Well this is intriguing. For the second time in less than a week, the Philadelphia Flyers bolstered their blueline via trade. Now, the Orange and Black are starting to look like a scrappy threat in the East, though there is still work to be done.
The Flyers acquired veteran Justin Braun from San Jose in exchange for a second-round draft pick in 2019 and a third-rounder in 2020. This comes on the heels of the earlier swap with Washington that sent Matt Niskanen to Philly for Radko Gudas. With the Andrew MacDonald farce finally ending in waivers, that Flyers ‘D’ corps will look drastically different in 2019-20.
While GM Chuck Fletcher added salary in the Braun and Niskanen deals, he had that cap space as a weapon – Philly still has around $30 million to play with this summer. That will come in handy when courting center Kevin Hayes (technically on the team, but a UFA whose rights were just recently acquired from Winnipeg) and re-signing young restricted free agent defensemen Ivan Provorov and Travis Sanheim. After that, Fletcher will still have plenty of cap room at his disposal.
But let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of the Braun deal, seeing as that is foremost on our minds. With San Jose, Braun played hard minutes against top Western guns like Johnny Gaudreau, Tyler Seguin and Ryan O’Reilly, often on a pairing with Marc-Edouard Vlasic or Brenden Dillon. Some in the advanced stats game assert that Braun fared poorly in those tough minutes, or was propped up by Vlasic, but I’d like to see what he does on another squad first.
In Philadelphia, he would be a real asset with one of the Flyers’ dynamic youngsters, such as Provorov or Shayne Gostisbehere. In this scenario, I’ll assume that Niskanen, himself a responsible vet, would be paired with the other kid.
These new pairings could make a world of difference for the Flyers, who were not a good defensive team this past season. Provorov and Gostisbehere in particular had their ups and downs, which was disappointing given how high-end they looked as fresh-faced NHLers not that long ago. But there is still a ton of potential in both defenders and if Braun and Niskanen can stabilize things, Philly will have a very nice top-four on its hands.
Interestingly enough, Niskanen has already done this once before. When he was signed by Washington, his experience in Pittsburgh was crucial in helping younger Capitals such as John Carlson understand then-assistant coach Todd Reirden’s defensive system. The end result was a Stanley Cup and Carlson becoming a Norris Trophy candidate.
Braun, coming from a San Jose franchise that boasts one of the finest defensive defensemen in a generation with Vlasic, can now be the elder statesman himself.
“Justin has been an important part of our organization since we drafted him in 2007,” said Sharks GM Doug Wilson. “And over that time, we have seen him develop not only as a player on the ice but as a man.”
So why would the Sharks ditch him? Money is an obvious cause. San Jose just sunk a bunch of it into Erik Karlsson and if they want any chance of keeping Joe Pavelski, they’ll need every last cent of cap space. The Sharks also have Timo Meier to re-sign, not to mention Kevin Labanc, Joonas Donskoi, Gustav Nyquist and oh yeah, Joe Thornton. The Seattle expansion draft is also a long-term consideration and it seems that Dillon won out over Braun.
Back to the Flyers: I believe things are looking up. The offense was never a question thanks to Claude Giroux and crew, but the defense needed to get revitalized. This gives them a chance. Goaltending is still a work in progress, even if Carter Hart does indeed look like the Real Deal. The concern right now is how heavy a workload should be given to a 21-year-old kid with just 31 NHL games under his belt…but “60” is the wrong answer. So Fletcher’s not done – but he has already had a nice start to his off-season.
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