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Can the Flyers Take Advantage of Carolina’s Free Agent Mess?

(Sergei Belski/USA TODAY Sports)

Every general manager in the NHL refers to making “hockey deals” or “moves that will better the franchise” every off-season and while it is an annoying cliche, it reigns supreme for teams attempting to make changes on the fly. The Philadelphia Flyers have an interesting opportunity this summer to add to their young core while still not steering away from their attempted rebuild.

The Carolina Hurricanes have a slew of UFAs and RFAs that they would love to keep but with just 32.45 million in cap space it’s almost an impossibility that they can afford it – which is where the Flyers can swoop in.

Trying to Understand the Hurricanes’ Situation

The Hurricanes were eliminated from the second round of the playoffs just last week by the New York Rangers in six games. They trailed the series three games to zero before rattling off back to back victories, forcing a Game 6 on home ice. Heading into the third period, the Hurricanes were leading 3-1 before Chris Kreider broke their hearts with a natural hat trick, putting the Rangers on his back and sending them to the Eastern Conference Finals against the Florida Panthers.

It was another year where the Hurricanes dominated during the regular season but fell short in the postseason. After failing to qualify for the playoffs in nine consecutive seasons between 2009-10 and 2017-18, the Hurricanes reached the Conference Finals in 2019, lost in the first round in 2020, and were ousted in the second round in back-to-back years in 2021 and 2022 before being swept in the Conference Finals last year against Florida.

Under the head coaching of former Flyers forward Rod Brind’Amour, Carolina has posted a 278-130-44 record since 2018-19 but has only gone 38-36 in the playoffs. Goaltending has generally been an issue for the club as they’ve employed decent-to-good options in Frederik Andersen, Antti Raanta, or Petr Mrázek in recent years, but they’ve floundered when the needed them most. Andersen has had his moments under the sun but goals like the one Kreider scored to start the comeback are reasons why Andersen-backed clubs haven’t made it to the promised land.

They buffed up ahead of the trade deadline by trading for Jake Guentzel and Evgeny Kuznetsov. Alongside Sebastian Aho, Andrei Svechnikov, Seth Jarvis, and Teuvo Teräväinen, the Hurricanes had a lethal offense that only a few teams could match up with.

Their series against the Rangers was a lot closer than meets the eye with the first four games all being one-goal games and two of them having gone to overtime. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to hold a two-goal lead in the third period and they now enter the offseason with a myriad of holes in their lineup and questions about their roster construction.

Upcoming UFAs

Jake Guentzel
Teuvo Teräväinen
Jordan Martinook
Stefan Noesen
Brett Pesce
Brady Skjei
Jalen Chatfield
Tony DeAngelo

Upcoming RFAs

Seth Jarvis
Jack Drury
Martin Nečas
Dylan Coghlan

Guentzel has reportedly been tabbed as the Hurricanes’ top priority this summer but that shouldn’t come as a surprise after yet another successful post-season run. He added 8 goals and 25 points in just 17 regular season games before scoring 4 goals and 9 points in the playoffs. For his career, Guentzel has 38 goals and 67 points in 69 games during the postseason, including 24 goals and 42 points in his first 37 contests, which included a Stanley Cup title with Pittsburgh in 2017.

Guentzel will also be the biggest fish in the sea should he walk into free agency, so a contract extension will most likely cost the Hurricanes around $9 million or more to begin with. Jarvis is also due for a very big raise post-rookie contract after scoring 33 goals and 67 points this year. The salary cap rising exponentially over the next few years will drive the prices up for the current crop of free agents.

The Hurricanes should also look to keep Jack Drury, Jalen Chatfield, Stefan Noesen, and Jordan Martinook and while they won’t individually break the bank, as a collective unit they should earn a good chunk of the remaining cap space. Carolina will also need to address their backend with Pesce and Skjei both playing important roles over the years and they should look to retain at least one of them.

The Hurricanes have two albatross contracts that they should look to move on from this summer to alleviate cap space. Last summer, they made a massive splash by signing Dmitry Orlov to a 2-year contract with a staggering $7.75 million AAV. While he played in all 82 games and accumulated 26 points, he only averaged 17:19 ATOI and played primarily in a third pair role with Brent Burns, Jaccob Slavin, Pesce, and Skjei ahead of him in the pecking order.

Perhaps they see more of a fit for Orlov then they do with Pesce or Skjei, which could allow them to push him up in their depth chart, but $7.75 million is far too much money for a player of his ilk. Since he has just one year left, they could look to trade him to a rebuilding club by attaching a prospect or draft pick but the other player they need to move on from is Jesperi Kotkaniemi.

