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July 04, 2023

How the Flyers' free agency signings work for the rebuild

Short-term deals for Marc Staal and Garnet Hathaway will fill out the lineup, help bring the next wave along, and could become trade chips for more assets come March.

The NHL Draft bled right into the start of free agency, but with the priority on getting their younger guys plenty of playing time this coming season, the Flyers weren't expected to be all that active when it came to signings. 

"We don't want to block our young guys," Brière said after the draft last week. "We want to give them the chance to play. We're not looking for long-term contracts either at this point, so don't expect too much in a couple days on that."

They stuck to their word. 

While the Flyers did add a few names once the market opened on July 1, none of them are going to take away from any current prospects like Tyson Foerster, Elliot Desnoyers, or Cam York, who are on the brink of full-time roster spots. 

In fact, those signings are either seasoned vets, hard-skating bottom-sixers, or both meant to push all of them along. 

A quick rundown of what the Flyers did in free agency...

Pos., Player Age Contract 
C Ryan Poehling 24 1 year, $1.4 million 
RW Garnet Hathaway 31 2 years, $4.75 million 
C Rhett Gardner 27 2 years (2-way), $1.55 million 
D Marc Staal 36 1 year, $1.1 million 

And the breakdown...

So again, none of these players, at this point in their respective careers, are going to hold up the youth movement. 

Hathaway, at 31, will fill out the back half of the forward lines, pitch in on the penalty kill, and bring eight years' worth of NHL experience and wisdom – from teams with varying degrees of success in Calgary, Washington, and then Boston – to the Flyers' re-establishing locker room. 

Poehling, who was a depth center for the Penguins last season, will inject a bit of speed and take faceoffs for a team with not many current roster players or prospects consistently able to – the pipeline, right now, is thin at center but heavy on wingers. 

And Gardner will add another bottom-six faceoff option in that regard, though with only 40 total games of NHL experience with Dallas to this point, he's likely to spend the bulk of his time down (up?) in Lehigh Valley with the Phantoms. 

Then there's Staal, who was by far the most noteworthy of the Flyers' handful of signings. 

Philly was after a veteran defenseman, Brière said Monday from the team's development camp in Voorhees, but didn't think Staal, who was fresh off a run to the Stanley Cup Final with Florida, would have interest.

But the fit was there. 

A longtime blueliner with a 16-year career full of ups and downs to impart on the next wave, not to mention someone who could be an effective liaison between head coach John Tortorella and the younger players because of their history together back with those Rangers teams from the early 2010s? It made sense. 

And it turns out he was game for the rebuild too, Brière said, even if it means having to take a backseat in the lineup. 

"We were very clear with him about what we're doing here and where the process is going," Brière said. "He wants to help out."

From where things stand right now, the Flyers are looking at York, Staal, Travis Sanheim, Rasmus Ristolainen, Nick Seeler, Sean Walker, and Egor Zamula as the candidates to fill out the 2023-24 season's defensive pairings going in – with York and Zamula being the key two to focus in on as potential long-term pieces.

York, at age 22, took a major step forward last season by working his way into a regular part of the lineup after coming back from a demotion to the AHL; And Zamula, 23, has been a long-term development project as a big 6-foot-3 defenseman, but is no longer waiver exempt, so the Flyers might be forced to see what he's really made of at the NHL level now. 

They both have a ways to go still, but in both cases, having a vet like Staal around can help buy some time should the team need it.  

"You gotta be careful sometimes too with rushing kids," Brière said. "There's the fine line. We were very clear with Marc. Torts spoke to him. It was very clear with him about where we're going with the young guys, and he's on board. He understands that. But at the same time, we want to make sure that the kids are ready."

"If they're ready, they're gonna play," he added. "If they're not, we'll give them time and we'll follow the process the way it should be done."

Plus, those short-term vet and depth signings can always become trade chips come March, when contending teams are always willing to part with future assets and prospects for any last boost toward a potential Cup run. 

Brière acknowledged that possibility with Staal, noting that the 36-year-old's deal didn't include any type of no-trade clause. Granted, that's isn't really anything a GM can plan for in July, and he added that, ultimately, what could happen then will come down to what Staal wants to do. 

"If there's something there that he feels that he has enough in the tank, and we're not making the playoffs, and he would like to go somewhere else to make another Cup run, we will try to accommodate him," Brière said. "If he wants to stay here, no matter where we're at, we're also gonna accommodate him. 

"I think he's earned that right to decide, so I will follow his lead on that."

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