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Quick Hits: Atkinson, Alumni, TIFH

June 19, 2024, 1:26 PM ET [212 Comments]
Bill Meltzer
Philadelphia Flyers Blogger •NHL.com • RSSArchiveCONTACT
Quick Hits: June 19, 2024

1) Darren Dreger tweeted yesterday that the Flyers received trade interest in Cam Atkinson from the San Jose Sharks but the veteran forward is not enthusiastic about the possibility. Atkinson has a partial no-trade clause in his contract, in which his agent annually supplies a list of 10 teams to which he cannot be traded. San Jose is one of the teams on Atkinson's list.

It is unclear clear if Dreger is referring to previous interest from San Jose (this has been known behind the scenes for some time) or if San Jose has more recently circled back to the Flyers and Atkinson remains uninterested in the possibility.

My thought on the subject was that perhaps the Flyers could work out something with the Columbus Blue Jackets, not only because Atkinson was (and still is) a very popular player in Columbus but also because a) Atkinson still makes his home in Columbus and, b) entering the final season of his current contract, the rebuilding Blue Jackets are a team for whom Atkinson, on a one-year basis, could provide a veteran presence and still receive power play and penalty kill time. The Blue Jackets, who have $23.78 million of open cap space at present, also could potentially move Atkinson (if he were to bounce back to a reasonable degree) for an asset near the trade deadline.

I was told, however, that Atkinson is unlikely to desire a return to the Blue Jackets. The team, which just fired head coach Pascal Vincent yesterday are just one season and previously axed longtime general manager Jarmo Kekäläinen (Don Waddell is now at the helm) has had a lot of turmoil and turnover in recent years.

The Flyers need to make a decision on Atkinson within 48 hours of the conclusion of the 2024 Stanley Cup Final as to whether to buy out the final season of Atkinson's contract. IF bought out, the Flyers would save $1,758,333 on his $5.875 million cap hit in 2024-25. Atkinson would become an unrestricted free agent immediately. However, the Flyers would take a $1.758 million cap hit worth of dead space in both 2024-25 and 2025-26 (when they'd otherwise be clear of any cap hit).

Atkinson made pretty clear on Exit Day that he's ready to move on from the Flyers, saying that he feels he still has plenty left in the tank "for the right situation". As a UFA, he could find that situation for himself among interested teams. Atkinson turned 35 on June 5.

The Flyers have two other potential options with Atkinson. They could retain him on the NHL roster for the final season of his contract, paying the full cap hit, but possibly moving him in a trade (likely with retention by Philadelphia) by the deadline. Based up his usage after the All-Star break, however -- he was often confined to fourth line duty or scratched -- that would not be putting the player in position to succeed nor would be it be productive use of a roster spot by the Flyers.

Alternatively, at the start of the season (or any point thereafter), the Flyers could waive Atkinson and assign him to the AHL's Lehigh Valley Phantoms. He'd have to ride the buses, but he'd be paid the same $5.275 million in real dollar gross salary and would get a lot of ice time for Ian Laperriere's club while modeling professionalism to young teammates and being a positive presence in the locker room. Basically, he'd be called on to provide a lot of the same things Artem Anisimov brought to Lehigh Valley in 2022-23.

However, and this is a big issue: Sending a veteran of Atkinson's age and stature to the AHL doesn't play well from a player relations standpoint for an organization that is trying to get Philly back on the "desirable destination list" to prospective trade/free agent targets in the relatively near future. Atkinson himself does not feel he's at the end of the line in his pro career. While he'd be professional about whatever decision is made, it would be a huge blow if he's dispatched to the AHL. The wider optics among fellow players would be that the Flyers weren't doing right by him. Those things matter to Flyers general manager Danny Briere, who still very much understands players' mindsets.

Put it this way: If currently bottom end NHL destinations are not what Atkinson has in mind, going down to the AHL for the first time since the early part of the 2012-13 season certainly wouldn't be anything he'd be eager to embrace (although, again, he'd be professional about it and really wouldn't have a choice in the matter).

Flyers president of hockey operations Keith Jones said earlier this month that the organization strongly wants to get rid of carrying dead cap on non-roster players -- at least as much as possible and as soon as possible. However, an exception may be made in terms of a buyout for Atkinson.

One final option that is semi-related to the Columbus idea: The Flyers could retain up to 50 percent of Atkinson's cap hit for 2024-25 and trade him to an interested team within the confines of his partial no-trade clause. That would eliminate any cap hit for 2025-26. However, a trading partner would very likely demand a sweetener beyond cap hit retention. If that sweetener is a late-round (5th to 7th round) Draft pick, the Flyers might do it: say, Atkinson, one-third to one-half retention by the Flyers, and a latter round pick in 2024 or 2025 for future considerations or a late-round pick in 2026.

2) I had a great time last night at the Flyers Alumni pickeball event at Bounce Pickleball in Malvern. It also brought back some memories because I worked nearby for four-plus years. Periodically, I used to go to lunch or after work to McKenzie's on Lancaster Avenue.

I still have yet to play pickleball myself -- i was there last night to take photos and video for the Alumni -- but I plan to play soon. My nephew Matthew enjoys the sport and he's offered to teach me. One of the cool things about the Flyers Alumni's new pickleball program is that all skill and experience levels are equally welcome to play. Last night's event had a wide range of participants ranging from novices to accomplished players and there were instruction groups with pro instructors for every level. The attending Alumni themselves varied widely in previous experience with the fast-growing sport.

However, I'm the type of person who'd prefer to put in some time getting at least familiar with playing a sport before I'd attempt playing it in front of people I know. I could probably get just competent enough at pickleball not to embarrass myself in front of family or friends. In terms of hockey, my brain knows to do and my body says "That's cute.... we're not doing that." I'm a permanent beer league 4th liner. Put a pass in my skates and I'm not kicking it my stick. I'm falling down. Go wide on me defensively and I'll recognize what you're doing, but I can't stop you without grabbing hold. Give me room with the puck on my stick, and I'm still likely to bobble it or fumble away.

That's why I'm a writer, not an athlete. But I was just decent enough at badminton and tennis (if I didn't have to run far or go to the backhand) that I could be just OK as a novice pickballer not to be embarrassed.

By the way, among the Flyers Alumni, Paul Holmgren is the most avid and skilled pickleball player. These are all former pro athletes, of course, so even the ones who'd rarely or never previously played did fine last night.

3) Today in Flyers History: On June 19, 2019, the Flyers signed center Kevin Hayes to a seven-year, $50 million contract after acquiring the pending unrestricted free agent's negotiating rights from the Winnipeg Jets.
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