Flyers offseason

Joel Farabee's window to make Flyers' roster is open — but just how much?

Joel Farabee's window to make Flyers' roster is open — but just how much?

Because of his wheeling and dealing over a 13-day stretch ahead of July 1, Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher made no more than a peep when NHL free agency commenced.

For Joel Farabee, that peep must have sounded like it came through a megaphone.

The Flyers have an opening for a third-line winger. Fletcher viewed other holes as higher priorities for outside solutions. As free agency rolled around, the Flyers had already reshaped their defense, acquired a No. 2 center and brought back Brian Elliott, leaving little cap space left for wingers on the market.

Fletcher then shifted his focus to depth moves and his restricted free agents.

All along, that was the plan — maybe even going back to when the 19-year-old Farabee signed his entry-level contract in March, deciding to turn pro and forgo his final three years of college eligibility. That's when Farabee to the Flyers in 2019-20 at least became a plausible thought.

"There is a wing spot open right now, so obviously that's my goal — to make the team," Farabee said last week at development camp. "I'm pretty realistic — if I'm up and down, if I don't make it this year, I wouldn't be surprised. I've just got to prepare to either play in Philly or in Lehigh, so that's where I'm at right now."

The Flyers have given themselves a security blanket with their bottom six, especially if a youngster is unable to seize a job or struggles after winning one. Fletcher on Monday signed Andy Andreoff and Kurtis Gabriel for added depth. He has created some financial flexibility and also believes the Flyers could benefit from opposing teams in need of relief after spending July 1.

And as Fletcher has noted, things can change from now until training camp. Things can also change during training camp and through the early season.

"I don't foresee another move as we get closer to camp, but there are a lot of teams that are going to have significant challenges this summer," Fletcher said Monday. "I don't think I've ever seen this many teams over the cap or at the cap — that's when you factor in the future signings they have to make here with their RFAs and to fill out their roster. There could be opportunity.

"We have a lot of options. That's what training camp is for — it's an opportunity for players to come in and show that they belong.

"It should be an exciting camp."

Farabee, a skilled goal-scoring winger with length (6-1/175) and speed, will have his chance to excite. He was college hockey's best freshman during 2018-19, leading Boston University in goals (17), points (36), power-play goals (five), shorthanded goals (three), game-winning goals (five), plus-minus (plus-4) and shots (131) over 37 games. With the immediate acclimation and the Flyers' outlook, the 2018 No. 14 overall pick realized it was time for professional hockey.

His position, versatility and strengths all make sense for the Flyers and that precious third-line vacancy, a spot many will be eyeing.

"The whole college experience for me was really good," Farabee said. "I have my education, I can always go back and get [my degree]. If something happened in hockey, I can always do that. As far as the season, I thought I had a really good year. Talking to the staff here, they thought making a jump was a good play. I was all for it.

"I think just the way I play, they said I can kind of fit into pro hockey and play a lot of different roles and stuff like that. I think that was the biggest thing and after having a pretty good year at B.U., it was an easy decision for me."

The Flyers' staff clearly backed his decision, which ultimately came down to Farabee and his family.

"He was at B.U., which is a great program, and if they decided to stay for another season, we would have fully supported it," Fletcher said at development camp. "Joel made the decision that he felt he was ready to turn pro in consultation with people around him. That's a personal decision. 

"He's still a young man that has to get stronger and probably put on a little bit more weight to fully handle the rigors of an 82-game NHL season. But in terms of hockey sense, skill, skating, passion to play the game — he has all of those elements already. It's just going to be a question of time and really maturity. Watching him out here, his talent stands out."

He'll have to win over management and coaches with his readiness. Follow all the signs, though, and there's an open path for Farabee to the Flyers.

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No gutting and wishes fulfilled, Chuck Fletcher has been impressive with Flyers

No gutting and wishes fulfilled, Chuck Fletcher has been impressive with Flyers

With all of Chuck Fletcher's wheeling and dealing over the past six days, two results stand out in particular.

Firstly, the general manager has done what was asked of him. He was brought on board by president Paul Holmgren and Comcast Spectacor chairman and CEO Dave Scott to make things happen now, not later. Back in late November, early December, both Holmgren and Scott believed the Flyers had all the resources to be further along in their process toward contending for a Stanley Cup.

They wanted action.

In a span of six days before the NHL entry draft has even arrived, Fletcher parted ways with Radko Gudas and Andrew MacDonald, added experienced veterans Matt Niskanen and Justin Braun, and signed Kevin Hayes, a top-six forward entering "the prime of his career," as the GM put it Wednesday.

Secondly, the process suffered no casualties. Fletcher didn't injudiciously disassemble the work done before him. The Flyers didn't lose a prospect from their impressive pool or sacrifice a young foundation piece to get better.

They had 10 picks in the 2019 draft and upwards of $30 million in cap space. It's been more than time to augment what's in place, so Fletcher took his resources and went to work. The Flyers lost three picks (one in 2020) and cap space.

It's how you get better.

"Speaking with the group, that's always been the intention," Fletcher said. "The past few years, the staff has worked hard to acquire as many young assets as possible and rebuild the foundation of the club. At the right time, the idea has always been to more aggressively add veteran pieces. We feel we've done that now."

