Each day from now until July 1, the day free agency begins, Sarah Baicker and Tim Riday will profile some of the NHL's top impending free agents and project their likelihood of signing with the Flyers.
Tom Gilbert, defenseman
Last team: Florida Panthers
2013-14 cap hit: $900,000
You'd probably assume Gilbert was a bruiser given his 6-foot-2, 206-pound frame, but he's actually a smooth-skating, puck-moving defenseman. He's an efficient passer and can provide plenty of offense. Over the years with Edmonton, Minnesota and Florida, Gilbert has proved he can play a lot of minutes. He has a very high hockey IQ. He knows exactly when to pinch and when to hang back in the offensive zone. He doesn't throw his body around often, but can more than hold his own against top competition.
Gilbert, a fifth-round pick of the Colorado Avalanche at the 2002 NHL draft, spent his first six seasons with the Oilers. He played all 82 games for Edmonton three years in a row from 2007-2010. He collected 23 goals and 86 assists during that span. Gilbert was traded to the Wild at the 2011-12 NHL trade deadline in exchange for fellow defenseman Nick Schultz. Minnesota used a compliance buyout on Gilbert after the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. After attending the Panthers' preseason training camp as a free agent, Gilbert signed a one-year deal with them last September. He spent most of last season on Florida's top defensive pairing with Brian Campbell.
I like Gilbert, but wherever he ends up this season, he won't play for less than a million. In my opinion, at the right price, he would make a lot of sense for the Flyers. He's got size, speed and smarts, and he has proved he can play more than 20 minutes a night in a top pairing. With Kimmo Timonen taking a lesser role next season, there's a vacancy there that the Flyers need to fill. I'd be all for Gilbert stepping in. The issue, of course, is that Ron Hextall needs to clear space to make it happen. It would be tough, but not impossible; Hextall has made it clear with his actions and words that he's looking to free some money however possible.
Boy was Gilbert a steal for Florida last season. He logged over 21 minutes a game on the team's top defensive pairing and was only minus-5 on a very bad Panthers team. He set himself up for a nice raise with his strong play, finishing the season with three goals and 28 points. I'd like it if Gilbert were more physical, but he still possesses great two-way ability. Sure, he'll make a mistake from time to time in the defensive zone, but what NHL defenseman doesn't?
With Florida focused on locking up its key RFAs -- Erik Gudbranson and Dmitry Kulikov -- Gilbert will likely be available come July 1. I think he would be a great addition to the Flyers' blue line, but some maneuvering would have to occur. Something tells me Ron Hextall is going to be a busy man at the NHL draft. If he makes a move that creates space for a defenseman like Gilbert, I'd be all for offering him a contract.