The NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) and it’s free-agency rules are quite odd and fickle, so I’m going to try and keep this as simple as possible as I go through the Flyers offseason needs. The Flyers have about $900k to spend right now during the offseason, because teams are allowed to spend 10% over the salary cap during the offseason, but obviously need to be under that when the season begins.
The most important thing to ask is “how do we free up cap space?” The NHL has provided two amnesty buyouts for every team in the NHL either this summer or next summer. By rule, if you buy a player out, you cannot sign that player to another contract right away.
The two most popular buyout options are Danny Briere ($6.5m/y cap hit) and Ilya Bryzgalov ($5.667m/y cap hit). The Flyers will be required to fulfill their financial obligations with the bought out players, as will every team who uses the clause, but they will remove themselves of the salary cap hits. Fortunately, the Flyers have no known issues of actual cash flow, although no team in the NHL is hampered by the Salary Cap like they are. So right there, before free agency begins the Flyers open up $12.167m in cap space.
Another thing to consider is the Flyers will, unless there’s a miracle, place Chris Pronger on Long Term Injured Reserve (LTIR) and save themselves another $4.921m/y in cap space. The downside to this is that they Flyers must wait until they’ve played their first game of the season before any player is moved to LTIR. So the Pronger savings really won’t be available to the team during the offseason.
The first thing we’ll look at are the Flyers Unrestricted Free Agents (UFAs), which means any team as the ability to contact these players and offer them contracts. Alongside their names, I posted their age and will discuss who I would and would not sign if I were in Paul Holmgren’s shoes after the short list.
- Mark Streit – 35
- Simon Gagne – 33
- Ruslan Fedotenko – 37
- Matt Walker – 33
- Jody Shelley – 37
- Brian Boucher – 36
- Kurtis Foster – 31
- Mike Knuble – 40
- Kent Huskins – 34
- Andreas Lilja – 37
- Adam Hall – 32
The Flyers will undoubtedly attempt to sign Streit, as he was just acquired to fill a need on the back end. His rumored asking price is at least $4.0m or so per year, and he reportedly would like 3-5 years. The Flyers brass needs to be very careful not to sign another older player to an expensive long-term contract. I’m comfortable with giving Streit $4m/y for 3 years. Gagne is another player I’d like to see back, as would other Flyer fans, Flyers front office members, and Gagne himself. He came out and said he’d be willing to take a pay cut to remain with the organization this time around. I’d be willing to offer Brian Boucher a limited two-way offer to help the AHL Phantoms in goal, as well as the young players down there. Finally, Adam Hall was emotional in his request to remain with the Flyers organization, and I’d like to see him back. Unfortunately Scott Laughton looks to take over the 4th line duties to start the season, so Hall may not see much ice time next year at all if he chooses to sign.
As for the non-signees; Rusty Fedotenko already signed in the KHL and Matt Walker saw limited NHL action in his three seasons in the organization. Jody Shelley has been replaced by a younger Jay Rosehill and Kurtis Foster was simply not useful this season. Mike Knuble should sign a one-day contract and retire a Flyer during the offseason, as he looked a step behind all season. Kent Huskins was very good in his short stay with the Flyers, before becoming the victim of a dirty hit from Montreal’s Ryan White, though with healthy players returning, Streit possibly signing, and maybe more defensemen coming through, there won’t be room for Huskins unless he wants to play in the AHL. Finally, Andreas Lilja saw minimal action for the Flyers this season, despite numerous injuries to the blueliners, which seems to write his future in stone with the team.
- Mark Streit for 3 years, $4.0m/y
- Simon Gagne for 2 years, $2.225m/y
- Brian Boucher for 1-2 years, $.550k/y
- Adam Hall for 1 year, $.650k/y
We’ll move on to the Flyers’ Restricted Free Agents, who teams cannot sign unless they compensate the Flyers with draft picks, and the Flyers have the opportunity to match offers. Many fans became much more familiar with the process last July when the Flyers tried to sign Nashville RFA, Shea Weber.
- Blake Kessel – 24
- Brandon Manning – 23
- Erik Gustafsson – 24
- Mitch Wahl – 23
- Oliver Lauridsen – 24
- Eric Wellwood – 23
All of the Flyers’ RFAs are young, career AHL/ECHLers which means other teams shouldn’t come swooping in after them. I’d like to see them bring back Brandon Manning, Erik Gustafsson, Oliver Lauridsen, and maybe Eric Wellwood. Wellwood suffered a horrific leg laceration near the end of the AHL season this year, which may hinder, if not ruin his hockey career. Wellwood’s far and away strength is speed, and if he loses that, his value is nullified.
