Flyers’ cheap free agent options

Updated: June 27, 2018 at 9:55 pm by Wes Herrmann

With free agency less than a week away and the negotiation period already started, everyone has already heard the big names like John Tavares, Paul Stastny and Calvin De Haan.

The Philadelphia Flyers and general manager Ron Hextall will be in the running for a couple of the bigger names, but it’s possible they strike out on the main targets. If that does happen, here are some lesser known, cheaper options on the market.

Forwards

Derek Ryan

Ryan’s name is one that has been floated out often as a free agent target, usually as a backup center option should the Flyers miss out on Paul Stastny, Tyler Bozak and Riley Nash. It’s easy to see why.

After multiple years in Europe, Ryan broke out with the Hurricanes in 2016-17, scoring 29 points in 67 games. Last season, he increased both amounts to 38 points in 80 contests.

For a third-line center, that’s solid production. The issue is that Ryan may not be that.

The Washington state native frequently played with Jeff Skinner, a scoring winger that Ryan would never play with in Philadelphia. As Canes Country points out, Ryan put up strong possession stats, but didn’t contribute as much as most would expect.

But the biggest issue is that Ryan doesn’t kill penalties. That will likely exclude him from the Flyers’ shopping list after Hextall made a point that the team would look for players that could improve the special team.

Ryan may be a nice find for some team. For the Flyers, they’d like someone with more skill for the third line that can also kill penalties.

Blake Comeau

Comeau may be one of the more expensive free agents on this list — he made $2.4 million last year during a successful 34-point season. That isn’t an outlier in production for the bottom-sixer either. Comeau’s scored over 30 points in five seasons.

But more importantly for the Flyers, he eats penalty kill minutes.

Last season, the former Islander averaged over 2:31 of shorthanded time a game and ranked fourth in the league among forwards in total penalty kill time. With Philly’s penalty kill issues, Comeau’s reliability on the penalty kill would be a welcomed addition.

Despite those strengths, Comeau had some issues at even strength. In four of the five previous seasons, the 32 year old never dipped below a 50.2 Corsi percentage. Last season, he carried only 46.6 percent.

That’s better than some of the players on this list, but the Flyers would likely want more positive contribution at even strength. Still, Comeau holds value as a low-cost forward that could play on the third line.

Brian Gibbons

Gibbons has had a strange path to a regular NHL contributor. In 2013-14, he played 41 games with the Pittsburgh Penguins. The next season, he was limited to just 25 with the Blue Jackets.

After a two-year stint that saw just AHL minutes for Gibbons, the 30 year old played 59 games for the New Jersey Devils last year, scoring 12 goals and 26 points in a bottom six role.

However, Gibbons shot at 16.7 percent — a number the best of shooters would have a hard time keeping up with — and posted just a 44 percent at Corsi For, suggesting that his points total was based heavily on luck.

Now for the good news: Gibbons kills a ton of penalties and has shown the ability to contribute some offense while shorthanded.

The Massachusetts native averaged 2:48 of shorthanded time a game, good for second among forwards. He also contributed three goals and two assists while on the penalty kill.

Gibbons followed up his breakout season with an appearance on Team USA’s bronze-medal winning World Championship roster.

So while Gibbons does bring value as a penalty killer, he’s likely to never hit the same offensive production. That may be enough to keep him off the Flyers radar.

Tim Schaller

Schaller has gained attention as one of the younger UFAs on the market at 27 years old.

Last season, his second with the Boston Bruins, Schaller scored a career-high 22 points, 12 of them goals, in a fourth-line role. He also killed penalties at a rate of 1:53 per game.

The 6-foot-2 winger also posted positive possession numbers with a 50.4 Corsi For percentage.

Schaller may not be a third-line player, but he’s improved every year since he played 24 games with the Buffalo Sabres in 2014-15. At his age, there’s still potential for him to grow a little also.

