Justin Braun

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Flyers’ Fletcher continues to be the anti-Hextall

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When the Philadelphia Flyers fired Ron Hextall back in November it was pretty obvious the organization had become fed up with his patient approach to building the roster.

During his time as the team’s general manager, Hextall completed just 14 (mostly) insignificant trades and made only a handful of headline grabbing free agent signings (bringing back James van Riemsdyk).

Among the trades he made…

  • One of them involved nothing but draft picks as he moved down four spots in the 2016 first round.
  • Two of them were done for the purposes of dumping significant amounts of salary still owed to the likes of Chris Pronger, Luke Schenn, and Vincent Lecavalier.
  • There were a couple of minor trade deadline deals involving rentals and mid-round draft picks. Nothing that was ever going to move the needle. The most significant trade was probably moving Brayden Schenn to the St. Louis Blues for Jori Lehtera and two first-round draft picks.

This type of inaction was never going to sit well with a team like the Flyers whose entire existence is synonymous with chaos, whether it be on the ice or making bold moves to re-shape the roster.

When discussing the firing of Hextall, Paul Holmgren (who had his share of completely insane roster overhaul as the team’s general manager) said the front office and Hextall “no longer share the same philosophical approach concerning the direction of the team,” while CEO Dave Scott literally said they were looking for a GM that had a “bias for action.”

Well, Chuck Fletcher has certainly been that, and he continued it on Monday afternoon when he traded restricted free agent Ryan Hartman to the Dallas Stars in exchange for Tyler Pitlick.

It is by no means an earth-shattering trade, and is really only noteworthy for two reasons.

The first being that it shows just how far Hartman’s stock has fallen in a short period of time. Keep in mind, he was traded (from Chicago to Nashville) for a first-round pick not even 18 months ago, and was then sent to the Flyers at this year’s trade deadline in the deal that sent Wayne Simmonds to the Predators.

Now he is off to Dallas for in a one-for-one swap for a fourth-liner that is three years older than him.

The second reason is that it is already the ninth trade that Fletcher has made since December when he was hired by the Flyers, and that number is not counting the two trades he made at the NHL draft over the weekend where he moved down from the 11th pick to the 14th pick in the first round, and then later completed a swap of seventh-round picks with the Montreal Canadiens.

There is your bias for action.

This is already Fletcher’s fourth trade this offseason involving NHL roster players after trading Radko Gudas to the Washington Capitals for Matt Niskanen, trading draft picks to the San Jose Sharks for Justin Braun, and giving up a draft pick for the rights to unrestricted free agent Kevin Hayes and then signing him to a massive contract to keep him off the open market.

When it comes to roster moves and action he is already the anti-Ron Hextall.

But what does this mean for the results on the ice?

Until the offseason most of the trades Fletcher completed were lateral moves, like trading Anthony Stolarz for a few months of Cam Talbot, or dumping veterans at the deadline in what had quickly become a lost season.

But the summer trades have become a little more meaningful and costly.

Adding Matt Niskanen and Justin Braun to your blue line would have probably been a good idea if it was still 2015. But it’s not still 2015. Neither player is what they were a few years ago, their additions added some pretty significant salary to the Flyers’ cap situation, while there is a pretty strong argument to be made that Gudas is better than both new players at this very moment in their respective careers.

As for Hayes, well, he is a pretty good player and would have probably received a similar contract on the open market had he reached free agency, but he is now the third-highest paid player on the roster and currently has one of the 45 biggest cap hits in the league … all for a 27-year-old that has topped 20 goals and 50 points in a single season exactly one time. It seems almost inevitable that within four years (maybe less) they are going to be eating salary in a trade when trying to move that contract to another team.

At the risk of overusing a tired sports cliche when it comes to roster construction, there is a “rearranging the deck chairs” kind of vibe to what is happening with the Flyers so far under Fletcher.

The names and faces are different, but the overall outlook is still pretty much the same.

It was clear that Hextall’s patient approach was not moving the Flyers forward because keeping the same roster in place was only maintaining the mediocrity the team had sunk into.

Fletcher has definitely been more aggressive and proactive in trying to improve the team, but it remains to be seen how much better they are after all of the dust settles.

They are a very different team, yes.

But are they a better team in any sort of meaningful way?

That answer will largely depend on how much Niskanen and Braun still have remaining in the tank and how much you like Kevin Hayes.

