Flyers 2018 free-agent target: C Tomas Plekanec

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Flyers 2018 free-agent target: C Tomas Plekanec

Each day until July 1, the day NHL free agency begins, NBC Sports Philadelphia's John Boruk, Tom Dougherty and Jordan Hall will analyze some of the league's impending free agents and project their likelihood of signing with the Flyers.

Over time, general manager Ron Hextall has freed his club from its salary cap dungeon, setting the Flyers up with greater financial flexibility this offseason. The team has $21.7 million in cap space, according to CapFriendly.com.

As the Flyers look to take a step forward in 2018-19, free agency will provide Hextall an avenue to fill specific holes and supplement his mix of veterans and youth. While the team hasn't been major players on the market under Hextall in the past, the GM indicated earlier this month the Flyers could be active this summer.

Hextall said the Flyers wouldn't entertain a seven-year contract on a free agent, but he expressed a desire to add a veteran or two depending on the term.

With that said, let's look at some possible fits and how/if they make sense for the Flyers.

Tomas Plekanec

Age: 35
Position: C
Height: 5-11
Weight: 193
Last team: Canadiens/Maple Leafs
2017-18 cap hit: $6 million
 
Boruk
If you’re not in the market for Valtteri Filppula, then there’s not much of a reason to pursue Plekanec, who hails from the same Czech town as Jakub Voracek. The former Canadiens center will turn 36 in the first month of the season, and he’s already publicly stated he wants to return to Montreal since his kids speak French and they attend a French-speaking school. I’m not sure you will find very many of those in Philadelphia.

Plekanec’s numbers have also taken a sharp dip over the past four seasons as he finished 2017-18 with just six goals and 26 points, which also included playing the final month of the season with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Plekanec plays a well-rounded two-way game, much like Filppula does, but he’s a middle-of-the-road faceoff guy and saw limited ice time following the trade to Toronto. Still, Plekanec stepped up and performed well in the Leafs’ seven-game series against the Bruins, proving he can still elevate his game during playoff time.

If plan A and even plan B don’t pan out, then Plekanec can serve as that next option if the Canadiens indeed are no longer willing to bring back the 14-year veteran, but signing him only on the Flyers' term and nowhere close to the two-year, $12 million contract that just recently expired. 

Dougherty
Plekanec is a hard no for me because he's not exactly better than what the Flyers already had in Filppula or even Jori Lehtera at this point of his career.

Plus, all signs point to Plekanec returning to Montreal. He had a career-worst season in 2017-18 with six goals and 26 points and was largely ineffective with the Maple Leafs after the trade to Toronto.

In 17 games with the Leafs, Plekanec had just two assists. He was a little better in the postseason but not by much.

If this was a few years ago, then Plekanec would make sense. But now? He's too old and too slow. The Flyers can do better from within than adding Plekanec from outside.

Hall
Hextall on Friday mentioned how free agents must be above the Flyers' line for the team to consider them, essentially saying the club will compare that player to what the organization has internally.

"We went down our list and we drew a line," Hextall said. "Here's the line where it's not an upgrade from what we have in the system, so we're not going to go out and sign guys to three- or four-year deals that are no better than either the players that we have on our team or the kids that we have that our close to being ready."

Plekanec would not be an upgrade for the Flyers. Hextall has said the Flyers look to get younger and better each year. Plekanec turns 36 in October and has seen a steady drop in production.

The Flyers can improve down the middle by taking different avenues.

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Flyers 2018 free-agent target: C Derek Ryan

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Flyers 2018 free-agent target: C Derek Ryan

Each day until July 1, the day NHL free agency begins, NBC Sports Philadelphia's John Boruk, Tom Dougherty and Jordan Hall will analyze some of the league's impending free agents and project their likelihood of signing with the Flyers.

Over time, general manager Ron Hextall has freed his club from its salary cap dungeon, setting the Flyers up with greater financial flexibility this offseason. The team has $21.7 million in cap space, according to CapFriendly.com.

As the Flyers look to take a step forward in 2018-19, free agency will provide Hextall an avenue to fill specific holes and supplement his mix of veterans and youth. While the team hasn't been major players on the market under Hextall in the past, the GM indicated earlier this month the Flyers could be active this summer.

Hextall said the Flyers wouldn't entertain a seven-year contract on a free agent, but he expressed a desire to add a veteran or two depending on the term.

With that said, let's look at some possible fits and how/if they make sense for the Flyers.

Derek Ryan

Age: 31
Position: C
Height: 5-11
Weight: 170
Last team: Hurricanes
2017-18 cap hit: $900,000
 
Boruk
One quality about Ryan that’s certainly admirable is the perseverance he has shown in finally reaching the NHL. Now 31, Ryan is coming off his second full season in the league. Is he considered a late bloomer after four years in college and time spent in Europe? Not exactly. 

Ryan dazzled in the SHL before eventually joining the Hurricanes when he was 29. For a player not blessed with a tremendous skill set, Ryan is an undersized center and doesn’t possess gifted speed. Playing most of last season on a line with Jeff Skinner, Ryan was able to still squeeze out 15 goals and 38 points while centering the Canes’ second power-play unit.

For the Flyers, Ryan would be slotted in as a third-line center similar to Riley Nash, who we had previously discussed. He’ll dig pucks out of the corners and has been successful in winning faceoffs (over 55 percent in each of the past two seasons). However, Ryan played very little on the penalty kill last season in Carolina and Hextall is looking for a player that can also handle that responsibility.

