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Filling Matt Niskanen vacancy could be Flyers’ top free-agent priority

Wayne Fish
flyingfishhockey.com
St. Louis Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo takes a shot against the Predators.

The recent retirement of Flyers veteran defenseman Matt Niskanen creates a need for a top pairing, right-shot defenseman and guess who the projected No. 1 unrestricted free agent for the upcoming signing period just happens to be?

That would be St. Louis star backliner Alex Pietrangelo, the captain of the Blues’ Stanley Cup championship team in 2019.

Plenty of teams will be looking to sign Pietrangelo shortly after the signing period for UFAs officially opens at noon Friday.

Will the Flyers be one of them?

The team could certainly use a new partner for Ivan Provorov on their top defensive unit and Niskanen’s departure freed up $5.75 million for one year, anyway.

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Pietrangelo won’t come cheap. He’s coming off a contract which paid him just over $6 million per year ($45.5 million over seven years). At 31, there are probably at least several good years left in his legs.

Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher has acknowledged the loss of Niskanen but insisted he’s still comfortable with the remaining crew on his roster.

“It (being active in signings) will depend on the opportunities that are there and the prices," Fletcher said at the conclusion of the NHL Entry Draft on Wednesday night. “As I’ve mentioned before, we like our group. I think our forward group is stronger than what it was at the end of last year."

“We’ve lost Niskanen, but we still like our defensive corps. We like our goaltending. If we can improve our team, we will, but we’re not going to spend money just to spend it. If there’s some ability to add a player on the right deal at the right cap price and the right term, we’ll do it. If not, we’ll certainly wait. I think there will be opportunities along the way to address whatever needs we feel we need to address."

Fletcher did make one big “free-agent" move so to speak last year when he traded for the negotiating rights to center Kevin Hayes. That deal wound up at seven years, $50 million, so there’s nothing to suggest Fletcher is a conservative spender.

Here are some of the other top unrestricted free agents on the market:

Taylor Hall, forward, Arizona Coyotes: Was 2017-18 NHL MVP.

Torey Krug, defenseman, Boston Bruins: Versatile and can run power play.

Mike Hoffman, forward, Florida Panthers: Strong two-way player.

Sami Vatanan, defenseman, Carolina Hurricanes: Right shooter, only 29.

Evgenii Dadonov, forward, Florida Panthers: Career on the rise.

TJ Brodie, defenseman, Calgary Flames: Steady, gets the job done.

Braden Holtby, goaltender, Washington Capitals: Stanley Cup winner.

Jacob Markstrom, goaltender, Vancouver Canucks: Coming off best season, capped by beating Blues.

Tyler Toffoli, forward, Vancouver Canucks: Won Cup with Kings, strong on puck possession.

Kevin Shattenkirk, defenseman, Tampa Bay Lightning: Right shooter, Cup winner.

As previously mentioned last week, this year offers a unique set of circumstances due to the revised schedule (caused by the pandemic) and the projected flat salary cap for the next few seasons.

So there might not be a flurry of signings on Friday, but rather a bunch over an extended period of time.

“I expect on (Friday) there will be some players getting signed pretty quickly," Fletcher said last week. “I can also foresee there will be players into late October, November still looking for opportunities."

“There will be teams looking to shed some salary well after Oct. 9th. I guess I could see a little bit of both. There’s going to be some quick moves here and some teams trying to take care of business right away."

“There might be other teams and players that might have to be a little more patient for the right fit. Oct. 9, 10, 11, there might be quite a lot of free agent activity and then you might have a lull there for two months. I’m kind of expecting that, but it will be interesting to see how it plays out."