Flyers

As Flyers lose an effective forward, younger depth pieces see window open

Flyers

Tyler Pitlick, a key piece to the Flyers' improved bottom six in 2019-20, signed a two-year, $3.5 million contract ($1.75 million average annual value) with the Coyotes on Day 1 of NHL free agency Friday, according to agent Ben Hankinson.

Pitlick was acquired by the Flyers in a June 2019 trade with the Stars. He came to Philly on the final year of a three-year contract with a cap hit of only $1 million.

Before hitting unrestricted free agency Friday, the 28-year-old winger was solid across the board in his one season with the Flyers, recording eight goals, 12 assists and a plus-11 rating through 63 games. He helped the penalty kill and was constantly noticeable in limited minutes by playing his hard, effort-based, north-south style. His effectiveness became a pleasant surprise after he came to the Flyers with the least hype among the club's previous offseason acquisitions.

"Tyler Pitlick is a young man that brings a ton of energy, he can score, he can make some plays offensively, but he never cheats you," Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher said during February in an interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia's Taryn Hatcher. "His game is remarkably identical night in and night out — he goes north, he finishes checks, he brings pressure, he kills penalties, you always know what you’re going to get from Tyler Pitlick and I think that’s an incredibly valuable asset to have in your bottom six."

The reality is Pitlick played himself into a mini payday. According to CapFriendly.com, the Flyers' projected cap space is $8.685 million. Two years probably wasn't a problem for the Flyers, especially with next season's expansion draft looming. Maybe the Flyers were looking for a slightly lower AAV. Maybe Pitlick simply felt he has a better role in Arizona. Regardless, his departure is a loss for the Flyers, who were already looking to improve their depth some more.

 

The Flyers also have young depth pieces waiting in the wings that the club could be looking at to grab roles in 2020-21. 

Wingers Joel Farabee and Nicolas Aube-Kubel are primed for heavier loads next season. Both can play on the penalty kill and power play. The team played eight rookie forwards in 2019-20. The Flyers are also expecting Tanner Laczynski, Wade Allison and Linus Sandin to compete for jobs. All three are well-groomed with NHL size, older rookies that could step in sooner rather than later.

"Their mindset is coming to camp to make the team," Flyers assistant general manager Brent Flahr said last month. "Whether they’re ready for that, it’s up to them and their performance.

"In reality, I would assume that each of them are going to play games this year. Hopefully one of them grabs it and makes the best of their opportunity."

More: 3 Flyers thoughts from Day 1 of NHL free agency

Two names that will be at the front of the Flyers' minds during this free agency period are Oskar Lindblom and Nolan Patrick. Lindblom returned to the Flyers in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs after being out since mid-December as he fought Ewing's sarcoma. Patrick missed the 2019-20 season as he battled a migraine disorder. If both are back and in form in 2020-21, they will bolster the Flyers' depth.

"[Travis] Konecny, Oskar Lindblom, hopefully Nolan Patrick, Joel Farabee, there are a lot of very good young hockey players here that are only going to get better," Fletcher said last month. "As they continue to grow, our team will continue to grow. I really think we have a lot of good years ahead of us here."

The Flyers scored only 2.08 goals per game in 13 contests over the first and second rounds of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Last month, Fletcher noted out how the Flyers' bottom-six forwards (when they were actually in the bottom six, not higher in the lineup) produced two goals in the team's 13 games.

"I thought during the last couple months before the pause, that was actually one of our strengths," Fletcher said. "But it dried up a bit in the postseason and that’s an area we have to look at. You hope if we can get a healthy Lindblom and Patrick back, both of those guys are clearly top-nine forwards. You would hope that would help address that need, but that’s something we’re going to have to look at."

 

Derek Grant and Nate Thompson also hit unrestricted free agency Friday. Grant has gone back to the Ducks, while Thompson on Saturday signed with the Jets. 

While it's very early in the offseason, the Flyers have stood pat so far on Day 1. They took a hit on defense when Matt Niskanen retired Monday.

More: Too quiet? Fletcher, Flyers facing early questions in offseason