March begins the annual silly season of signing undrafted players from college and juniors.
The Flyers may not be as active in that market as they’ve been the past two years, but they again began early by signing the wonderfully named goaltender Cal Heeter from Ohio State on Tuesday.
This is the time of the season when you start learning some of next year’s names. And with any look to the future, you can’t help but wonder about some of the players here now.
Here’s a first-blush primer on the decisions that will reshape the Phantoms over the summer:
The restricted free agents
Many of the players who formed the Phantoms’ core the past two seasons will hit restricted free agency at the same time this summer. This is where the toughest decisions have to be made.
The Flyers have to offer these players a qualifying offer, or else they become unrestricted free agents. The Flyers have a right to match any team’s offer while they are restricted.
Over the last few years, the Flyers have retained many, if not all, of their restricted players who played most of the previous season in the AHL. But there hasn’t been a time in recent memory when so many key players all hit the market at the same time.
Harry Zolnierczyk, Ben Holmstrom, Marc-Andre Bourdon, Tom Sestito, Mike Testwuide and Andrew Rowe will be restricted free agents at the end of the season.
It’s pretty clear the organization is high on Zolnierczyk and Bourdon, who’ve spent the most time of that group in the NHL. They also seemed to be making a long-term commitment to Holmstrom, when they made him captain here.
But what will they make of Testwuide and Rowe, who’ve yet to crack the NHL and may have been passed by other prospects? Is their development worth investing another year?
And what will they do with the oft-injured Sestito, who really hasn’t had a chance yet to show what he can do in an extended NHL call-up?
The fate of the unrestricted free agents isn’t as hard to predict, as most of them won’t be back.
Goaltenders Michael Leighton and Johan Backlund are almost certain not to be re-signed. In Backlund’s case, he’s already gone. Leighton will seek an NHL opportunity.
Goaltender Jason Bacashihua is a more interesting case. Depending on what the Flyers decide to do with their goaltending here next season, Bacashihua could be part of the mix as the veteran part of a tandem with either the recently signed Heeter, or prospect Niko Hovinen, who is currently playing in Finland.
The biggest decision to be made in this category is Matt Ford. Re-signing him will certainly be number one on any Adirondack fan’s wish list. But there may be competition for his services.
The AHL pool
It’s much harder to get information on the players signed to standard player contracts, meaning they have no NHL component to their deal. There are no handy resources like capgeek.com to determine the length of these deals.
But for the most part, these contracts generally run one year at a time. So it’s likely that all of the players on minor-league deals with the Phantoms will become free agents.
Those players are: Garrett Roe, Cullen Eddy, Rob Bordson, Garrett Klotz, Denis Hamel, Andy Bohmbach and Brad Phillips.
Roe may have done enough to earn a two-way contract somewhere, if not here, next season. Eddy and Bordson are players the organization likes and it’d be no surprise if they were re-signed.
Hamel is a separate case. His production has declined, but he’s a great influence to have around the team. And you still have to respect his shot, especially on the power play.
There is one scenario, Hamel said this week, where he’d go happily into retirement: if the Phantoms win the Calder Cup this season.
Now there’s one move no one could argue with.
Tim McManus covers the Adirondack Phantoms. He may be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter (@PSPhantoms) and read his daily updates online at the Phantoms Forum blog.