Flyers Busy Before Start of Free Agency

By: Wes Herrmann (@Wes_Herrm)

NHL free agency doesn’t start until Saturday, but that doesn’t mean the Philadelphia Flyers haven’t been busy in the days leading up to it.

With the negotiation window open, general manager Ron Hextall has already signed one of his own players and reached out to two others, that we know of. Here’s a look at those moves and rumors and my thoughts on each of them.

Jordan Weal

After terrorizing Flyers twitter for almost two weeks, Weal and the Flyers agreed to a two-year contract worth $1.75 million annually Thursday night. The 25 year old broke out late last season, scoring 12 points in 23 games and seven in the last seven contests. His role will also likely increase with the trade of Brayden Schenn.

Originally I thought Weal would earn anywhere from $1-$1.5 million per year. But his offense wasn’t kept secret and meetings with Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver increased his value to $1.75 million. That doesn’t make it a bad deal, though. Weal reaching the worth of that doesn’t seem tough to do and if his play last season turns out to be a fluke, $1.75 million is easy to absorb over the next two years.

Having said that, I wasn’t in the camp that thought losing Weal would be a horrific mistake by Hextall and company. The former King had a 16.3 shooting percentage last year and averaged 14 minutes a night. He’ll likely regress back to the NHL shooting average, around 9 percent, but should see around the same ice time.

I understand the background philosophy behind losing Weal — that the team would rather play gritty veterans like Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Chris VandeVelde over skilled player — which is not ideal. But the Flyers management — both Hextall and coach Dave Hakstol — wanted a gritty, defensive fourth line last year that Weal would not have fit on.

However, none of that makes me unhappy about the Weal re-signing. The Flyers needed a top-nine forward and he’s a cheap option with plenty of potential, if not completely reliable yet. I just also believe a Justin Williams (we’ll get to him later) or another free agent could have been that guy.

Brian Elliott

The Flyers seemed to have found their guy in net, according to multiple sources:

UPDATE: Strickland is saying the Elliot deal is done. Two years, $2.75 million per.

Ever since Philly walked away from Steve Mason and didn’t make a deal over the draft, it seemed probable the next goalie would come in free agency. Elliott and Jonathan Bernier were at the top of the list at that point.

After several strong seasons in St. Louis, Elliott struggled last year with the Calgary Flames, where he posted a 2.55 goals-against-average and a .910 save percentage. It was his worst numbers in six and four years, respectively. However, last summer he was worth a second-round pick and a conditional third when the Blues sent him to Calgary.

The Flyers are now banking on the 32 year old rebounding to his 2015-16 form, when he had a .930 Sv%. On the bright side, the team may not be paying Elliott a lot if he doesn’t. $2.75 million is a reasonable number for a split-starting goalie, and combined with Michal Neuvirth that’s just a $5.25 million cap hit for two goalies.

A three-year deal seems long at first glance, but it’s also possible all of Anthony Stolarz, Felix Sandstrom and Carter Hart aren’t ready for a starting role yet. Elliott can continue to be that and help groom the next crop of goalies.

Elliott’s been a number one goalie before, which makes him a safer bet than Bernier, who is younger, but never reached his potential. However, Elliott may still fall short of Mason. The now-former Flyers netminder is rumored to be signing with the Winnipeg Jets.

I’d personally rather have Mason, who consistently had one of the best even-strength Sv& in the league, but that never looked like a real possibility after Neuvirth was re-signed. Elliott was the next-best on the free-agent market and if he returns to 2015-16 form, he’ll be a steal.

Justin Williams

UPDATE: According to Dreger, the Flyers are still in contention for Williams:

Williams would be a great addition to any team, but if the Flyers add him, there has to be a move following that one among the forwards. Besides the logjam, Philly would have a tough time fitting the former King within the salary cap.

*****

After Weal re-signed, a Philadelphia return for Willams seems no longer necessary. But there was a point when it looked like the Flyers were trying for it, according to Dave Issaac, of the Courier-Post:

Hours later, Darren Dreger reported that Williams had trimmed his list down to three or four teams. The Flyers then signed Weal to an extension. It’s possible Philly wasn’t on Williams list and decided to increase its bid for Weal.

Williams, even at 35 years old, was the safer bet. He scored 48 points, including 24 goals, last season and continued his consistent play in the postseason as one of the Washington Captials’ best players.

But age can sneak up on a player at any time, just ask Brian Elliott. If Williams scores 35 points next season, I’d expect 30 or less in 2018-19. If Weal scores 35 points next season, I’d expect 40 or more in 2018-19, due to age and potential.  Then there’s also the price. Williams was heavily sought-after and undoubtedly will make more than $3 million next season. Weal could end up costing $2 million less than Williams.

The Flyers, though, aren’t done yet. In fact, free agency has only just begun. If everything works out, Elliott could be a Flyer tomorrow and HockeyBuzz’s Bill Meltzer believes the Flyers will try to sign a veteran defenseman also:

Follow Philly Is Flyer on Twitter and here for updates during the first day of free agency Saturday.

Image Credit: Jennifer Griggs/Flickr

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