Signing Hart and more: Flyers’ work not done after draft, big trades

Signing Hart and more: Flyers' work not done after draft, big trades
Getty Images

After a slew of (sometimes jaw-dropping) trades, there’s no denying that the Philadelphia Flyers will look different in 2021-22. It remains to be seen if they’ll be much better — or at least if they’ll be much better because of those big Flyers trades.

(Frankly, it’s difficult to imagine their goaltending being the flat-out worst in the NHL again. They were the worst by a shockingly comfortable margin in 2020-21.)

Despite Chuck Fletcher seemingly squeezing an offseason’s worth of work into those big trades, the Flyers still have work to do. Let’s review their big run of trades, then ponder what else they need to accomplish — and there will be some focus on Carter Hart.

After looking at trades, entry/expansion draft, a mixed bag for the Flyers

If there’s one big “statement” from all of the Flyers’ trades, it might be Fletcher essentially moving a ton of assets to swap Shayne Gostisbehere for Rasmus Ristolainen. When you look at the cap hits involved (“Ghost Bear” at $4.5M with Robert Hagg at $1.6; Risto in his last year at $5.4M) it’s close to 1:1. Consider the pieces involved.

Flyers receive Flyers give up
Rasmus Ristolainen ($5.4M through 2021-22) Shayne Gostisbehere ($4.5M through 2022-23)
“Future considerations” Robert Hagg ($1.6M through 2021-22)
2021 first-rounder (14th overall)
2022 second-rounder (Flyers)
2023 second-rounder (Flyers)
2022 seventh-rounder (Blues)

Pretty bold. Again, the Flyers are making a huge statement here. They could’ve kept Gostisbehere, whose underlying stats argue might be better than his “doghouse” status indicates. Instead, they went with Rasmus Ristolainen, largely under the assumption that they can fix what the Sabres failed to address. Consider their multi-season RAPM comparison, via Evolving Hockey:

Signing Hart and more: Flyers' work not done after draft, big trades Ristolainen Ghost
This is without Ghost’s power-play wizardry, too. (Chart via Evolving Hockey)

Credit Chuck Fletcher with this: it isn’t necessarily easy to pigeonhole his way of thinking. For every Gostisbehere – Ristolainen trade, there’s a savvy pickup like the mostly-promising Ryan Ellis trade. Yes, there’s risk that Ellis won’t be the same player he once was after injuries. But he’s quietly been an analytics (and eye test, frankly) darling for years.

If Ellis and Ristolainen weren’t both right-handed defensemen, they’d be total opposites. Ristolainen is the big blueliner people imagine bigger things from, even if the actual on-ice results are often ugly. Ellis, meanwhile, deserved almost as much Norris buzz as his former teammate Roman Josi.

Meanwhile, the Jakub VoracekCam Atkinson trade feels like a nice win. It’s not a huge victory (like Ellis), nor will it inspire a big groan (like Ristolainen/Gostisbehere). Instead, two veteran forwards (who can still play) get refreshing changes of scenery. Plus, the Flyers save money.

Looking at the rest of their offseason to-do list, the Flyers could benefit from those savings.

The tricky case of Carter Hart’s RFA status

Despite covering some bases, the Flyers face one huge free-agent situation (Carter Hart, 22), and one other notable one (Travis Sanheim, 25). Both Hart and Sanheim are RFAs, with Sanheim eligible for arbitration.

Getting Hart’s contract situation right is huge, and tricky. Through his first two NHL seasons, Hart might have gotten a bit over-hyped, but his work was still solid (.917 save percentage in 2018-19; .914 in 2019-20).

Last season, Hart’s game plummeted to a shocking, season-sabotaging degree. He went 9-11-5 with a catastrophic .877 save percentage. While those Rangers meltdowns might make you think that the Flyers’ defense is mostly to blame, that’s mostly untrue.

By various metrics that isolate a goalie’s performance, Hart was putrid. His -22.57 Goals Saved Above Average was by far the worst in the NHL. Disturbingly, fellow Flyers goalie Brian Elliott was a distant second-worst with -14.01.

(Braden Holtby ranked third-worst with a -12.97 mark. Only eight goalies were in negative double digits by Hockey Reference’s version of GSAA.)

