On Thursday, after the second of his three trades within a week span, Chuck Fletcher said the Flyers expected to have "a better team by the end of next Wednesday."
Some may argue the general manager's trade of Shayne Gostisbehere didn't support that statement. The Flyers on Thursday moved Gostisbehere to the Coyotes. In order to do so, they sent a 2022 second-round pick and 2022 seventh-round pick to Arizona. (It's worth noting they had two seventh-round picks in 2022.) Technically, the Flyers did not get anything in return. With the move of Gostisbehere, they gained $4.5 million in cap space for this season and next.
Cap relief in this unanticipated flat-cap world is a hot commodity. Should fans be frustrated the Flyers couldn't get anything in return for Gostisbehere? Absolutely. He was a well-liked player, once the Calder Trophy runner-up who won over fans with his captivating game along the blue line. He's a puck-moving defenseman with point-producing abilities. He's 28 years old and has a 65-point season on his résumé.
But it has become clear that teams are putting up a stop sign when they see larger cap hits. That had become clearer when the Flyers expressed confidence in Gostisbehere clearing waivers last season. It became highly clear when Fletcher admitted what a couple of clubs had asked for to take on Gostisbehere's $4.5 million in the climate of a stagnant cap.
"I spoke to every team in the league several times going back a year and a half now, had a pretty good idea of what the market was," Fletcher said Thursday. "A couple teams had made offers. One team had asked for Cam York to take Gostisbehere. Another team had asked for our first-round pick this year to take Gostisbehere, so this was the best move we could make. Hopefully now, it allows us to get into some other opportunities over the next few days."
York is the Flyers' 2019 first-round pick, a dynamic 20-year-old defenseman the club is hoping can replace Gostisbehere. The first-round pick was the 13th overall selection in Friday night's draft, which Fletcher ended up moving a day after the Gostisbehere trade. He used the pick in a package to acquire defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen from the Sabres, who also received Robert Hagg and a 2023 second-round selection in the trade.
Restricted free agents Carter Hart and Travis Sanheim are due new raises this offseason, while the 26-year-old Ristolainen is on the final year of his deal with a cap hit of $5.4 million. The Flyers believe he has a good chance to be a part of their future. And after the 2021-22 season, Sean Couturier and Claude Giroux can hit unrestricted free agency.
Next Wednesday is the opening of this offseason's free agency period. The Flyers have revamped their blue line and want to contend again in 2021-22. They, along with pretty much every team, have to value cap flexibility. All teams do. Just look at two of the demands the Flyers received for a team to take on $4.5 million and gain a quality offensive defenseman.
"The environment’s tough," Fletcher said about the flat cap. "Shayne played really well for us, not just last year, but for many years. He was a model citizen, he was at Skate Zone today working out on his own and training — he’s a true professional, he was a very good Flyer, so I really want to thank him for that.
"But our reality was pretty simple: when you factor in the expected raises that Sanheim and Carter Hart will receive, and we very much want to sign those two players, we didn't have a lot of space left to fill the holes we needed to fill."
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