After doing heavy work to the Flyers' defense last weekend, general manager Chuck Fletcher said the team was going to continue to look at "every available option" to improve its blue line.
He wasn't kidding.
Fletcher on Tuesday traded for Sharks defenseman Justin Braun, sending San Jose a 2019 second-round draft pick and a 2020 third-round selection.
The Flyers now have eight selections in this weekend's draft. The move comes after the Flyers traded Radko Gudas on Friday in exchange for defenseman Matt Niskanen and parted ways with Andrew MacDonald on Saturday via unconditional waivers/contract buyout.
Braun is 32 years old and on the final year of a five-year, $19 million deal with a cap hit of $3.8 million. He has appeared in 84 career playoff games and has played 20-plus minutes a night over San Jose's last five postseason runs. He is a stay-at-home righty shot with a 6-foot-2, 205-pound frame. Braun shares the same agent as Niskanen and knows James van Riemsdyk, who texted him after the trade.
"We are excited to add Justin to our group of defensemen," Fletcher said in a release by the team. "He is a high character, quality defender who will bring a steadying presence to our team."
Fletcher is clearly putting an emphasis on players with experience in winning environments, guys who can influence the Flyers' young group of defensemen. Similar to Niskanen, Braun logs minutes and understands goal prevention. Over the past six seasons, Niskanen and Braun are a combined plus-123. Niskanen has 125 games of playoff experience. Before the additions of these two defensemen, Claude Giroux had played the most postseason games on the Flyers' roster with 69.
"I always try to play defense first and then out," Braun said Tuesday in a conference call. "Good gap, break pucks out quick. Not afraid to go back for pucks and get there first. Take a hit every now and again. I think the boys in San Jose like to laugh at me about that, going back and taking too many hits. You've just got to do what you've got to do to get the puck out."
Despite playing out on the West Coast, Braun was well aware of 20-year-old goalie Carter Hart.
"He looks like the real deal," Braun said. "It'll be exciting to play in front of him. That's good stuff going forward."
So what does this mean for the Flyers' defense? More experience, more depth. For now, it looks like Robert Hagg is the odd-man out. A big 24-year-old coming off an 82-game season is not a bad option for a seventh defenseman.
Does it mean the Flyers are suddenly looking to trade a young defenseman? No. Anything is possible, but Braun has the look of a one-year rental who can help immediately, be that positive influence to help change the way the Flyers play and take some pressure off of a young defense.
"[Fletcher] said I don't want you to be a mentor, I want you to be a player," Braun said. "That's important. I'm there to play, not just take care of guys. Whatever I can teach them."
The potential pairs for now:
Ivan Provorov-Matt Niskanen
Travis Sanheim-Justin Braun
Shayne Gostisbehere-Philippe Myers
"Between Ghost and Provorov, those are the two I probably know the most," Braun said when asked about the Flyers' youthfulness on the blue line. "Played against them the last two years. They're dynamic, they create a lot. They're jumping in the play a lot. You've got to have those guys out there pushing the pace. You're not going to get much offense if you're just taking 3-on-3 rushes. You've got to get that fourth guy on the rush. Hopefully I can help with that. Those guys seem to be elite at it."
When Fletcher took the job, he talked about the Flyers' cap space and slew of draft picks. He's starting to use both and it's only June 18.
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