July 13, 2022
Day 1 of free agency wasn't exactly an aggressive one for the "aggressive retool."
The Flyers brought back veteran defenseman Justin Braun on a one-year contract, signed fourth-line bruiser Nic Deslauriers to a four-year deal, with both at average annual values of $1.75 million, and made a series of smaller depth signings – goaltender Troy Grosenick (one-year, one way), defensemen Louis Belpedio (one-year, two-way) and Kevin Connauton (two-years, two-way), and forwards Cooper Marody and Adam Brooks (both two-years, two-way).
And that's it. For the rest of the way.
"We're done," general manager Chuck Fletcher said late Wednesday. "We're out on all the remaining free agents with the reality of our cap situation right now. It probably precluded us from looking at some of the more expensive options in the market today, but today to us is more about depth signings, getting guys that make us a little bit harder to play against, and making sure we have some players on two-way contracts that can move between Lehigh Valley and Philadelphia."
No Johnny Gaudreau, no big homecoming, no seismic shift in the direction of the Flyers franchise. The South Jersey-born winger is headed for Columbus now.
"No we weren't in," Fletcher said of the Gaudreau sweepstakes. "We were in on the players that we signed."
Reality is often disappointing.
Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman first heard rumblings of Braun and Deslauriers going to the Flyers, NBC Sports Philadelphia's Jordan Hall confirmed Braun's one-year deal, and Friedman's fellow Sportsnet insider Jeff Marek reported Deslaurier's four-year term.
Braun is a rather inoffensive signing on its own. The 35-year old will likely come back in as a third-pairing defenseman who can move up and down the lineup as needed on the right side.
The problem is that might be fully necessary, as Fletcher still isn't certain on a timetable for Ryan Ellis' return, hence the moves to bring back Braun and shed three draft picks to Carolina for Tony DeAngelo.
"He's progressed, but there's no guarantee when he'll be back," Fletcher said. "That's certainly a massive hole in our lineup.
"The reality is we have some uncertainty with some of our players in terms of their health. Right now we feel pretty confident that [Sean Couturier] and [Kevin Hayes] will be able to bounce back, but right now as an organization the most important thing we have to do is stabilize. I think we'll be a much improved team, we'll be a competitive team."
Braun averaged 20:02 of ice time in 61 games for the Flyers last season, racking up five goals and 11 assists while going plus-3. For a while, he was the team's most consistent defenseman, remaining steady even while everything else around the Flyers felt like it was falling apart.
Travis Sanheim eventually found his game though, and Braun was dealt to the New York Rangers as a depth piece for their postseason run. He skated eight games in the regular season and 19 in the playoffs.
Deslauriers is a much more questionable acquisition.
The 31-year old is a career fourth-liner, known for fighting more than anything. He dropped the gloves 13 times last season, which was tied for the second-most in the NHL, and was seventh in the league in penalty minutes with 113.
Splitting the year between Anaheim and then Minnesota, the left winger had eight goals and five assists, going minus-11 through 81 games and 11:22 of average ice time. For his career, he's skated in 506 regular-season games, has scored 44 goals and 85 points, but is an overall minus-78.
Although he does have the fastest recorded hat trick in Anaheim Ducks history, set in March 2020 against Ottawa.
At 6'1" and 220 lbs., Deslauriers is a big forward who does fit the bill of the Flyers' desire to be "harder to play against."
Fletcher claimed there was an aggressive market for him, and feels that he forechecks well, will help on the penalty kill, "and he obviously has an imposing, physical presence. One of the tougher players in the league," who can bring an element that the Flyers will need to keep up in a Metro division full of big, physical players.
Still, that might not be enough to fully make sense of a bottom-of-the-lineup signing for that long of a term and over $1 million per, especially for a team already extremely tight on cap space, and with Rasmus Ristolainen and Zack MacEwen already on the roster.
"Well there will be a competition for spots for the rest of the players," Fletcher said. "Ristolainen is a big physical defenseman, Deslauriers is a big physical winger, Zac MacEwen's a big physical winger, and we'll have training camp, and we'll see how everything sorts out."
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