5 Free Agents Philadelphia Flyers Have a Realistic Chance to Sign
Just two teams remain in the quest for the 2014 Stanley Cup championship.
For the other 28 NHL squads, the offseason is already underway.
Trade speculation will begin to heat up in the coming weeks before the NHL Draft takes place at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia at the end of the month. And just a few days after that, the free-agent market will open, and will rosters begin to take shape for the 2014-15 season.
For the Flyers, many of the key pieces are in place for another successful campaign and a return trip to the playoffs. But Philly still needs to supplement its roster with complementary players this offseason to contend with the Eastern Conference's elite.
Here's a look at five free agents the Flyers have a realistic chance to sign this summer.
Matt Moulson, F
By far, Philadelphia's biggest need up front is a top-line left winger. Preferably one with speed.
When healthy, Scott Hartnell has accompanied Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek on the Flyers' top unit for the last three seasons, but the 32-year-old power forward simply doesn't possess the foot speed or dynamic offensive touch to play at the same level as Philly's two most gifted point-producers.
That's where Matt Moulson comes into play.
The North York, Ontario native amassed 23 goals and 51 points in 75 games this season as part of the Buffalo Sabres, New York Islanders and Minnesota Wild. It was the fifth straight season in which Moulson has recorded double-digit conversions and the fourth time he's compiled better than 20 goals in a single season.
The 30-year-old winger is a proven scorer and has the foot speed and skating ability to compete alongside Giroux and Voracek.
With Zach Parise, Matt Cooke and the emerging Erik Haula already under contract for next season, Minnesota is stocked with left wingers and will allow Moulson to hit the open market.
The seven-year veteran will be among the most coveted forwards in free agency but won't be the prize of the free-agent market. Thomas Vanek will have a host of suitors, as will Marian Gaborik after his stellar postseason. If Philadelphia can remain patient and allow others to overpay for the bigger names, the Flyers could swoop in after the fact and claim an absolute steal in Moulson.
Lee Stempniak, F
If the free-agent bidding for the market's top forwards becomes too pricey for the cap-strapped Flyers, they may have to turn their attention to some of free agency's supplementary wingers.
Enter 31-year-old right-wing Lee Stempniak.
The Buffalo native notched 12 goals and 34 points in 73 games between the Calgary Flames and Pittsburgh Penguins this season. The 5'11", 195-pound forward has now netted double-digit conversions in each of nine NHL campaigns, with the lone exception of last year's lockout-shortened season in which he tallied nine.
A jack-of-all trades winger, Stempniak can play among a team's top six forwards or become a complementary piece who shuts down the opposition's top forwards and helps kill penalties.
With high-priced players like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal and Kris Letang signed through forever, the Pittsburgh Penguins won't have the cap freedom to retain Stempniak's services. As such, the versatile winger will likely be headed to his sixth different NHL franchise.
A native of Buffalo, it stands to reason that Stempniak would prefer to remain on the east coast. What's more, the 31-year-old forward has only been to the postseason three times in his nine-year NHL career and only once in the last three years.
The Flyers are a team on the rise and should be able to convince Stempniak to come to the City of Brotherly Love at a discount with the promise of competing in the playoffs.
Nikita Nikitin, D
In addition to a speedy winger, the Flyers also desperately need to continue augmenting their defense.
Kimmo Timonen is pondering retirement, and Erik Gustafsson has already bolted for the Kontinental Hockey League. Philadelphia has promising young defensemen in its pipeline with Shayne Gostisbehere, Samuel Morin and Robert Hagg, but it remains to be seen if any of those three will be ready to absorb regular NHL minutes next season.
As such, the Orange and Black will likely turn to free agency to bolster their back end.
In that case, Nikita Nikitin would be an intriguing possibility for the Flyers.
With Jack Johnson, James Wisniewski and Fedor Tyutin already signed long-term and the emerging Ryan Murray inked for another two seasons, the Columbus Blue Jackets will likely let Nikitin test the open market.
A 6'3", 217-pound defenseman, Nikitin registered two goals and 15 points in 66 games this season to go along with a career-best plus-nine rating. The Russian blueliner also notched a career-high 84 hits in addition to 72 blocked shots.
Not a flashy defender by any means, Nikitin is simply a solid all-around blueliner who would provide solid depth to Philly's defense corps. Coming off a two-year, $4.3 million contract, the 27-year-old defenseman will be in line for a slight raise but could be a bargain for the Flyers at a cap hit of less than $3 million per year.
Anton Stralman, D
The Flyers know firsthand what a versatile defenseman Anton Stralman can be.
In Philadelphia's opening-round playoff series with the New York Rangers, Stralman recorded two assists (including a helper on the clinching game), a plus-three rating, 11 hits and five blocked shots. The Swedish defender wasn't a "minus" player in any of the series' seven outings and produced a personal postseason-best three blocks in Game 7.
All told, the 27-year-old blueliner has recorded five assists in 20 games this playoff year to go along with a plus-six rating, 27 hits and 18 blocked shots. Meanwhile, the seven-year veteran managed one goal, 13 points and a plus-nine rating while playing in 81 of 82 regular-season contests. What's more, Stralman recorded 75 hits for the third straight season.
Like Nikitin, he wouldn't be a very sexy addition for the Orange and Black but would provide nice depth at a reasonable price on Philadelphia's back end.
The 5'11", 190-pound Stralman just completed a two-year, $3.4 million pact and will be looking for the stability of a multi-year agreement. If that comes with a reasonable annual cap hit between $2-$2.5 million it might be worth it.
Evgeni Nabokov, G
The New York Islanders appear to be moving on from Evgeni Nabokov after trading for and eventually locking up 29-year-old goaltender Jaroslav Halak with a four-year, $18 million contract.
That means the 38-year-old veteran netminder will be looking for a new home, and Philadelphia could be a good fit.
The Flyers have their No. 1 netminder in Steve Mason.
After Giroux, the 26-year-old backstop was Philly's most valuable player with a 33-win season that featured four shutouts, a 2.50 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage. What's more, Mason's herculean efforts in the postseason were nearly good enough to push the Flyers past the Stanley Cup Finals-bound Rangers, as he recorded a 1.97 goals-against average and .939 save percentage.
But the former Calder Trophy winner can't play all 82 games next season, while his backup this season, Ray Emery, is headed to free agency.
Nabokov has been a stalwart in NHL creases for the last decade-and-a-half. He's managed at least 40 appearances and 15 victories in each of his last eight seasons.
Most recently, the 13-year NHL veteran managed a 15-14-8 regular-season mark with the Islanders last season with a 2.74 goals-against average and .905 save percentage. In fact, Nabokov has only ever finished an NHL season with a goals-against average below 3.00 and a save percentage below .900 once in his illustrious career.
Set to turn 39 later this summer, Nabokov's days of being a No. 1 netminder appear behind him, but he would be an awfully reliable secondary option for the Orange and Black. It's unlikely he'll be able to command the $3.25 million he earned this past season, but he could be lured to the City of Brotherly Love on a one-year, $2 million pact with the hope of enjoying postseason hockey for just the second time in the last five years.