With teams preferring Nash as a bottom-six center, Ryan should come somewhat cheap and with little term — no more than a one or two-year deal between $1-2 million. Anything more than that would be overpaying for a player that may not come close to contributing what he did in 2017-18.

Dougherty
Ryan probably will sign with the Calgary Flames and reunite with Bill Peters, his former coach with the Hurricanes. Ryan reportedly has a few suitors and will certainly receive a raise from his $900,000 annual average value.

Fit wise, Ryan might not be the penalty-killing forward Hextall desires but he would be an upgrade at 3C. Ryan is coming off a respectable second NHL season at 31 years old. Ryan didn't make the NHL until he was 29. A feel-good story, for sure.

To land Ryan, the Flyers will have to pay a little bit. He'll come cheaper than other options such as Tyler Bozak and would bring some offense to the third line. With bottom-six forwards, term is what can hurt you in free agency.

Hello, Dale Weise.

Ultimately, I don't see the Flyers signing Ryan. I don't know if it's because they won't be interested or if he'll be below the line they've drawn. Regardless, if they can get him, I think it would be a good signing.

Hall
The Flyers would like Ryan's story. They've always been an organization that prides itself on players with work ethic and character.

Ryan's trek to his NHL debut at age 29 fits that mold. What he does well is clear — the 5-foot-11, 170-pounder is a threat to provide secondary scoring with nice offensive traits in a bottom-six role.

But Ryan might not do everything the Flyers are looking for in a depth forward and you must truly wonder if his 2017-18 season was his ultimate ceiling.

And, as Tom pointed out, it's looking like the Flames are the favorite. There's a major connection with Peters and, according to the Calgary Sun, Ryan visited the team Friday.

So I simply don't see a scenario of Ryan coming to the Flyers.

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Flyers 2018 free-agent target: D Ian Cole

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Flyers 2018 free-agent target: D Ian Cole

Each day until July 1, the day NHL free agency begins, NBC Sports Philadelphia's John Boruk, Tom Dougherty and Jordan Hall will analyze some of the league's impending free agents and project their likelihood of signing with the Flyers.

Over time, general manager Ron Hextall has freed his club from its salary cap dungeon, setting the Flyers up with greater financial flexibility this offseason. The team has $21.7 million in cap space, according to CapFriendly.com.

As the Flyers look to take a step forward in 2018-19, free agency will provide Hextall an avenue to fill specific holes and supplement his mix of veterans and youth. While the team hasn't been major players on the market under Hextall in the past, the GM indicated earlier this month the Flyers could be active this summer.

Hextall said the Flyers wouldn't entertain a seven-year contract on a free agent, but he expressed a desire to add a veteran or two depending on the term.

With that said, let's look at some possible fits and how/if they make sense for the Flyers.

Ian Cole

Age: 29
Position: D
Height: 6-1
Weight: 219
Last team: Blue Jackets/Penguins
2017-18 cap hit: $2.5 million
 
Boruk
Interestingly with Cole, whichever team he signs with in free agency will be his fourth different team in the span of six months — from Pittsburgh to Ottawa before moving over to Columbus at the trade deadline. He never actually played for the Senators though, and he’s not the type of player that should be viewed as an NHL journeyman. 

Cole is a hard-nosed, battle-tested left-handed defenseman who blocks shots and plays with a real presence on the blue line.  

After Cole was dealt to the Blue Jackets, Penguins goalie Matt Murray was quoted as saying, “He's such a solid player, and any team is going to be better with him on the team.“ That happened to be the case as Columbus went on a tear down the final month of the regular season after adding Cole to its defensive core, while the Penguins languished and their penalty kill suffered as a result and Pittsburgh’s defense took a step back. 

Whatever the fallout was in Pittsburgh that led to his eventual trade to Ottawa, I don’t think it will follow him to his next organization.  

I’ve spoken to former Penguins assistant coach Rick Tocchet, who speaks very highly of Cole and the attributes and contributions he brought the Penguins during their back-to-back run to Stanley Cup championships. 

Cole won’t command a very lucrative contract but there will be some teams that value the blue-collar work ethic, and as a result, he should see a significant bump from the team-friendly $2.1 million cap hit over the past three years. 

Dougherty
If Ian Cole sounds like the prototypical Flyers defenseman, he sure checks off most of the boxes the organization likes in defensemen. Blocks shots. That veteran presence.

Expect a long-term contract.

Jokes aside, Cole brings experience and would be an upgrade over Brandon Manning. (Not hard to do.) But would he significantly upgrade the Flyers' current defense? I don't know about that.

Cole is a reliable veteran defenseman and he would come on a reasonable contract. He would upgrade the penalty kill and bring more experience on the group. On the right deal, he'd be an OK addition. And just that — OK.

I would steer clear of Cole, though, because he is not a clear-cut upgrade over what they have already. But he fits the type of players the Flyers seem to love, so I wouldn't be shocked to see Flyers general manager Hextall test the market with Cole.

Hall
Cole provides that tough, physical brand of hockey. Mix in his shot-blocking mentality and solid puck-moving skills, and there's no real reason to not like Cole.

He's an experienced player that won two Stanley Cups with the Penguins. He has 62 playoff games under his belt and he's also been a plus player the majority of his career.

Because of all of this, I think Cole will see a decent jump in his earnings, a little bit out of the range of what the Flyers are hoping to spend on a defenseman to help on the back end.

More on free agency

• Ron Hextall: Flyers wanted in on John Tavares

• How should the Flyers approach free agency?

• Should Flyers chase Riley Nash as 3rd-line center?

• Flyers want to upgrade top 4 — de Haan the guy?

• Bozak an option for Flyers' ideal 3rd-line center