Kessel unfortunately hasn’t been given a great chance to succeed with the Phantoms in the AHL and will likely be let go. Mitch Wahl was a late season trade acquisition who spends time struggling in the AHL and dominating the ECHL. The Flyers may let him walk just to open up a contract spot.
- Brandon Manning for 3 years, $.800k/y
- Erik Gustafsson for 3 years, $1.100m/y
- Oliver Lauridsen for 3 years, $.900k/y
- *Eric Wellwood for 1 year, $.750k/y
Erik Gustafsson continues to prove that he belongs with the Flyers in the NHL.
Before we start the fun, there are a couple trades that should take place involving the Flyers. There’s reportedly been a trade on the table since the trade deadline with Matt Read heading to Los Angeles in return for elite goaltending prospect Jonathan Bernier. Adding Bernier would give the Flyers three young, very good goaltending options going forward, if you include Steve Mason and Anthony Stolarz. Read becomes a free agent next year and will likely command more than the Flyers can afford to spend with Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, and Brayden Schenn also hitting free agency.
Another player who’s expendable if Streit signs is Andrej Meszaros. At this point, Meszaros really cannot be depended upon to aid the Flyers when needed due to his chronic injuries. If a team was willing to trade the Flyers a conditional draft pick, a solid draft pick, or even a roster player in need of a change of scenery, the Flyers should jump all over it, and free themselves of Mez’s $4m/y cap hit.
After all of that, the fun part begins. All those players who hit the open market because their teams chose not to sign them become the center of attention. There are a few names that really interest me, and I will be plugging in prospective lineups every so often so people can see what we’re looking at. With all of the prospective moves discussed above, the Flyers currently have roughly $7.315m in salary to work with (not including Pronger’s LTIR).
Let’s start with the RFAs that the Flyers can target this season, because there aren’t many. The two biggest are St. Louis’ two elite defensemen; Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk. Pietrangelo would likely demand $6-8m/y on the open market from other teams, and may receive several outlandish offers reflecting that. Shattenkirk can probably get $5-6.5m/y on the open market and should also see similar offers. The Blues have said that they will match any offers made on their RFAs (which also include F’s Patrick Berglund and Chris Stewart). Either are pipedreams for the Flyers, mostly because it’s incredibly uncommon that RFAs ever get signed away from their team, but also because they don’t have the money to contend with the other teams who may approach St. Louis. There are other obvious names on the list who won’t get away from their own teams, like Tuukka Rask and Ryan McDonaugh, but there are a couple that I think the Flyers may be able to pry away or work out a trade. If I were Paul Holmgren, I’d absolutely approach the Phoenix Coyotes about David Rundblad (or just offer him a contract, since the Coyotes reportedly don’t have money to pay their players), and offer a contract or a minor trade to the Winnipeg Jets for Blake Wheeler.
Rundblad is a young defenseman with a massive ceiling, but he’s struggled to reach his potential in his short NHL stays. News broke recently that Rundblad is pursuing a contract in the KHL, which makes him a prime candidate to get snatched up by another NHL team. Wheeler is a 26 year old, 6’5” winger who has 30 goal potential. He’s a player who would absolutely replace Danny Briere on the Flyers forward corps, and possibly give Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek an elite young sniping winger to work with.
- Rundblad would likely get around $2 – 3.5m/y
- Wheeler would likely get around $3.5 – 5.5m/y.
Young David Rundblad is still waiting for a chance to make a mark on the NHL. Photo courtesy of the Ottawa Sun
That would immediately give the Flyers easily one of the most young and talented rosters in the NHL. Rundblad would be an expensive 7th defenseman, but would step in next season when Kimmo Timonen probably retires.
