Dougie Hamilton or Seth Jones?
Well, either one would inarguably upgrade the Flyers, who surrendered more goals than any other team in hockey this season.
It's also mid-June and those are not the only defensemen to be potentially available this offseason for general manager Chuck Fletcher. But they seem to be the most buzz-worthy blueliner names right now, particularly for defenseman-needy clubs vying for serious improvements on the back end this summer.
Jones, the Blue Jackets' minutes-eating defenseman, jumped on the league-wide trade radar earlier this month. Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reported that the 26-year-old had told Columbus he won't sign an extension at this time and plans to test free agency when his contract expires following the 2021-22 season. Speaking on SiriusXM NHL Network Radio, Friedman linked the 2013 fourth overall pick to the Flyers, saying he "would not be shocked at all" if Jones ends up in Philadelphia.
Naturally, with the Hurricanes' second-round playoff exit last week, Hamilton has recently taken the offseason's center stage. The soon-to-be 28-year-old is a top-pair, righty-shot defenseman and widely considered the No. 1 pending unrestricted free-agent blueliner.
The humming on the Hamilton front grew louder Monday when Friedman reported that Carolina had given Hamilton's agent J.P. Barry permission to talk to other teams prior to the July 28 free agency window opening, setting up the possibility for a sign-and-trade scenario. Friedman touched on that and much more Tuesday in his latest 31 Thoughts column, always a superb read for hockey folks.
But while the Hurricanes' power play maestro likely stands as the NHL's most coveted defenseman this offseason, Friedman said the current indication is that Hamilton is not a top target for the Flyers.
"Someone had told me Philly, they thought, was going to be big on him earlier in the day, but I got some pushback on them later," Friedman said on the article's accompanying 31 Thoughts podcast with Jeff Marek. "Someone said to me that Philly's targets is not Hamilton. I think more likely it's Jones or something else, but I heard that Hamilton was not Philly's top target.
"However, I do think there are a bunch of teams that will look at this. ... I think there will be a lot of interest."
As we discussed on the Flyers Talk podcast Monday, the team doesn't have to hitch its wagon to Hamilton. Yes, Hamilton would be a hell of an acquisition if Fletcher can pull it off, but it's not the only route the Flyers can take to improve.
Don't forget some other quality D-men on the free-agent market this offseason, guys like Jamie Oleksiak, Alec Martinez and Cody Ceci, to name a few. This reporter really liked Oleksiak back around the April 12 trade deadline before the Flyers plummeted into sell mode. The 6-foot-7 Oleksiak has plenty of strengths to help the Flyers cut down on their staggering goals-against figure and he would come significantly cheaper compared to the bigger names.
The Flyers will have different opportunities to get better this offseason and there's a good chance it will be via multiple players. Acquiring one or perhaps two rock-solid defensemen could give the Flyers more wiggle room to add elsewhere.
In Fletcher's first offseason with the club, the Flyers didn't make one gigantic splash, but instead acquired four players that added up to serious progress in 2019-20. Matt Niskanen, Kevin Hayes, Justin Braun and Tyler Pitlick were added in June 2019 trades (Fletcher traded for Hayes' contractual rights, then signed him in that same month). It helped lead to the Flyers finishing with the NHL's fourth-best goal differential that season at plus-36.
None of this is to say the Flyers shouldn't have legitimate aspirations to land Hamilton or Jones. They should. They need a proactive and productive offseason. Either player could be an integral piece to bolstering the Flyers' back end and would go a long way in rebuilding the excitement among a frustrated fan base.
But this summer does not have to be a Hamilton-or-bust offseason. It does not have to be a Jones-or-bust offseason. After all, many teams will be interested in their services and many other players will be out there. Following the disappointment of 2020-21, the Flyers can't afford to put all of their eggs in one basket.
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