Should Kimmo Timonen choose to retire after this season, the Flyers blue line will be in desperate need of puck moving skill on the back end. Here are 5 potential free agents who could eat up big minutes for the Flyers next season.
1. Anton Stralman - The 27 year old defenseman is arguably the Rangers most effective puck mover. He’s posting outstanding numbers even relative to his top-5 puck possession team with CF% Rel of +7.2. This season he’s shown he can be relied on for big minutes. Stralman is undersized but has plenty of offensive talent. He can quarterback a powerplay and has a great shot. With New York spending big money to lock up Dan Girardi, they might not be willing to pay Stralman what he’s worth on the open market. Stralman could easily slot onto the Flyers first pair with Braydon Coburn, and is young enough that I wouldn’t hesitate to give him a long term contract.
2. Mark Fayne - Playing on the Devils top defensive pair, Fayne has been quietly posting some stellar possession numbers. He’s got an ideal combination of size and puck moving ability and can contribute effectively at both ends of the ice. New Jersey’s financial woes may prevent them from offering Fayne the pay day he deserves. Like Stralman, he’s another young player in his prime who could flourish in an expanded role in a big market like Philadelphia. But don’t expect him to put up huge offensive numbers or contribute much on the powerplay.
3. Matt Niskanen - With the long term absence of Kristopher Letang in Pittsburgh, Niskanen has really bloomed in an expanded role. His strongest asset is his skating ability and offensive game. He can put up decent points in the right setting and can contribute on the powerplay. However, Niskanen could be the toughest free agent d-man to acquire. The Penguins have plenty of money coming off the books next season and could easily afford to give Niskanen a new contract.
4. Tom Gilbert – Gilbert isn’t big name in the NHL and his game isn’t flashy. But he can log 1st pairing minutes and power play time. Gilbert is very similar to Matt Carle, with a solid all around game but most notable for his ability to move the puck out of the defensive zone. His skill set would do wonders for the Flyers breakout and transition game. At 31, he’s a much older option but also potentially much cheaper than the names we’ve discussed so far. Florida may struggle to resign him with several younger RFA defensemen in need of contract extensions.
5. Andrei Markov – At 35 years of age, Markov is still an efficient, big minute play driver. He can play on the first PP unit and give you 25+ minutes a night as a first pair defender. Unfortunately he’s injury prone and is likely to be extremely expensive. Even with a potentially risky 35+ contract, Markov is a name worth considering if other free agent options don’t pan out.
Honorable Mention – Adam Pardy - Who? You’ve probably never heard of him if you aren’t a Winnepeg Jets fan. He plays limited minutes on the third pair and is NOT a replacement for Kimmo Timonen. He’s 29 years old, and unlikely to command a huge contract. But for what he is, Pardy offers tremendous value. He puts up respectable possession numbers on a mediocre team. Pardy, like Mark Fayne, offers an ideal combination of size and mobility. With Andrew MacDonald reportedly looking for a multi-year deal north of $4 million AAV, Pardy represents a cheaper alternative with better on ice results.