Tracy Belton

Flyers 2018 free-agent target: D Calvin de Haan

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Flyers 2018 free-agent target: D Calvin de Haan

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.

Calvin de Haan

Age: 27
Position: D
Height: 6-1
Weight: 197
Last team: Islanders
2017-18 cap hit: $1.9 million
 
Boruk
de Haan is that other unrestricted free agent on the island. Like John Tavares, de Haan is 27 years old as he enters unrestricted free agency. Who is de Haan and what would he bring to the Flyers? 

First, he’s a positionally sound left-handed defenseman and reliable in his own end. He's only been a minus player once in his career and even more impressively, he’s an aggregate plus-26 over the past two seasons. 

What immediately comes to mind is how he sacrifices his body to block just about any shot that comes his way. In that aspect, he’s one of the most fearless players in the NHL and he’ll even throw his body around to deliver the occasional bone-numbing hit.

But there’s a red flag as it pertains to his injury history. de Haan has played the full 82-game slate only once over the past five seasons, and in those other four injury-plagued seasons, he’s averaged just 55 games. He enters the 2018-19 season coming off shoulder surgery so how much commitment do you make to an injury-prone defenseman who lays his body on the line on a nightly basis?

I like de Haan, but he’s not that much-needed right-handed defenseman the Flyers covet. The position here is a contract no longer than four years and not exceeding $5 million annually, which is what the Flyers are currently paying former Islander Andrew MacDonald, who will be entering Year 5 of a six-year pact.

Dougherty
We keep seeing de Haan’s named attached to the Flyers loosely in reports so if there’s smoke, there has to be a little bit of fire. Hextall would like to add a second-pair defenseman and de Haan fits that profile. The dream would be a right-handed D-man and de Haan is not that.

But de Haan is a solid puck-moving blueliner who was limited to just 33 games last season because of a shoulder injury. There doesn’t appear to be a shortage of suitors for the Islanders defenseman, who reportedly has about 10 teams interested in him. de Haan doesn’t compile a ton of points but is considered to be a smooth-skater with a good first pass.

The Flyers currently have six defensemen on their roster for next season and an argument could be made that bringing in another defenseman either A) takes a lineup spot away from a kid or B) pushes Andrew MacDonald or Radko Gudas into a potential seventh-defenseman role. The preferred scenario there is B. The Flyers will likely bring in another defender, though, and if it’s de Haan, they could do a lot worse.

Hall
de Haan went from his best NHL season to his most difficult.

After playing all 82 regular-season games for the first time in his career during 2017-18 and setting personal bests in goals (five), assists (20), points (25) and plus/minus (plus-15), the 2009 first-round pick was limited to just 33 contests in 2017-18.

Still, there's a lot to like if you're the Flyers.

The lefty shot clearly doesn't light up the scoreboard, but that's not what the Flyers need. They need a reliable source on the back end and de Haan fits that bill. He's known for his smooth skating ability and first pass, which will only help the Flyers in their coverage and zone exits — it's all about being steady.

Even better, de Haan will come at a reasonable price and he's only 27 years old. The reward here far outweighs the risk and I'd like to see the Flyers consider it.

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Flyers 2018 free-agent target: C Tyler Bozak

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Flyers 2018 free-agent target: C Tyler Bozak

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.

Tyler Bozak

Age: 32
Position: C
Height: 6-1
Weight: 199
Last team: Maple Leafs
2017-18 cap hit: $4.2 million

Boruk
Bozak would seem like an ideal third-line center for the Flyers. He has size, skill, contributes in all situations, can make occasional plays, but he’s not the fleetest of foot and now at the age of 32, don’t expect Bozak to find his stride once he signs a free-agent contract.

Also, Bozak can be labeled as soft and to some extent, he was exposed in the Maple Leafs' first-round series against the Bruins. It was obvious Bozak wasn’t up to the challenge in the game Nazem Kadri was suspended, forcing Bozak to play bigger minutes. The fact the Leafs are allowing Bozak and James van Riemsdyk to move on says they’re trying to cleanse their roster from the Brian Burke days.

The Flyers need to tread lightly here and not overspend for a player that may have very little left in the tank in two or three years. I’d be leery of signing Bozak to three years, especially at a price tag around $5 million.

I fully expect the Colorado Avalanche to come hard after Bozak, who owns an offseason home in the Denver area and also played his college hockey at the University of Denver prior to joining the Maple Leafs' organization. That seems to be the ideal fit.

Dougherty
The Tyler Bozak you remember from five years ago is not the Tyler Bozak that is entering free agency, unless you’re looking to massively misuse him like the Maple Leafs used to do. When Bozak was the top-line center on Toronto, it was when the Leafs’ roster was an eyesore. It put Bozak in the spotlight and in a role his talent level wasn’t equipped for.

