NHL free agency

Why Chuck Fletcher, Flyers should get into the Artemi Panarin discussion

Why Chuck Fletcher, Flyers should get into the Artemi Panarin discussion

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Flyers don’t need Bob. 

They need Bread.

Of the potential unrestricted free agents who could hit the market July 1, Artemi Panarin (nicknamed "Bread Man" for Panera) may have shot up to the top of general manager Chuck Fletcher’s wish list.

Then again, Panarin is probably tops on a handful of general managers' list of priorities.

Impressively, the 27-year-old Russian became just the third undrafted player in NHL history to begin his career with four consecutive 70-point seasons, joining a guy named Wayne Gretzky and Peter Stastny.

The Blue Jackets' left winger put on another puck-handling, playmaking clinic against the Flyers in Columbus' 4-3 overtime win Thursday at Nationwide Arena, amplified by the slick pass to defenseman Seth Jones for the game-winner at the end of a 1:24 shift (see observations).

"He's the best player I've seen when he's tired,“ head coach John Tortorella said, “Maybe not defensively, but offensively he is.”

If you’re looking for proof, then watch the move Panarin put on Claude Giroux in the neutral zone to create the easy two-on-one scoring chance.

https://www.nhl.com/video/jones-wins-it-in-ot/t-300065352/c-66420603

“He’s one of the best talents in the league, that’s for sure,” Jakub Voracek said. “You never know where he’s going to go with that puck. He’s really good on his edges and he sells every option that you think he’s going to do.”

Undoubtedly, it was more Panarin than Sergei Bobrovsky behind the Blue Jackets' regular-season sweep of the Flyers, as he totaled nine points in the four games. Bobrovsky did just enough to earn the wins, but Panarin was the catalyst behind those victories.

The Jackets are putting all their chips in for this season and they won’t be able to cash out next season.

Panarin, Bobrovsky, Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel, along with defensemen Ryan Murray and Zach Werenski, all need new contracts, and you can be sure Fletcher will be monitoring the negotiations closely.

“Going into the summer, we have an awful lot of cap space. We have a few young players we have to sign, but we have a lot of cap space,” Fletcher said this week. “I think we’ll be able to fill the needs that we feel we need to address.”

Adding a sniper and sharpshooter from the outside is a player the Flyers haven’t had since the days of Simon Gagne, and those types of players rarely find their way to free agency, especially during the prime years of their careers.

With Panarin’s agent Dan Milstein informing the Blue Jackets they won’t discuss a new deal until after the season is over, it may be to Fletcher’s benefit to see where it goes and perhaps offer up a second-or-third-round draft pick for exclusive negotiating rights to Panarin, in much the same way Paul Holmgren did with Scott Hartnell and Kimmo Timonen in the summer of 2007.

When the Flyers made the change from Ron Hextall to Fletcher, the decision was to win now, and one of the quickest ways to get there is to sign a player of Panarin’s caliber, which could be somewhere in the $10 million range.

Bread would be nice, but you need plenty of dough to get it done.

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Flyers sign RFA Robert Hagg to 2-year deal

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Flyers sign RFA Robert Hagg to 2-year deal

General manager Ron Hextall crossed off the final box on his offseason checklist. 

Defenseman Robert Hagg, a restricted free agent, signed a two-year contract Wednesday night with the Flyers. Hagg was the team's only remaining RFA still unsigned.

Hagg’s new contract runs through the 2019-20 season. It has a total value of $2.3 million and a cap hit of $1.15 million per season, according to CapFriendly.com. Hagg will be a restricted free agent again in two years.

The 23-year-old from Uppsala, Sweden, had a solid rookie season, playing in the team’s first 70 games of the 2017-18 campaign before he missed two weeks with a lower-body injury. Once Hagg returned, he wasn’t able to regain his place in the lineup. 

After starting the season with a plus-13 rating through the first three months of the season, Hagg was a minus-8 over the final three-plus months.

Regardless, Hagg was the most impressive of the Flyers' three rookie defensemen as he led all NHL first-year players with 238 hits and 100 blocked shots. He also added three goals and six assists, averaging just over 18 minutes a game.

In all likelihood, Hagg will start the season as one of the team’s six active defensemen.

According to CapFriendly.com, the Flyers now have a full 23 players on the active roster with $10.28 million in remaining cap space.

With Hagg signed, the Flyers currently have 48 players under contract — each team is allowed 50 SPCs — within the organization. 

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Flyers re-sign restricted free agent Anthony Stolarz

Flyers re-sign restricted free agent Anthony Stolarz

General manager Ron Hextall is nearly finished wrapping up contracts for his restricted free agents.

And his goalie picture is now clear for 2018-19.

The Flyers on Wednesday re-signed netminder Anthony Stolarz to a one-year, two-way contract. The deal is worth $761,250, according to a report by hockey writer John Hoven.

With Stolarz back, defenseman Robert Hagg remains the Flyers' lone restricted free agent.

Stolarz, a 2012 second-round pick, underwent a nightmarish 2017-18 season just a year after he made his NHL debut and performed well in seven games with the Flyers. The 24-year-old tore the meniscus in his left knee during early September, the same injury he suffered at the end of 2016-17 with AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley.

He played in just one AHL game and three ECHL contests as a result. In 2016-17, he made his way to the big club and put up a 2.07 goals-against average and .928 save percentage in a small sample. Then the injury occurred with the Phantoms and it's been an uphill battle ever since for the 6-foot-6, 210-pounder.

Stolarz will have his work cut out for him — if he hasn't already — as playing time will be earned at Lehigh Valley with Alex Lyon back in the fold and Carter Hart joining them.

"It's just competition. No one is going to go in there and hand you a job, so you have to earn it,” Stolarz said in June after an on-ice workout at Flyers Skate Zone. "I think the thing for me is to prove I'm healthy. I don't think I've skated since the end of January. I had the one flare up before one of my games and it had nothing to do with my knee injury. It was a separate injury. I think the biggest thing is proving I'm healthy and going out there and working to prove I'm still a high-caliber goalie."

The Flyers' goaltending tandem is set with Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth, both of whom are in the final year of their contracts. Things obviously can change this offseason, as Neuvirth and Stolarz seemed like realistic trade candidates.

But as of now, it's Elliott and Neuvirth with the younger trio pushing and competing.

"I'd rather have too many goalies than too few," Hextall said earlier this month. "If something makes sense and we can make something happen, we'd at least look at it. We saw it last year. All of a sudden, a couple goalies go down and you're scrambling for goalies. If we start with five, we start with five. Not a perfect situation, but again, I'd rather start with five than with three."

More on the Flyers' goalies

• Following 'gloomy' time, what's next for Elliott?

• Why Neuvirth's NHL career hinges on this offseason

• Hart says so long to Twitter, hello to pro life

• No arbitration needed for Flyers and Lyon

• Sandstrom hungry to prove he's not the 'other' goalie