Have the Philadelphia Flyers Backed Themselves Into A Corner?

Claude Giroux will be the Captain for the future of the Philadelphia Flyers.As of July 6th, 2013, the Philadelphia Flyers are the only NHL team that is technically over the $70.9 million salary cap (including the 7.5% of allowable bonuses) based on CapGeek.com. There are five other teams who have total salaries (not including bonuses) over the $64.3 million salary cap with the Flyers being the most over by almost $12 million. The closest team to them is the Penguins who are about $4 million over the cap. This may be hard to believe considering the Flyers exercised their two compliance buy out options on Danny Briere and Ilya Bryzgalov freeing up over $12 million in cap space. However, the Flyers have been very active so far this offseason signing unrestricted free agents Vincent Lecavalier and Ray Emery. Couple that with the trade for and signing of Mark Streit and the nice little raise given to Claude Giroux and it is easy to see how that cap space quickly dissipated. But, a closer look into the cap numbers is what is really unsettling.

What may be a surprise to some fans the Flyers actually use up more cap space on defenseman than they do on their forwards, although you wouldn’t know it from watching their games. However, the Flyers will get just under $5 million of cap relief once the season begins and the Flyers are able to move Chris Pronger to the Long-term Injured Reserve (“LTIR”). The Flyers will need to jump through this hoop for each of the next four seasons as it is pretty clear Pronger’s career is over and the Flyers will just continue the charade of pretending he is considering a comeback until his contract runs out because they do not have any other option.

The highest paid defenseman on the team is Kimmo Timonen. The Flyers overpaid somewhat to convince the 38 year-old to come back for his fifteenth NHL season, but he has been a good soldier for the team over the years and was by far the best defenseman on the team last year despite his skills appearing to diminish somewhat. He has a cap hit of $6 million next year, which will most likely be his last season. The other 35+ year old D-man, Mark Streit signed with the Flyers this offseason resulting in a four year cap hit of $5.25 million per season. It is crucial to the Flyers that Streit stays healthy and performs well over the length of this contract, or this contract will be one that will really hamstring the team in the next few years.

The next two defensemen are ones who used to be well-liked and now appear to be headed out of town. They are Braydon Coburn and Andrej Meszaros. Coburn has three years left on his contract at a cap hit of $4.5 million per year, and Meszaros has one year left at a cap hit at $4 million. Both of these guys missed significant amount of the season with injuries, and both were very ineffective in the games they did play. It is likely the Flyers are shopping Coburn, but it will be hard to find a team with the cap space for a guy that is 3rd or 2nd pair defenseman at best based on his recent play. He is the guy I will have my eyes on this offseason to see if he gets moved, and if he doesn’t get moved, if he can have a bounce back season. Meszaros is likely to remain on the team this season, but unless he improves dramatically and avoids the injuries that have plagued him the last few seasons, this will be his last season in Philly.

Another defenseman with a lot of injury problems recently is Nicklas Grossmann. He has three years left on his contract at a cap hit of $3.5 million per year. Grossmann has been a very solid stay-at-home defenseman  when he’s been healthy, but unfortunately he seems to have caught the concussion virus that has plagued so many hockey players’ careers, as he had at least one reported concussion last but probably had one or two more than that. If he can stay healthy expect him to bring some balance to the Flyers second D pairing, but if he can’t it could be bad news for the Flyers. Braydon Coburn looked absolutely lost last season playing with anyone other than Grossmann, so hopefully Grossmann can come back in form, and can raise Coburn’s level of play knowing he’s got a solid partner playing with him.

Luke Schenn was to the 2012-2013 season that Grossmann was to the 2011-2012 season. He was a very physical defensive defenseman who ate up significant minutes last year playing with Kimmo Timonen. Although being inconsistent at times especially with his puck management skills, he seems to be the only real value the Flyers are getting with any of their defensemen’s contracts. Schenn has three years left on his contract at a $3.6 million cap hit per season seems fair for someone who looks to be a solid second pair defenseman. It was unfortunate last year that he had to spend the majority of games playing on the first pair against the other teams’ top lines and he got exposed at times. If Streit lives up to his contract Peter Laviolette has the option to move Schenn back to the second pair, or leave him playing with Timonen. I do not feel that Schenn is good enough to be a number one guy, but Timonen/Schenn and Streit/Grossmann may be the more attractive pairings to Laviolette based on the way the pairs complement each other’s style of play.