More from the Flyers
Flyers acquire Justin Braun as Sharks shed salary
Flyers trade Radko Gudas for Matt Niskanen
Flyers, Hayes agree to seven-year, $50 million contract 

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Sanheim gets two-year bridge contract with Flyers

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The Philadelphia Flyers took care of one of their restricted free agents on Monday when they announced a two-year contract with defenseman Travis Sanheim.

It is a bridge deal for Sanheim that will still keep him as a restricted free agent when it expires at the end of the 2020-21 season and will pay him $3.25 million per season.

“We are very pleased with the progress Travis has made in his young career,” said general manager Chuck Fletcher in a team statement. “He is a skilled, two-way defenseman with excellent size and mobility. He is a big part of our present and our future.”

The 23-year-old Sanheim just completed his second season in the NHL, appearing in all 82 games and finishing with nine goals and 26 assists. His 35 total points were second among the team’s blue-liners, finishing behind only Shayne Gostisbehere‘s 37 points.

The Flyers still have some pretty significant restricted free agents to come to terms with, including Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny.

Where Sanheim fits in the Flyers’ plans this season remains to be seen as Fletcher has spent the early part of the offseason reshaping his team’s defense by trading Radko Gudas to the Washington Capitals in exchange for Matt Niskanen, and also acquiring Justin Braun from the San Jose Sharks. With Niskanen and Braun in the mix, the Flyers will have eight NHL defensemen under contract this season once Provorov gets signed.

More from the Flyers
Flyers acquire Justin Braun as Sharks shed salary
Flyers trade Radko Gudas for Matt Niskanen
Flyers, Hayes agree to seven-year, $50 million contract 

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Are the Flyers reverting to old ways?

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Chuck Fletcher is going at things at a speed more familiar to Philadelphia Flyers fans.

The team’s general manager has been a bit feisty over the past several days, aggressively seeking out additions to his roster, including trading a fifth-round pick for the rights to negotiate early with Kevin Hayes — a move that paid of with a massive contract on Tuesday.

Fletcher also took advantage of a cash-strapped San Jose Sharks team to bring in 32-year-old defenseman Justin Braun and flipped the unpredictable Radko Gudas (well, 70 percent of him) for 32-year-old Matt Niskanen, too.

That ‘win-now’ mentality that has been so prevalent throughout the history of the Flyers is back. But is it a good thing? Historically, speaking, the Flyers have little to show for it.

The Hayes signing improves the Flyers, although the price tag to do business will certainly be debated. Hayes is a big center that many teams would have coveted if he hit the open market on July 1.

But what about the others?

Braun’s play hasn’t exactly been earth-shattering over the last little while. He’s aging and his ability to play the game is as well, at least according to the numbers.

Niskanen’s play has followed the same sort of declining arch, and it’s possible that Gudas is still the better defenseman.

But let’s rewind for a moment.

Ron Hextall’s slow-and-steady approach seemingly cost him his job last November (along with sticking with Dave Hakstol, who didn’t seem to be developing that talent all that well).

When he was hired in 2014, Hextall told reporters that it wasn’t his vision to trade the farm to acquire older players. The late Ed Snider concurred: “I think Ron has established a philosophy that is probably long overdue.”

Build through the draft, a model that’s done wonders for teams like Winnipeg and Tampa Bay, was Hextall’s preferred method of choice.

And his fingerprints are all over the current roster’s crop of youth, including Travis Sanheim, Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny, Carter Hart and Nolan Patrick.

Fletcher has no such aspirations, it seems.

To get Braun, a veteran of 600-plus NHL games, Fletcher parted ways with two picks, a second and third rounder in 2019 and 2020, respectively.

And Fletcher said over the weekend that he may still be looking to find a top-pairing defenseman for Provorov to play with. Those don’t come cheap, whether through trade (assets) or through free agency (money).

The more Fletcher adds on the backend, the more he likely has to subtract, even if they carry seven defensemen into the season (they currently have eight). And we can only assume that he would then subtract a defenseman that was born and bred through the organization, through the draft — reversing some of the good work Hextall did (or Paul Holmgren, if a guy like Sam Morin or Robert Hagg is moved).

The Flyers have nearly $23 million in cap space to play with but still have to sign restricted free agents in Provorov, Konecny and Sanheim among others. That may not leave them with that much room to maneuver in the end.

Perhaps most worrying though circles back to the beginning of this, with Fletcher’s aggressive approach to acquiring older talent at the cost of assets. While Hextall’s approach may have been flawed, the essence of it has made other teams perennial contenders.

Fletcher’s been busy, certainly. But is his team any better for his efforts?