That said, the past few seasons have been different. Bozak has slotted down to the third line as the Maple Leafs’ roster vastly improved and the centerman finally found himself a role. Bozak has posted 40-plus points in four of the past five years and in 2017-18, he had 43 points in 81 games while winning over 50 percent of his faceoffs, an area he’s always been solid in.

Ten teams are reportedly in on Bozak and I would be surprised if the Flyers were not one of them. Bozak is a veteran, two-way center with leadership qualities and a high compete level. The drawback with Bozak is his skating is not what it used to be and that could be a problem.

One area the Flyers have to keep making strides in is getting faster. They’ve added better skaters over the last couple of seasons. Because of that, the term on a Bozak contract is important. The Flyers have money to spend in the short term, Hextall said. With Bozak’s speed already in the decline, anything more than three years is a high risk.

But if the Flyers can bring Bozak in for two years, he would be an upgrade over Valtteri Filppula. He would slot nicely in on the third line. He’s a player I would imagine Hextall will target.

Hall
There's a chance a team might overspend for Bozak and it won't be the Flyers.

Should they be in the market for the 32-year-old? Of course. The Flyers need to improve their depth at center and in the bottom six, and Bozak would do both.

"You would like to find another centerman," Hextall said in late April. "You always look through the center of your lineup. Your goaltending, your D and your centers. If we could upgrade there, that would be great."

Bozak does a lot of little things well — he wins faceoffs, provides some secondary scoring and offers good intangibles.

However, he doesn't play on the penalty kill, an area the Flyers want to improve as well with a possible depth addition, and I can see a fellow suitor offering him a nicer deal — maybe one more year, a little extra money — than the Flyers.

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Soul's ArenaBowl chances hinge on slowing Rattlers' potent offense

Soul's ArenaBowl chances hinge on slowing Rattlers' potent offense

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The postseason accolades and awards are nice, but Soul defensive back Tracy Belton has a much higher goal.

Named as the Arena League Football Defensive Player of the Year during an awards ceremony Friday, Belton, considered the passion and spirit of the Soul defense, is more than comfortable putting aside individual honors and pushing his teammates to greater heights.

Reaching the ArenaBowl against the Arizona Rattlers Friday in the Gila River Arena (7 p.m./ESPN), the prize is out there, and Belton has his blinders firmly affixed. The focus and concentration is not in question, so the task ahead remains paramount.

“I want that ring, I need that jewelry,” Belton said during media day Friday. “Oh yeah, it would definitely be nice to get that ring.”

To obtain that shiny piece of hardware, Belton and his defensive teammates have the task of trying to shut down the most potent offense in the league.

Guided by quarterback Nick Davila, the AFL’s Most Valuable Player, the Rattlers are averaging 80.3 points per game. From an offensive standpoint, Arizona led the AFL in many offensive categories, including scoring, total offense, rushing, third-down conversion and fourth-down conversion.

To complement the offense, the Arizona defense ranked first in the league in defensive scoring, rushing defense, interceptions, turnover ratio and sacks allowed.

In a league which glorifies offense, the task ahead for the Soul defense is considered a challenge. After all, these teams each finished with a 13-3 mark and each defeated the other team on its home turf.

“To win this game, we hope they make mistakes,” Soul head coach Clint Dolezel said. “They are very explosive, but our secondary is playing at a high level. For us, we need to limit our mistakes.”

If Davila, who is the first player in AFL history to win the MVP award three times, is to be challenged, the Soul’s offense needs to be proficient. Coming into the ArenaBowl, the Soul averaged 59.0 points per game. That was good enough for fourth in the league, but quarterback Dan Raudabaugh put up better numbers, in certain categories, than Davila.

In head-to-head competition, Raudabaugh tossed more touchdown passes (14 to 13), passed for more yards (541 to 431), completed more passes (48 to 32) and averaged more yards per game (270.5 to 215.5) through the air. Yet, the Rattlers’ offense is swift, quick, efficient and lethal.

“In this league, the quarterback is the most important position,” Davila said. “You have to make decisions quickly, and facing a defense like Philly, that’s the challenge for us. It’s about limiting mistakes. The team which makes fewer mistakes is the team that usually wins.”

Notes
Since the Phoenix Mercury are scheduled for a home game in Talking Stick Arena in downtown Phoenix Friday night, home site for the Rattlers, the title game was switched to home of the NHL's Arizona Coyotes. … Among league leaders this past season for the Soul, Belton was fourth in tackles, Jake Metz led in sacks, Darius Reynolds was sixth in receiving and Jeramie Richardson was second in rushing. … In comparison of QBs, Raudabaugh was second in the league in passing (101 TDs, 63.3 passing percentage) and Davila placed third (110 TD passes, 69.6 passing rating). … This is the third league title meeting between these two teams. The Soul dropped the previous two championship games, 72-54 in 2012 and 48-39 in 2013.