Tobias Rieder

Last summer Rieder was on Flyers’ fans radars when he was an RFA with the Arizona Coyotes. He ended up staying in the desert on a one-year deal but was traded mid-season to the Los Angeles Kings.

The German should still fall under the restricted umbrella, but didn’t receive a qualifying offer from the Kings. Between the trade and the lack of a qualifying offer, it’s probably easy to tell how the 2017-18 season for Rieder.

After two seasons of 30-plus points, Rieder dipped to just 25 points and a career-low of 12 goals. With a $2.25 million salary, matching his QO was too rich for the Kings.

Despite the dip in production, Rieder has been viewed favorably because of his speed and the ability to score 10-plus goals in a season. He’s not a great all-around player and doesn’t kill penalties, but he’s one of the better bottom-six players with offensive potential.

Anthony Duclair

Like Rieder, Duclair is on this list because his team (the Chicago Blackhawks) did not extend him a qualifying offer, making him a UFA.

Once a promising prospect with the Rangers and a 20-goal scorer as a rookie with the Coyotes, Duclair has spent time in three different organizations at 22 years old. With a $1.2 million qualifying cost, the taste was too rich for a penny-pinching Blackhawks team that’s trying to make the postseason again.

The winger can’t kill penalties, but he’ll be one of the best low-cost, high-reward players on the market. Duclair shouldn’t make the $1.2 million he made last year and at one point had the talent of a 40-plus scorer in this league.

Kyle Brodziak

Brodziak isn’t the sexiest name on this list. He’s carved out a 13-year career, but hasn’t been more than a fourth-line center in quite a while. However, he’s maybe the safest name here.

The former Oiler has been viewed as one of the best bottom-line centers in the league in the past few seasons and even had an offensive rebound last year with 33 points.

His possession numbers aren’t eye-popping but he’s a dependable penalty killer, averaging 1:45 shorthanded in 2017-18.

Brodziak is a reliable option, but shouldn’t be more than a fourth-line option. He’s an upgrade over former teammate Jori Lehtera, but Brodziak can’t play in the top nine.

Defensemen

Kevin Connauton

Should the Flyers want an offensive defenseman, Connauton may be one of the better choices on the market — especially considering he shouldn’t cost a lot.

The Coyote scored 11 goals and 10 assists last season, all at even strength and while averaging 15 minutes a game. In a league where 5v5 scoring is hard to find, that’s some impressive numbers.

It probably isn’t surprising to hear that Connauton shot a tad high at 10.8 percent, but the points total wasn’t much of an aberration. He scored 21 points (nine goals) in 2014-15 and 17 in 2015-16.

However, he isn’t great defensively and doesn’t kill penalties. Connauton would also add to the surplus of left-handed defenseman.

There’s value in the 27 year old but maybe not for the Flyers.

John Moore

Moore is one of those players that moves around a lot — four NHL clubs already at the age of 27 — but usually leaves with fans hardly complaining. The big reason for that may be that he has changed teams frequently, not allowing fans to grow too exasperated by his defensive deficiencies, but long enough to show an offensive flair.

In a depth role with the Devils (except for last year), Moore contributed 19, 22 and 18 points during the last three respective seasons. He even scored 12 goals in 2016-17.

The former Coyote is left-handed, but could be a good depth option — if his defensive issues can be covered.

Greg Pateryn

Pateryn fits the right-handed need and also the shutdown one. Last season, the 28 year old formed that type of pairing with Dan Hamhuis on the Dallas Stars.

Of course, if the Flyers want a defense-first blueliner, Hamhuis is probably the more reliable option, but Pateryn’s a decent, cheaper one.

The Michigan native averaged 19:37 in ice time last season. That number’s a tad high and Dallas fans certainly took notice.

If Philly was to sign Pateryn, he should be in a number five or sixth defenseman role. That’s something the former Canadien should be able to handle and would still be an upgrade over Brandon Manning.

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