Down the middle — where the Flyers wanted to be deeper and tougher to play against — the team looks much improved. From first-line center to third-line center, the Flyers boast 26-year-old Sean Couturier fresh off back-to-back 30-goal, 40-assist seasons, 27-year-old Hayes coming off a career-high 55 points split between two teams, and 2017 No. 2 overall pick Nolan Patrick, a two-way guy only 20 years old.

On defense, the Flyers now have three righty-shot blueliners to potentially complement a trio of 22-year-old Ivan Provorov, 23-year-old Travis Sanheim and 26-year-old Shayne Gostisbehere. Niskanen is a Stanley Cup champion, Braun has played 84 playoff games and the Flyers are "bullish" on Philippe Myers, a 22-year-old who was rated as a top-50 prospect last season by NHL Network.

"When you combine our signing of [Hayes] with acquiring the two veteran right-shot defensemen that we did in the past week, we just think as a group, we're stronger, we're deeper and we filled a lot of the holes that we identified coming into the summer," Fletcher said.

On paper, it looks good — especially with how it was done.

"As importantly as anything, we've kept all of our prospects," Fletcher said. "Our staff has worked hard the last few years to acquire some top picks, some top kids, and we've been able to keep all of those assets. We're still as deep as any franchise with respect to quality and quantity of prospects, and we certainly anticipate adding to that this weekend.

"We knew we were going to have to give up some assets going forward to acquire some pieces that we felt we needed. We kept our first-round pick, which should be a great asset for our franchise — it's a strong draft and we have the 11th selection, so we anticipate drafting a very good player there. We still have two third-rounders, both of which are early in the round.

"We're a deeper group right now, a more talented group. But we have a lot of work ahead of us. We have a new coaching staff coming in and we'll have an opportunity in training camp to put the pieces together and push forward." 

Fletcher will now focus on this weekend's draft and his restricted free agents. It's only June 19, though. Don't rule out some moves ahead.

"Obviously we'll continue to speak with teams and see what opportunities may be out in the trade market," Fletcher said.

On April 18, the GM was adamant about the Flyers' picture.

"It's not like you have to gut this thing," Fletcher said. "We have cap space, we have picks.

"We're set up where we should have an opportunity to get better quickly."

So far, the Flyers look better. It took less than a week and little was gutted.

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Flyers sign Kevin Hayes to 7-year, $50 million contract

Flyers sign Kevin Hayes to 7-year, $50 million contract

Kevin Hayes isn't going anywhere.

General manager Chuck Fletcher delivered on his strategy of acquiring the impending unrestricted free agent to jump ahead in negotiations by signing Hayes on Wednesday to a seven-year, $50 million deal ($7.14 million AAV).

"We are very happy to sign Kevin to a long-term contract," Fletcher said in a release by the team. "He plays a smart, two-way game and is just entering the prime of his career. Kevin will add size and skill to our lineup."

The Flyers traded for Hayes' rights on June 3, sending a 2019 fifth-round pick to the Jets. By June 23, Hayes would have been able to speak with other clubs. By July 1, he would have become an unrestricted free agent.

The Flyers avoided those possibilities by locking up the 27-year-old from Dorchester, Massachusetts, a 6-foot-5, 216-pound forward who the Flyers believe will make them tougher to play against down the middle. The contract has a no-movement clause for the first three years and a modified no-movement clause for the final four, according to a report by Sportsnet's Chris Johnston.

It's a lot of money and a lot of years, but the Flyers had around $30 million in cap space and the projection is Hayes' prime years are ahead.

Also, this:

Hayes is coming off a career year of 55 points (19 goals, 36 assists) after scoring a personal-best 25 goals in 2017-18. What made him even more attractive to the Flyers were his versatility and smarts. He can play center or winger, on the penalty kill and power play, and is a responsible forward who suited up under Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault from 2014-18 in New York.

In 2017-18, when Hayes netted his career high in goals, he was second on the Rangers in shorthanded ice time.

At Fletcher's end-of-the-season press conference after the Flyers missed the playoffs for the fourth time in the last seven years, the GM lamented bad on-ice habits for why the club was so maddeningly inconsistent.

"It's not just systems," Fletcher said. "It's puck management, game management, being in the right spot, holding onto the puck offensively, making more plays offensively, retrieving pucks and winning battles. There's a whole host of things that go into it. 

"We have some bad habits right now — flying into the zone before we have possession of the puck, not getting in shooting lanes, not keeping the third guy high, turning pucks over in the neutral zone when there's no time and space to make a play, and just recognizing things. It's mindset, but you need the mindset to embrace the habits."

The Flyers believe Hayes, a career plus-28, is the type of player to push that movement forward. The move also makes the Flyers considerably deeper, potentially opening up 20-year-old center Nolan Patrick's game (see story).

This offseason, Fletcher has added Hayes, Matt Niskanen and Justin Braun. He has taken on money but that was part of the draw with the Flyers and why Fletcher was brought on board — to utilize his resources and make things happen.

It's June 19 and Fletcher is far from done. Stay tuned.

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