- Let’s move onto the UFAs. There isn’t a big collection of superstar names available to the NHL teams this season, but one interesting curveball is the buyouts. We could see names like Vincent Lecavalier, Roberto Luongo, Dany Heatley, and Brad Richards hit the Free Agent market and send GMs scrambling to their phones. But for now, we’ll stick with the players officially on the list. Keep in mind with no RFAs signed, the Flyers have a little over $7m to spend/y
- Jarome Iginla
- Jaromir Jagr
- Brendan Morrow
- Matthew Lombardi
- Chad LaRose
- Viktor Stalberg
Iginla still has the scoring touch of a 30-goal scorer, and because of his leadership will demand the most of all the UFAs, so it’s a long shot that the Flyers land him. I see him getting anywhere between $4.5 – 7m on the open market. He’d be great to put alongside Giroux and great in the locker room, but I don’t see it likely that the Flyers pony up enough to land him.
Jagr did wonders for the Flyers when he was here. He was the glue on the Giroux line, and helped spur Scott Hartnell to a 37-goal season. But he is 41 years old, currently playing in the Stanley Cup (which means he’ll be a bit more tired than others come the new season), and seemed to begin to disintegrate as the season wore on with the Flyers last year. I’d love to have Jagr back at the right price, but I think that price would have to be very low, roughly $2-3m/y…IF he doesn’t retire, which he may if he wins a Cup with Boston.
Brendan Morrow is an interesting case. His playing style is perfect for the Flyers; a big forward who busts his tail every shift, hits, scores, and is a former captain. I don’t know what to expect from teams when it comes to offering Morrow a contract, but I’d offer him around $3m or less for a 1-3 year contract.
Matthew Lombardi and Chad LaRose, I’ll admit are guilty pleasures. They’re two of my favorite players in the league. Lombardi has had some of the worst injury issues in the NHL in the last few seasons, but before that was a premier penalty killer and depth forward for the Calgary Flames. He’s also one of the fastest players in the NHL. If the Flyers offer him a contract for about $1m for a year, I’d love to see what he brings to the table as the Flyers 4th line center. LaRose is a rough and tumble winger who has spent his entire career with the Hurricanes. Coming off a career season in 2011-12, he struggled in this shortened season, and the Hurricanes may walk from their relationship with Chad. His poor season should also lower his salary demands. Despite his size, LaRose tends to lay thunderous checks and isn’t afraid to go into the dirty areas. I can see him as a great 3rd or 4th liner for Peter Laviolette and the Flyers for about $2 – 2.5m/y.
Stalberg is a player who should get away from the Blackhawks this season because of their need to re-sign Bryan Bickell and others in upcoming years. He’s a big, talented winger who really hasn’t broken out yet, someone who could thrive in the Flyers’ offensive system. I can see him getting $2 – 3.5m/y.
I believe the Flyers biggest needs are defense, goaltending, and an elite winger for Claude Giroux. They can fill all of those holes this offseason if lucky and thrifty. But I also think it’s important to sign depth players and allow the Flyers young player to grow and move up the depth chart. I’ll choose Rundblad, Wheeler, and Lombardi to sign this offseason as the Flyers, although if possible they should pursue Pietrangelo and Shattenkirk without mortgaging their future.
My proposed lineup, courtesy of Capgeek.com
Blake Wheeler ($4.000m) / Claude Giroux ($3.750m) / Jakub Voracek ($4.250m)
Scott Hartnell ($4.750m) / Brayden Schenn ($3.110m) / Wayne Simmonds ($3.975m)
Simon Gagne ($2.250m) / Sean Couturier ($1.375m) / Scott Laughton ($1.107m)
Maxime Talbot ($1.750m) / Matthew Lombardi ($1.000m) / Zac Rinaldo ($0.750m)
Mark Streit ($4.000m) / Braydon Coburn ($4.500m)
Kimmo Timonen ($6.000m) / Luke Schenn ($3.600m)
Nicklas Grossmann ($3.500m) / Erik Gustafsson ($1.100m)
David Rundblad ($2.000m) / Chris Pronger ($4.941m)
Jonathan Bernier ($2.000m)
Steve Mason ($1.500m)
(these totals are compiled with the bonus cushion)
SALARY CAP: $64,300,000; CAP PAYROLL: $65,308,095; BONUSES: $2,800,000
CAP SPACE (22-man roster): $1,791,905
Note the Cap hit is over designated salary cap, so for at least the first game of the season, a player like Rundblad will have to be sent to ADK (even if it’s just a “paper move”) until the team can move Pronger’s cap hit to LTIR, and suddenly the Flyers will ice a great, young roster with additional cap space. Acquiring a player like Wheeler could cost us a roster player, a prospect or two, and/or draft picks. It won’t be an easy add, as he’s likely the Jets’ top priority this offseason.