Report: Airmen preferred to plug multiple holes rather than pursue Gaudreau

It’s the talk of the town right now. South Jersey native Johnny Gaudreau — the top player available when the NHL’s free agent signing window opened Wednesday afternoon — is now a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Of course, Philadelphia Flyers fans shake their heads. It was reported that Gaudreau wanted to come home and play for the Flyers. The team he grew up with. But that never materialized. According to Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher, the club has never even attempted to sign the former Calgary Flames superstar.

“No, we weren’t there (about Gaudreau),” he said during his media availability on Wednesday. “We were there with the players we signed.”

The players they signed are 35-year-old defenseman Justin Braun – whom the Flyers sold to the New York Rangers at the March close – and forward Nic Deslauriers. The 31-year-old Deslauriers has 44 goals and 85 total points in 506 NHL games.

The Flyers, a team desperate for high-end talent, were obviously a good fit for Gaudreau. He’s a highly skilled winger who puts asses in seats. His presence alone would have helped the Flyers compete in the 2022-23 season, which remains the goal for the upcoming season. And of course Philadelphia is his home. He searched be in Philly.

That much was all but confirmed in the latest 32 Thoughts podcast, starring NHL insiders Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek.

“I think that’s what happened — (Gaudreau) wanted to go to Philadelphia,” Friedman said. “Philadelphia was his first choice. I think there’s no doubt about that. As soon as Calgary was done, he wanted to go to Philly.”

So why didn’t the Flyers even try to sign Gaudreau? According to Friedman, the Flyers simply felt they needed to reallocate their resources to other parts of the roster.

“I’ve had people tell me Philly would never be there, and I refused to say it. I was too scared to say that. Because I was just like, ‘This is Philly. And at the end of the day they will do something and be there.’ And they just never were.

“I think a few things happened. I think there were people in Philly who wanted Gaudreau and liked the idea of ​​Gaudreau coming in there and cranking the market and selling tickets and everything, and I think that was discussed. However, there was also a debate about that in Philly – we were 40 points out of the playoffs. Does Johnny Gaudreau alone solve this problem by taking up all of our cap space? This is #1.

“No. 2, I think the Ryan Ellis situation really got them thinking, ‘If we don’t have Ryan Ellis, we need to find defenders.’ And they made a business decision that they had to do other things. I know “That the Flyers fans out there are really unhappy. They don’t agree with the moves. I’m not going to argue that one way or the other. But what I think is that the Flyers felt that other moves were on the blue line , up front, using their resources better than a big run on Johnny Gaudreau. That will judge the future. I think the Flyers feel that John Tortorella can make a difference. The players will have a fresh start under him and they believe “It’s going to be better overall. And I think they’ve just decided that unlike a big free agent, they have to plug a few different holes. And 82 games from now, we’re going to have our answer to that.” .”

Going free, the Flyers had minimal leeway (thanks largely to the two-year, $10 million deal they gave newly acquired defenseman Tony DeAngelo last week) and had yet to sign several key restricted free agents , including Morgan Frost – who signed on Friday afternoon – Owen Tippett, Zack MacEwen and Wade Allison. They’ve created some leeway by buying up the final year of Oskar Lindblom’s contract, but that still wasn’t anywhere near enough to afford a player of Gaudreau’s caliber.

To create more cap space, the Flyers could have made a number of different moves. As many fans opined, the team could have traded James van Riemsdyk, who has one year left on his contract with a $7 million cap. They could have even signed more desirable players like Travis Konecny ​​or Ivan Provorov. But at the end of the day, Fletcher and co. didn’t feel comfortable sacrificing their current fortune to acquire a large slice of Gaudreau.

“In order to move van Riemsdyk, they were asked to premiere in 2023. They got a Florida premiere in 2024. I heard people didn’t want that. They wanted the first one next year,” Friedman said.

Of course, next year’s first-round election is a lottery ticket for generational candidate Connor Bedard.

“I think Philly looked at the whole picture. The Ellis injury or Ellis situation what the market was to trade some of their guys – and they were undervalued because it was a bad year and they knew Philly could be desperate – and what it would cost van Riemsdyk to swap, and she just said, ‘We don’t like this picture.'”

In the end, the Flyers’ “aggressive retool” wasn’t a big retool at all. Instead, the club’s big offseason deals include a trade for DeAngelo (an offense-first defender whose fit in Tortorella’s system is questionable at best), the acquisition of Deslauriers (a fourth-line forward who concedes many penalties). ) and the readmissions from Braun (ideally a bottom defender who may need to play a bigger role in the event of injuries) and Kevin Connauton (a 32-year-old seventh defenseman on an average NHL roster).

The Flyers have been in a difficult position this offseason. Clearing cap space is never an easy task, especially when opposing teams can sense the urgency. But when it came time to review their offseason roadmap, the Flyers finally said goodbye. And with fans growing increasingly despondent, this wasn’t the summer to give them up very public schedule.

It’s halfway through July and the training camp will start soon. For the Flyers, it’s hoped their new head coach will be able to put a fire underfoot for some of their players, as the front office is adamant he will. But without a player with high-end talent – someone like Johnny Gaudreau, for example – being a competitive team will likely be a lot harder than initially anticipated.

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