The Hurricanes signed the former 2018 third overall pick to an offer sheet, almost in a way to get back to Montréal for sending an offer sheet of their own to Aho the year prior. This year was disappointing for a variety of reasons, but primarily because he was not able to improve on his career year in 2022-23 when he scored 18 goals and 43 points in 82 games.

Kotkaniemi finished the year with 12 goals and 27 points in 79 games, averaged just 12:59 ATOI, was primarily playing in the bottom-six, and he added just 1 assist in 11 playoff games while playing under 12 minutes a night.

He has six years remaining at a cap hit of $4.82 million and has one more year before his modified no-trade clause kicks in from 2025-26 to 2029-30, but the most interesting caveat is that a buyout will cost the Hurricanes a collective $8.8 million over the next 12 seasons. They would be on the hook for just $835,000 in 9 of those 12 years with a loss of $455,000 in the other 3 years. His age comes into play with this kind of buyout and it’s something the Hurricanes should definitely look into.

Next year alone, they would save $3.985 million which could be used towards one of their more favoured expiring contracts.

However, if they don’t want to incur any losses over the next decade and they choose to hold onto Kotkaniemi – only 23 years old – then it might be high-time for the Flyers to try and take advantage of their cap situation. Especially if players like Nečas, Jarvis, Pesce, Teräväinen, and Skjei will be looking for $6 million or more and projecting themselves out of Carolina.

Not to mention that the Hurricanes should focus on finding a more stable option in goal, or at least a more reliable option than Andersen. They will have slightly more than $32 million to play with but more than half their roster needs to either be extended or shaped up – not the best recipe for success.

Trying to Understand the Flyers’ Situation

The Flyers desperately need offensive talent and there are definitely a few players amongst the aforementioned list that would not only check those boxes but they would also fit their core and supposed rebuild.

The Flyers also enter the offseason with the least amount of cap space on hand out of every other team in the NHL. However, they could and should use LTIR this year on Ryan Ellis and Ryan Johansen, which would alleviate over $10 million in cap space. They chose not to use LTIR this past season because they had the cap space to play with nor did they want to incur any extra overages.

It also wouldn’t come as a surprise if they were to buy out the final year of Cam Atkinson’s contract as well. Just based on the verbiage coming from Atkinson at the end of the season plus his decline on the ice, mixed in with his press box visits, can the Flyers afford to keep him around with a cap hit of $5.875 million? A buyout would save the Flyers $3.516 million but would incur a loss of $1.758 million next season.

The only expiring contracts they should be seriously worrying about this summer belong to RFA Egor Zamula and perhaps veteran UFA defenseman Erik Johnson. Both shouldn’t command all too much money, which would give them about $10 million-$11 million to play with should they place both Ellis and Johansen on LTIR and buy out Atkinson.

The following summer is when things get really interesting because Travis Konecny, Noah Cates, Garnet Hathaway, Morgan Frost, Tyson Foerster, and Cam York will need new contracts. Atkinson and Johansen will come off the books should the Flyers hold onto them this year, Tony DeAngelo‘s buyout comes off as well, and Cal Petersen‘s contract is done and dusted with. With a projected salary cap at $92 million, the Flyers would have $35.5 million to play with but have several players to possibly extend – depending on what they do this summer.

So with all that in mind, the Flyers would have a little of bit of leeway in looking to acquire one of the younger players that the Hurricanes won’t be able to retain. Nečas would be the more promising player, most because they will likely do all they can to keep Jarvis over Nečas should they have to choose between the duo.

The Czechia native will turn 26 years old in January, he has seven years of NHL experience under his belt, and hit a career-high in 28 goals and 71 points in 2022-23. He struggled a little bit this year with 53 points in 77 games but he did chip in with 4 goals and 9 points in 11 playoff games.

The pending RFA will likely command a new contract with a cap hit over $7 million, but based on the Flyers needs and what Nečas brings to the table, Daniel Brière should be all over this if the Hurricanes signal the white flag. Inserting Nečas into the lineup automatically gives the Flyers a top-flight center, he’d be their most gifted offensive weapon, and he would be a big boost for their downtrodden power play.

It will cost a pretty penny to either acquire his signing rights or to send an offer sheet but if the Hurricanes divert their attention elsewhere, the Flyers have to be the aggressors and nab the 25-year-old.

Flyers fan born in the heart of Leafs nation

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