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Years since a Phillies catcher batted leadoff before Andrew Knapp did so Sunday

Don’t expect big splash

Posted by Eric Fisher On June 30

Unlike NBA free agency, the NHL free agency period, which also begins Sunday at 12:01 a.m., doesn’t feature many elite players. It can be argued that center John Tavares, if he chooses not to re-sign with the Islander, would be the only elite player on the market.

That leaves slim pickings for the Flyers. But that doesn’t mean they can’t find a player to improve the team. Flyers general manager Ron Hextall has said the Flyers won’t sign anyone who isn’t an upgrade over what the Flyers already have, either on their roster or in young talent close to making the roster. But he has also said the Flyers would like a top-six forward, a third-line center and a top-four veteran defenseman.

The Flyers are approximately $21 million under the salary cap, which rises by $5 million for the upcoming season, but they need to leave room to re-sign young players such as Ivan Provorov, whom the Flyers would like to sign to an extension this offseason.

Forward

The top unrestricted forward is probably former Flyer James van Riemsdyk. The Flyers could certainly use the goal-scoring ability of the 29-year-old van Riemsdyk, who scored 36 goals last season. The question would be the price and length of the deal. Van Riemsdyk (6-foot-3, 217 pounds), drafted second overall by the Flyers in the 2007 NHL Draft, isn’t a particularly well-rounded player, but he can put the puck in the net.

If we stick with the ex-Flyers category, Scott Hartnell, Scottie Upshall, Joffrey Lupul, Kris Versteeg, Harry Zolnierczyk and Zac Rinaldo are all unrestricted free agents, but it’s difficult to see how any of them are upgrades over what the Flyers currently have, although Upshall could be a good bottom-six forward if available for the right price on a short-term deal.

Golden Knights forward James Neal, 30, scored 25 goals last season, but it will likely take a lot of money to sign him. The other big names available, including Rick Nash, Thomas Vanek and Chris Kunitz, are all at least 34 years old.

An interesting possibility is left wing Patrick Maroon, who was drafted by the Flyers in the sixth round in 2007, the same year they drafted van Riemsdyk in the first round. Maroon never played for the Flyers, and didn’t leave under the best of circumstances when traded to the Ducks in 2010. He found some success with the Oilers, scoring 27 goals during the 2016-17 season and then scoring 14 with the Oilers last season before being traded to the Devils, for whom he only scored two goals. Considering how Maroon left the Flyers, it’s unlikely they would sign him, but sometimes time heals old wounds.

If the Flyers would consider cheaper options on the wing, two names I like are Blake Comeau and Michael Grabner. Comeau, 32, scored 13 goals and had 21 assists last season with the Avalanche. Grabner, a player I touted when he was a free agent two years ago, scored 27 goals each of the past two seasons, although he only scored two in 21 games last season after being traded to the Devils. Grabner has speed, can kill penalties and could be obtained at a relatively low price.

Commeau and Grabner could make an impact, but they aren’t top-six forwards at this point in their career. Still, they might be upgrades over what the Flyers currently have on their roster.

Center

The Flyers would prefer a third-line center, but the cost may be prohibitive. Aside from Tavares, the best available centers under 35 are the Jets’ Paul Stastny and the Leafs’ Tyler Bozak. A younger option is Riley Nash, 29, who broke out with 15 goals and 26 assists last season with the Bruins. Although Stastny and Nash would be terrific fits, the scarcity of centers is likely to push the bidding beyond what the Flyers want to spend on a third-line center. It’s likely that Nash will be more affordable than Stastny.

Defenseman

The Flyers might be willing to spend a little more money on a veteran defenseman. The Hurricanes’ Ian Cole, 29, and the Islanders Calvin de Haan, 27, have been the names most frequently mentioned in connection with the Flyers’ free-agent plans. De Haan missed more than half of last season with a shoulder injury, which could keep his price down. The Devils’ John Moore, 27, also should be an affordable option. The Flyers could try to sign older defensemen such as Brooks Orpik, who just won a Stanley Cup with the Capitals, and Dan Hamhuis to one-year contracts.

An interesting possibility is Luca Sbisa, who, like van Riemsdyk, was a first-round draft pick of the Flyers. Sbisa, the 19th overall pick in the 2008 NHL draft, was traded to the Ducks in the deal that brought Chris Pronger to the Flyers. Sbisa is only 28 years old, and his cap hit might be relatively low after only playing 30 games with the Golden Knights due to injury. Another 28-year-old former Flyer who is available is Luke Schenn, who was acquired by the Flyers in exchange for van Riemsdyk. But it’s difficult to imagine the Flyers fielding a defense featuring Schenn and Radko Gudas.

If the Flyers are going to sign former Flyers, van Riemsdyk and Sbisa would be the best fits – assuming the money is right for the Flyers.

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