[See where the Flyers fit among “Winners and Losers of the 2021 NHL Draft”]

Based on pedigree and reputation, Hart might argue for a significant contract. That disastrous 2020-21 season should be a red flag for anything too risky, though. All things considered, a “bridge deal” might be wise.

Either way, the Flyers would gain some insight about their cap flexibility if they sign Hart. That said, he’s an RFA, so they don’t need to rush.

If there’s one area where the Flyers failed Hart above all else, it was failing to find a reliable Plan B. Their 2020-21 goalie plan was essentially “Carter Hart or bust,” and bust it was.

Credit Brian Elliott for sticking around in the NHL longer than expected. Yet, that might be a failure of imagination on the Flyers’ part.

Looking at potential free-agent goalies, the Flyers could definitely make an upgrade at the backup spot. Jaroslav Halak and Jonathan Bernier seem like logical, safe options. Since Fletcher loves gambles, Antti Raanta‘s interesting (great results, scary injuries).

Logically speaking, it’s difficult to imagine the Flyers not improving in net this season — even just by default. If their goaltending’s downright strong, it might even make them look smarter in other areas. (In other words, it might soften the blow if Rasmus Ristolainen is what we thought he was.)

Plenty of other key free-agent decisions for Flyers

Via Cap Friendly, the Flyers have about $12.5M in cap space. That’s with 17 roster spots filled.

It’s probably safe to assume that they’ll have some cap space after signing Carter Hart and a backup goalie. Fletcher could supplement the Flyers with supporting cast members. There’s conceivably room for another bold move — via a trade, or free agency — too.

But some of the Flyers’ biggest offseason questions revolve around the larger future. Consider these.

More ripples with Ristolainen?

By forking over so much draft capital for Ristolainen (especially if you count the Gostisbehere bribe, which you should), the Flyers probably don’t want him to merely be a rental.

So, that’s where a risky trade becomes an even scarier gamble. What if the Flyers decide to extend Ristolainen before he even plays a game for Philly? (That appears to be what the Blackhawks will do with their own risky defenseman via trade, Seth Jones.)

Truly, it would probably be smarter to wait-and-see. Yes, it would sting if critics were right that Ristolainen just is less than the sum of his tantalizing-on-paper parts. But at least you wouldn’t dig the ditch deeper with additional sunk costs.

The Flyers may fervently believe that they’re simply right about the big blueliner, though. In that case, an extension may happen during this summer.

Other extension questions: Giroux, Couturier enter contract years

Two faces of the Flyers franchise enter contract years in 2021-22:

With any bold move, the Flyers must consider future costs. Really, they might appreciate the piece of mind that would come with determining how much, exactly, it would cost to keep Couturier in the mix. They also need to ask some tough questions about Giroux’s future. How much less would he accept to stick around?

Such concerns could trickle down into other areas. Deep down, the Flyers might not have been too unhappy if the Kraken took on James van Riemsdyk. JVR was brilliant in 2020-21, but he carries a pricey $7M cap hit for two more seasons. It’s not outrageous to imagine the Flyers trying to shake loose from the 32-year-old before that contract expires.

Interesting either way

Back in the Paul Holmgren era, the Flyers seemed to make mind-blowing moves every other month. It was often a mess — but a fun one. And the Flyers ended up pretty good at times, even though the party broke up once the bill came due.

Ron Hextall ended up throwing out all of the trash and broken glass. He had to be the hall monitor, practicing patience by getting out of bad contracts, and building through the draft.

The last week has been a return to that kegger atmosphere with Fletcher. He’s certainly been willing to take risks beyond that, particularly in signing Kevin Hayes.

Even if you critique the moves, it sure makes it fun to follow league transactions. Flyers’ fans mileage may vary, though.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Scroll Down For:

    Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

    Ilya Mikheyev
    Bob Frid/USA TODAY Sports
    2 Comments

    VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

    Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

    Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

    Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

    Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

    austonmatthews
    Nick Turchiaro/USA TODAY Sports
    0 Comments

    Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

    The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

    Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

    After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

    Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

    Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

    caufield surgery
    David Kirouac/USA TODAY Sports
    0 Comments

    MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

    But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

    “I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

    Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

    “I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

    Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

    Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

    Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

    All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

    matty beniers
    Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY Sports
    0 Comments

    SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

    Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

    The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

    Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

    Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.