The remaining defensemen are likely to fight for the last couple spots on the roster next year. Marc-Andre Bourdon has one year left on his contract at about $600k cap hit, but he has also struggled with concussions and can’t be expected to do much this year. Bruno Gervais struggled through much of last year spending time on the Flyer’s second D-pair as he is apt to be a depth guy as the 6th or 7th defenseman at his cap hit of $825k. The last guy that can be expected to make the roster should he be signed is restricted free agent Erik Gustafsson. He has played well given the opportunity, and it is likely the Flyers will try to get him resigned.

Those ten players eat up a little over $33 million of the Flyers $68 million salary cap. Remove Pronger’s cap hit and it leaves you at around $29 million for nine players. Compare that to the $31.5 million in cap space used for 13 players. I think few would argue that the team’s strength lies in their depth at forward, and the cap space used for forwards is virtually equal to that of the defenseman despite there being four more forwards under contract. Although, in a season this is likely to change as Claude Giroux’s cap hit will go from $3.75 million this season to $8.25 million the season after that. That will be the Captain’s cap hit through the remainder of his newly signed 8-year contract.

The next two highest paid forwards have large contracts and No-Movement Clauses (“NMC’s”) with their contracts. Scott Hartnell has six years left on his contract with a $4.75 million cap hit per season. The newly signed Vincent Lecavalier has a five year contract with a $4.5 million cap hit per season. Whether or not these players are worth their contracts is very debatable. Both have had successful careers but the length of the contracts as well as the age of the players and recent injury history makes them very risky contracts in the long-term. It is also highly unlikely either guy will be worth the money they are receiving towards the end of the contract. Nevertheless, each will be an integral part of the Flyers success over the next five years they are not likely to disregard their NMC’s.

Wayne Simmonds and Jakub Voracek are young promising forwards who have shown the ability to be very productive. Simmonds has six years left on his contract at a cap hit of $3.975 million per season, and Voracek has three years left at a cap hit of $4.25 million per season. These are contracts most fans wouldn’t argue about as each player appears to have very productive futures ahead of them. Also, Maxime Talbot at three years left at $1.75 million cap hit per season, and Zac Rinaldo at two years left at $750k per season, are role players who are likely to earn their contracts in the future. Adam Hall, one year at $600k and Jay Rosehill, two years at $675k per season, are two other role players with contracts close to league minimum.

The rest of the forwards futures are uncertain with the team, and the lack of cap space is likely to hinder the Flyers in extending this young crop of talented forwards. Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier, and Matt Read all have one year each left on their contracts with Schenn and Couturier being restricted free agents at the end of this season, and Matt Read being an unrestricted free agent. Schenn’s current cap hit is $3.11 million, Couturier’s cap hit is $1.375 million, and Matt Read’s cap hit is $900k. It is safe to say that Read and Couturier are likely to get raises, and Schenn is likely to get a long-term deal with around the same cap hit per season. Based on the current salary cap situation it looks very unlikely the Flyers will be able to sign all three players and they will be lucky if they will be able to sign two out of the three, especially if Couturier improves his offensive numbers this year.

Unlike the previous two seasons, the Flyers have very little cap space used towards their goaltending. The two goalies, Steve Mason and Ray Emery, each are on one year contracts for $1.5 million and $1.65 million, respectively. It is clear the “franchise” goaltending experiment that was the Ilya Bryzgalov free-agent signing did not work, and now the Flyers have reverted back to trying to win with journeymen goaltending, as they attempt to use the salary cap space in other areas.

Flyers General Manager, Paul Holmgren, is going to have his work cut-out for him in the long-term, the short-term, and the very short-term. In the very short-term he needs to find a way to cut a lot of salary before the season to get down to the $64.3 million salary cap. Chris Pronger’s LTIR cap relief will not be available to be shed until after the Flyers already get down to the salary cap. Some of the contracts for the younger players are two-way contracts that are eligible to be sent down to the AHL until the Chris Pronger cap relief is available, however, there is still around $3 million that the Flyers will need to shed before the season starts. The easiest way to get to that number would be by trading Coburn or Meszaros as previously mentioned. However, if there are no trade partners available Holmgren will need to find another way to shed the cap space they need. In the short-term, he will need to decide how much he is willing and able to spend on the young forwards that will be free agents in the next year. Lastly, in the long-term he will need to decide how he plans on surrounding his core who are signed for contracts of four years or more with players who are not only talented but will be small hits to the already constricted salary cap. By signing older players like Streit, Lecavalier and Hartnell to long-term expensive contracts, Holmgren has backed himself into a corner. We just have to hope he can find a way out of this one.

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Kristopher Foulk

Avid Philadelphia professional sports fan residing in the Lehigh Valley. Enjoy playing poker in my spare time.