With the NHL free agency period a week away from commencing, the Flyers have some decisions on in-house faces from their 2019-20 club, pieces that helped produce the organization's turnaround season and first playoff series victory since 2012.
Will these faces be here for the Flyers' potential next step in 2020-21?
The Flyers have five soon-to-be unrestricted free agents: Brian Elliott, Justin Braun, Tyler Pitlick, Derek Grant and Nate Thompson. Those five players will no longer be under team control come next Friday at noon ET.
"I’ve had preliminary conversations with all of the agents for the UFAs on our team," Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher said Tuesday in a video interview. "What I’ve kind of indicated to all of them was that I wanted to speak to every team in the league at the end of the season, I wanted to get a sense of our RFAs, what the market would be for them in terms of how much of a cost for us to re-sign them. And I wanted to give our staff a couple weeks to decompress before we got into our players.
"So we’re still going through the process, it has been a real busy few weeks here. Starting to get a feel for what’s available in the market in terms of trades, starting to get a feel for what our RFAs are looking for and over the next week, we’ll start to address our own UFAs and see if there’s a fit.
"For this stage of the offseason, we’ve been doing a lot of due diligence and a lot of homework to assess what we really need to do."
We've looked at the Flyers' situations with Elliott, Pitlick and Thompson. Let's revisit the offseason cases for Braun and Grant, two veterans in interesting spots that we broke down during July.
Fletcher and the coaching staff liked Braun's strength and smarts with his stick, which helped the Flyers desperately shore up play in the defensive zone. With his ability to kill plays and win battles along the boards, the veteran, stay-at-home blueliner was a key factor in the Flyers drastically cutting down their third-to-worst goals-against figure from last season.
He didn't get off to the best start with the Flyers but from just before Christmas up until the stoppage, he was one of the team's best defensemen (14 points and a plus-11 rating in 26 games).
Before being acquired last offseason in a trade, Braun had spent his entire career in San Jose, playing 84 playoff games over nine seasons with the Sharks.
"It was different. Obviously you’ve got good relationships with everyone from the team you're coming from, you’ve got equity with the boys, you’ve played a lot of games, been through a lot of stuff," Braun said in July. "So it was a little difficult coming in here and trying to find your footing and feel like a part of the boys. But the group here is great, one of the tighter groups I’ve ever been around. We have a great time on and off the ice, everyone holds each other accountable."
The Flyers likely have interest in bringing Braun back; he's a steady, consistent guy on the back end with winning experience. But the Flyers will be wary of a few things: his age (he turns 34 in February) and the years they commit. The organization has youth and depth on the blue line.
On the final year of his contract, Braun made $3.8 million in 2019-20. He'll more than likely make less on his next deal. Maybe Braun comes back for relatively cheap on one or two years, giving him some good security and the Flyers financial flexibility. Or maybe the Flyers realize they have other areas of greater need to address in a really tight offseason. The latter feels more probable, but don't rule out Braun's possible return.
The versatile trade deadline acquisition had a strong seven-game audition with the Flyers prior to the season being suspended because of the coronavirus outbreak. However, in the NHL's return-to-play 24-team tournament, he left much to be desired as he finished with two assists and no goals over 15 games, while winning only 47.7 percent of his faceoffs and serving as a healthy scratch for Game 7 against the Islanders.
Overall, though, Grant delivered for himself in a contract year. Between his time with the Ducks and Flyers this season, Grant had career highs in goals (15) and points (25) while making the league minimum ($700,000).
Grant can play either center or winger and he's a big forward who can win defensive-zone faceoffs and help on the penalty kill.
"For me personally, every game I go in, I think the most important thing to start with is winning my faceoffs," Grant said in August. "If I can do that, then we can start with the puck more often than not. I think it gives our line a better chance while we're out there as well as the guys following us. That’s a big area I think about before every game and try to be good in that area ... just creating energy and wearing teams down as much as we can. You’re not always going to contribute on the score sheet, but if you can find little ways throughout the game, whether it’s frustrating guys, taking the body or creating energy for your own team, that’s a win for us."
One would think a 30-year-old who has played for seven teams would like to cash in a bit on a career year. These are different times, though, so Grant might see only a small raise on his next deal.
The playoffs did not help Grant's case for a return to the Flyers, who very well could see bigger priorities in Elliott and Pitlick, as well as trusting a prospect or two to seize a depth role in 2020-21. If the Flyers believe they'll have Nolan Patrick back in the fold next season, that will also factor into this decision.
Given his career year, Grant might get a better offer elsewhere anyway.