Flyers 2018 Free-agent Target: D Ian Cole

Each day until July 1, the day NHL free agency begins, NBC Sports Philadelphia's John Boruk, Tom Dougherty and Jordan Hall will analyze some of the league's impending free agents and project their likelihood of signing with the Flyers.

Over time, general manager Ron Hextall has freed his club from its salary cap dungeon, setting the Flyers up with greater financial flexibility this offseason. The team has $21.7 million in cap space, according to CapFriendly.com.

As the Flyers look to take a step forward in 2018-19, free agency will provide Hextall an avenue to fill specific holes and supplement his mix of veterans and youth. While the team hasn't been major players on the market under Hextall in the past, the GM indicated earlier this month the Flyers could be active this summer.

Hextall said the Flyers wouldn't entertain a seven-year contract on a free agent, but he expressed a desire to add a veteran or two depending on the term.

With that said, let's look at some possible fits and how/if they make sense for the Flyers.

Ian Cole

Age: 29
Position: D
Height: 6-1
Weight: 219
Last team: Blue Jackets/Penguins
2017-18 cap hit: $2.5 million
 
Boruk
Interestingly with Cole, whichever team he signs with in free agency will be his fourth different team in the span of six months - from Pittsburgh to Ottawa before moving over to Columbus at the trade deadline. He never actually played for the Senators though, and he's not the type of player that should be viewed as an NHL journeyman. 

Cole is a hard-nosed, battle-tested left-handed defenseman who blocks shots and plays with a real presence on the blue line.  

After Cole was dealt to the Blue Jackets, Penguins goalie Matt Murray was quoted as saying, "He's such a solid player, and any team is going to be better with him on the team." That happened to be the case as Columbus went on a tear down the final month of the regular season after adding Cole to its defensive core, while the Penguins languished and their penalty kill suffered as a result and Pittsburgh's defense took a step back. 

Whatever the fallout was in Pittsburgh that led to his eventual trade to Ottawa, I don't think it will follow him to his next organization.  

I've spoken to former Penguins assistant coach Rick Tocchet, who speaks very highly of Cole and the attributes and contributions he brought the Penguins during their back-to-back run to Stanley Cup championships. 

Cole won't command a very lucrative contract but there will be some teams that value the blue-collar work ethic, and as a result, he should see a significant bump from the team-friendly $2.1 million cap hit over the past three years. 

Dougherty
If Ian Cole sounds like the prototypical Flyers defenseman, he sure checks off most of the boxes the organization likes in defensemen. Blocks shots. That veteran presence.

Expect a long-term contract.

Jokes aside, Cole brings experience and would be an upgrade over Brandon Manning. (Not hard to do.) But would he significantly upgrade the Flyers' current defense? I don't know about that.

Cole is a reliable veteran defenseman and he would come on a reasonable contract. He would upgrade the penalty kill and bring more experience on the group. On the right deal, he'd be an OK addition. And just that - OK.

I would steer clear of Cole, though, because he is not a clear-cut upgrade over what they have already. But he fits the type of players the Flyers seem to love, so I wouldn't be shocked to see Flyers general manager Hextall test the market with Cole.

Hall
Cole provides that tough, physical brand of hockey. Mix in his shot-blocking mentality and solid puck-moving skills, and there's no real reason to not like Cole.

He's an experienced player that won two Stanley Cups with the Penguins. He has 62 playoff games under his belt and he's also been a plus player the majority of his career.

Because of all of this, I think Cole will see a decent jump in his earnings, a little bit out of the range of what the Flyers are hoping to spend on a defenseman to help on the back end.

More on free agency

• Ron Hextall: Flyers wanted in on John Tavares

• How should the Flyers approach free agency?

• Should Flyers chase Riley Nash as 3rd-line center?

• Flyers want to upgrade top 4 - de Haan the guy?

• Bozak an option for Flyers' ideal 3rd-line center

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