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck.

Trade: Flyers add Braun to blue line as Sharks shed salary

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One day after the San Jose Sharks handed Erik Karlsson $92 million over the next eight years, they shipped defenseman Justin Braun to the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for a 2019 second-round pick (No. 41 overall) and a third-round selection in 2020.

“Justin has been an important part of our organization since we drafted him in 2007 and over that time, we have seen him develop not only as a player on the ice but as a man,” said Sharks general manager Doug Wilson in a statement. “He has played a large role in our team’s success since joining the Sharks roster, including appearing in three Conference Finals and competing for the Stanley Cup in 2016. I want to thank Justin and his wife, Jessie, for their commitment to the Sharks organization and wish them all the best in their future.”

In the wake of the Karlsson extension Wilson needed to shed some salary off the Sharks’ cap. This trade does that, freeing up $3.8M from their books for the 2019-20 NHL season. Braun has one year left on his deal and is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent in 2020.

Wilson and the Sharks now have a little over $16M in cap space, per Cap Friendly, to try and re-sign some of the team’s restricted free agents like Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc, and figure out what to do with UFAs Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton, Joonas Donskoi and Gustav Nyquist.

“Under a cap system, choices and decisions need to be made,” Wilson said on Monday. “I don’t think anybody should rush to conclusions on anything. There’s many ways to accomplish different things.”

The Braun acquisition continues an aggressive off-season by Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher. In the span of a week he’s acquired the negotiating rights to pending UFA Kevin Hayes, swapped defensemen with the Washington Capitals by shipping Radko Gudas in exchange for Matt Niskanen, bought out Andrew MacDonald‘s contract, and now added Braun.

This now gives the Flyers a blue line with a left side featuring Ivan Provorov (RFA), Shayne Gostisbehere, Sam Morin, Robert Hagg, and Travis Sanheim (RFA). Who will be on the move out of that group? Judging by how some NHL GMs are talking this week, it could be a very busy summer of player movement.

“I think there’s been more conversation, more communication between the GMs in the last month than maybe ever since I’ve been a GM,” Wilson said. “There’s so much competition, especially for the high-end player. … There’s a lot of things going on.”

MORE:
Sharks set to sweat salary cap after Karlsson extension
Teams looking for defense should seek trades, not free agents
Free agent market for defensemen looks thin without Karlsson

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Sharks take playful jabs at city of Winnipeg, draw response (Update)

NBC Sports California
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The San Jose Sharks are probably very happy to have their only visit to Winnipeg this season over and done with. While they may have lost 4-1 to the Jets on Sunday night, some players were probably feeling like it was a bit of a win not to have to worry about staying there again until 2018-19* (*barring a playoff meeting, of course).

Prior to Sunday’s game, NBC Sports California Tweeted a video featuring Tomas Hertl, Justin Braun and Tim Heed expressing their thoughts on the city of Winnipeg — thoughts that won’t be featured on any tourism brochures.

If they wanted to add one final zinger they could have asked Ilya Bryzgalov for his updated thoughts on Winnipeg’s park situation or caught up with Altitude TV’s Kyle Keefe about the weather.

CBC News went and asked Dayna Spiring, president and CEO of Economic Development Winnipeg, her thoughts on what the Sharks players said and she threw some shade their way.

Via CBC:

“Given that the Jets beat the Sharks 4-1, I can understand that they don’t like Winnipeg. It’s never fun to lose,” she said, offering to help them see the city in a better light.

“Once the NHL playoffs get into full swing and the Sharks have some more time on their hands I’d be happy to tour them around and show them all that Winnipeg has to offer — festivals, food trucks, sunshine, world-class attractions and one of the best culinary scenes in the country.

“If they want to take me up on my offer, we could even invite them to a Jets playoff game.”

As Jets fans like to do to certain opposing players, Bryzgalov was serenaded by them when he played there a few years after his comments. You can be certain they won’t forget next time those three players are in town.

UPDATE: Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister weighs in:

UPDATE #2: As you can see, NBC California has since deleted the controversial Tweet. Tueday has been an eventful day of responses. First, Jets head coach Paul Maurice spoke out, and now Sharks GM Doug Wilson said this to the Mercury News:

“It’s disappointing that our broadcast partner would put our players in that position. First of all, by even asking that question, then putting it on our broadcast. That was a question that was one of 30 that were asked earlier in the year. To me, it was an inappropriate question that should not have been asked. Whether it was an attempt at humor, it was not appropriate.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.