is the 10th ranked defenseman on the list. He is in the final year of a five-year contract worth $19M. Braun’s cap hit each season was $3.8M. There will likely have to be a drop in that salary with whomever he signs with next.

During this season with the Flyers, Braun split time on pairings with Travis Sanheim and Robert Hagg. Starting with Sanheim, the two played a total of 450:33 minutes together. They posted the best CF% among regular pairings (51.48). The two posted a GF% of exactly 42.00 and an xGF% of 45.10.

For Braun and Hagg, the numbers fluctuated. They posted a 40.99 CF% but posted a high 71.43 GF%. They were on the ice for 15 goals for and just six against. That was after playing 279:07 minutes on the ice together. Their xGF% was the lowest among regular pairings at 44.52.

Looking at Braun’s numbers at even strength, they could be considered average. He ranked 13th with a 50.71 CF%, 22nd with a 47.50 GF% and 11th with a 50.52 xGF%. Braun isn’t known to contribute on offense so the lower totals there aren’t surprising. The numbers were better than his last season in San Jose, though the ice time was down significantly. It was the first time since his third season that he averaged less than 20 minutes per game.

Braun did post more goals, assists, and points than he did last season. And he did it in 16 fewer games. For a player not known for his offense, he had a small six-game stretch where he collected two goals and three assists.

The Flyers have multiple players on defense looking for a new contract. Along with Braun, Philippe Myers and Hagg are looking for NHL contracts. Mark Friedman is also looking for a new deal as he could crack the Flyers roster for good in the upcoming future. Myers is expected to remain with the team so we can cross him off the list.

The decision may come down to Hagg and Braun. Though, if the team deems Friedman ready for the NHL, that would give them their six defensemen. So it would have to come down to which player would accept possibly being the team’s seventh defensemen. If the team went that direction, Braun has the experience, but his salary would likely be too much to warrant playing that role.

Hagg was only making $1.15M this season and shouldn’t see much increase in that. He is also only 25-years-old and likely has more time left than Braun. The numbers aren’t exactly in Hagg’s favor, though, as he has seemingly gotten worse each season. He played in just 49 games this season, a huge drop from the 82 last season. Even with advanced numbers that say Hagg should’ve been crushed on the ice, he was adequate in his role.

So for Braun, it becomes more and more unlikely that he would be back in a Flyers uniform next season. That doesn’t mean it was a bad decision to bring him in this season. He was effective enough when the team needed him to be. But with his role likely to decrease even further, it’s hard to see a way that he returns.

That doesn’t mean another team won’t see what the Flyers did when they decided to trade for him last summer. He proved to be serviceable, even in a reduced role. The contract will have to be a big talking point with any team. But this likely isn’t the end for Braun in the NHL.