The Philadelphia Flyers have largely stayed out of the headlines during the first week of the NHL’s 2020 free agency season.
General manager Chuck Fletcher committed to just two new contracts, both for the blue line.
UFAs Gustafsson, Pouliot Signed
On Day 1, minor-leaguer Derrick Pouliot was signed to a one-year, two-way contract that will pay him the NHL minimum of $700,000 with the Flyers, and $425,000 in the AHL. Originally drafted eighth overall in 2012, the 26-year-old spent last season with the St. Louis Blues organization, playing two games with the big club and putting up 7-32-39 in 58 games with the San Antonio Rampage.
On Day 4, Fletcher brought in 28-year-old blueliner Erik Gustafsson. He signed a one-year deal with a cap hit of $3 million.
Gustafsson was originally selected by the Edmonton Oilers in the fourth round of that same 2012 draft. He found his footing in the NHL after signing as a free agent with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2015.
The 6’0″, 197-pound Swede turned heads when he put up 17 goals and 60 points with the Blackhawks in 2018-19. His 42 even-strength points that year ranked him fifth in the league among defensemen.
Knowing that he’d be due a significant raise from his $1.2 million cap hit, the Blackhawks dealt Gustafsson to the Calgary Flames at the 2020 trade deadline. In exchange, Stan Bowman received a conditional third-round draft pick.
What Gustafsson Brings
Gustafsson had three assists in seven games before the regular season was paused, then added four assists in 10 postseason games. In those games, he averaged 17:06. During his time in Chicago, his average ice time was 20:02.
Fletcher has some options in terms of how Gustafsson is deployed. He can play both sides, but prefers the right. “We think his skill set matches really well with what we need,” Fletcher told reporters on a conference call on Friday. “I think we have a lot of strong defenders on our team, and we’re very structured defensively as a group. And his skill set, his ability to go back for pucks and make good decisions, and transition the puck up the ice was a very important element to add to our group.”
More Moves To Come?
Fletcher said he hasn’t ruled out the possibility of adding another defenseman to his group. Matt Niskanen’s sudden retirement has left a big hole to fill.
As of Friday evening, notable free-agent blueliners who are still on the market include Sami Vatanen and Travis Hamonic. Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet mentioned in his ’31 Thoughts’ blog that the Flyers had spoken with the Arizona Coyotes about 32-year-old right-side defender Jason Demers. It’s unclear whether or not those discussions took place before Gustafsson was signed.
Pitlick Lands In The Desert
Speaking of the Coyotes, they inked the Flyers’ unrestricted free agent Tyler Pitlick. His new deal is for two years, with a cap hit of $1.75 million per season. That’s a significant raise over the $1 million that Philadelphia paid him last season. It’s a solid reward for a good year with the Flyers. But it’s too rich for Fletcher to match.
Flyers’ trade deadline acquisition Nate Thompson also has a new home. He signed a one-year deal worth $750,000 with the Winnipeg Jets. That’s a dip from the $1 million that the 36-year-old Alaskan made last season.
And after he was acquired from the Anaheim Ducks at the trade deadline, Derek Grant is returning to the O.C. on a three-year deal with a cap hit of $1.5 million per season.
This will be Grant’s third tenure in Anaheim. He previously signed there as a free agent in 2017, then moved to Pittsburgh in free agency a year later. He was traded back to the Ducks in January of 2019, after 25 games with the Penguins and five in the minors.
This time around, 30-year-old Grant gets a rare contract with both term and some nice money. He made $700,000 last season. This is the first time he’s ever inked a deal with an average value of more than $1 million.
Patrick Accepts Qualifying Offer
Fletcher finished up two other bits of business this week. On Wednesday, he inked new first-round draft pick, Tyson Foerster, to his three-year entry-level contract. On Friday, 2017 first-rounder Nolan Patrick accepted his qualifying offer — a two-way deal that is initially reported to carry a cap hit of just over $870,000, according to CapFriendly.
A draft lottery prize who was selected second overall, 22-year-old Patrick has 26 goals and 61 points in 145 career NHL games to date but missed all of last season with migraine disorder.
The good news for Flyers fans: Patrick has been scrimmaging over the last couple of weeks in his hometown of Brandon, Manitoba, and appears to be handling the activity well. A return to the ice in good health next season would be a terrific boost to Philadelphia’s forward group.
With Patrick’s deal on the books, the Flyers’ only remaining unsigned restricted free agent is defenseman Philippe Myers.