What I’m hearing about the Flyers’ plans ahead of the NHL Draft

The Athletic provides live coverage of the 2024 NHL Draft.

LAS VEGAS — The NHL player buyout period is open. The Philadelphia Flyers have a few candidates.

Specifically, the team is still figuring out what to do with forward Cam Atkinson and goaltender Cal Petersen. Each has one year left on their respective contracts: Atkinson at $5.875 million and Petersen at $3.85 million.

Petersen’s contract is almost certainly non-negotiable, given his precipitous decline since his final days with the Los Angeles Kings, as well as his inability to secure the Flyers’ backup goalie job coming out of the season break. stars after the departure of Carter Hart.

But the Flyers are still hoping to move Atkinson. TSN’s Darren Dreger reported that the San Jose Sharks are interested in him, but Atkinson is “not keen” on the idea. The Sharks are on Atkinson’s 10-team no-trade list.

Still, it’s easy to see why the Sharks might have been interested in Atkinson, who, despite his struggles — he went without a point in his last 23 games and had just 28 points in 70 games — remained a professional throughout a trying season for him. A young team looking to establish a strong culture, which Atkinson could help create, might be willing to sign the respected veteran on a one-year deal. For Atkinson, a bigger role with a lesser team would also be an opportunity to revive his career, while allowing him to collect his full salary.

Atkinson said in his last press conference on April 17 that he still “feels like I have a lot of juice left in the tank for the right situation.” Whether other teams feel that’s the case could be determined in the next 24 to 48 hours.

Ryan Johansen, who was acquired from Colorado in a trade for Sean Walker, is not eligible to be bought out due to injury. There’s still a long way to go before Johansen, who will have a $4 million salary cap hit next season, can one day play for the Flyers.

With the arrival of Matvei Michkov, has the Flyers’ timetable for being competitive been moved forward?

From what I’ve read about the situation, after talking to a few people in Las Vegas, that may be the case. But not in a dramatic way.

The Flyers’ salary cap situation for the next two seasons remains complicated. They have dead money, including some of Kevin Hayes’ contract still in place through 2025-26, and could have more depending on whether they buy out Atkinson and/or Petersen. Even with Ryan Ellis and, in all likelihood, Johansen headed to long-term injured reserve, the Flyers’ salary cap situation is tight.

The biggest advantage Michkov has now, of course, is that the Flyers will have a chance to mold him at a young age. Both teams know that’s going to take time — as does Connor Bedard, who had 61 points in 68 games with the Chicago Blackhawks as a rookie but was also a minus-40 at five-on-five. And the same goes for Alex Ovechkin, who many believe didn’t really show a full commitment to defense until coach Barry Trotz joined the Washington Capitals in 2014-15, in his 10th season. Just to name a few.

The Flyers, however, are assuming Michkov will be a much more complete NHL player by the 2026-27 season, his third season in the league, than he would have been if he had to finish his KHL contract. That could mean trying to surround him with more NHL-ready talent by the start of the season, and they could have plenty of flexibility under a salary cap that will likely approach $100 million.

Simply put, the next few days should be interesting in terms of how the Flyers manage their dead money. If they can’t find a taker for Atkinson and keep Petersen around next season, thus completely knocking them off the books by next summer, it could mean they’ll attempt to be a bit more active during the 2025 offseason than they thought they would have been a few months ago, when they didn’t believe Michkov’s arrival as a possibility.

At some point, they will need a No. 1 center to play with Michkov. Could they target someone like Leon Draisaitl, perhaps, if he becomes a free agent in 2025?

The other aspect is the much-discussed team culture – something that will be even more important next season than it was this season. The priority will be to ensure Michkov enters a strong locker room. To me, that makes an offseason trade of Scott Laughton, for example, much less likely.

All of which is to say that next season, Michkov’s first, won’t be a playoff-heavy season (or even a playoff-making season). But I wouldn’t discount the Flyers trying to set things up to have a little more flexibility a year from now.

The Flyers are still considering a first-round trade on Friday, but the price to do so is high right now — just like last year, when the Flyers tried and failed to move up to secure Michkov before they were still in a position to take him at No. 7.

There was a rumor that the Flyers and Ottawa Senators had “the framework of a deal” in place before the draft, but a team source strongly refuted that claim, at least as far as the 7th overall pick Ottawa has. The Flyers have had discussions with several teams ahead of them in the draft, including Ottawa, but there has been “no traction” in terms of reaching a deal, according to a team source.

When asked if there was anything imminent between the Flyers and Senators, the source added: “Absolutely not.”

That could always change, of course, especially if there’s a player the Flyers covet who becomes available with the Senators’ current No. 7 pick. Apparently nothing is finalized, but that doesn’t mean people aren’t talking.

Something that will come up, likely sooner or later, is the possibility of new contracts for Cam York and Tyson Foerster, who will be entering the final seasons of their respective deals that would lead them to restricted free agency. They are eligible for extensions on July 1.

This will be a priority at some point for the front office, but a team source also said there is “no rush” to get these deals done, even though both players are considered very valuable pieces. important for the future.

The Flyers recently went through a similar process with Owen Tippett, who finished the 2022-23 season strong, then took another step forward in 2023-24 before signing an eight-year extension in January. There were some early discussions between the two sides last summer, and the deal Tippett ultimately signed wasn’t all that different, cost-wise, from what they discussed during the 2023 offseason.

In other words, it’s probably incorrect to suggest the Flyers are taking a huge risk with York and/or Foerster if they wait to extend them. Maybe their respective prices could increase, but it wouldn’t be dramatic.

Columbus has yet to provide any word on whether it will give the Flyers that second-round pick this year, which would be the 36th overall pick, or wait until next year. The Flyers are assuming, at this point, that they won’t know until the end of the first round on Friday night, as is Columbus’ right.

(Photo by Cal Petersen and Cam Atkinson: Mitchell Leff / Getty Images)

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