With the Flyers dead in the water for a couple weeks now, the upcoming draft and free agency period have gotten a lot of recent focus from the Flyers’ fanbase. I wanted to take a look at how the Flyers’ salary picture and roster construction looks for next season as of the end of this year.
Forwards: 13 (Giroux, Umberger, Lecavalier, Voracek, Simmonds, Read, Schenn, Couturier, Raffl, Rinaldo, Bellemare, Laughton, Cousins), $37.813M
The Flyers already have a full group of forwards locked up for next season even with Chris Vandevelde and Ryan White set to hit unrestricted free agency and players like Jason Akeson, Taylor Leier, and Petr Straka available and playing in the AHL. The Flyers’ group of forwards is actually filled with very good contracts for the most part, but the disastrous deals for Umberger and Lecavalier severely hinder the Flyers’ flexibility both with regards to salary allocation and on-ice forward slots. Put it this way: as the Flyers’ 2nd and 3rd-highest paid forwards (respectively), Umberger and Lecavalier have combined to make $9.1M (or a whopping 13% of the salary cap) to produce a grand total of 16 goals and 33 points in 118 games. At this point, you don’t need me to tell you that the two of them are possession anchors who drag everyone else on the ice down with them each time they play. The Flyers need to try to find a way out of both of these contracts as soon as possible.
Defensemen: 7 (Streit, MacDonald, Pronger, Schenn, Grossmann, Schultz, Gudas), $25.91M
The Flyers will most assuredly put Chris Pronger’s 4.91M cap hit on LTIR as we approach the start date of the 2015 season, but even without his cap hit factored in the Flyers have $21M committed to a full starting slate of 6 defensemen for next season. Those 6 defensemen do not include Michael Del Zotto (RFA) and Carlo Colaiacovo (UFA), both of whom were indisputably among the Flyers’ best 6 defensemen this season. MacDonald’s deal is untradeable, but the Flyers need to explore every possible avenue of moving Nicklas Grossmann this summer. His contract is finally entering its last year, so hopefully the Flyers can find a taker for him in exchange for a mid-round pick at the draft this summer. Moving Grossmann would greatly help the Flyers both on and off the ice, as they could open up a regular lineup spot for Michael Del Zotto (assuming he is retained as a restricted free agent), and freeing up that $3.5M in space could be used for MDZ’s new deal and save some money in the process.
Goalies: 1 (Mason), $4.1M
Not much to add here. Ray Emery is a UFA and will likely be moving on this offseason, while Mason has had an excellent season despite shoddy play in front of him, questionable usage, and a bevy of injuries that have gone hand-in-hand with said questionable handling.
With the NHL salary cap projected at roughly $71M for the upcoming season, we can look at the full salary cap picture for the Flyers and see that they have 21 players under contract for next season as of now at $67.823M. That gives the Flyers a little less than $3.2M to add a backup goalie and depth defenseman. If we factor Pronger’s LTIR into account now, that leaves the Flyers with 20 players under contract at $62.91M, giving them a little more than $8M to add a backup goalie and depth defenseman.
As you can see, the Flyers may actually have a bit of room to play with under the cap this summer. The problem with that, of course, is that they don’t have anywhere to slot new signings without making some important trades. The blueline is crowded with bottom-4 defenseman with both salary and tenure left on their contracts, and the forward group has a couple really ugly deals that need to be addressed.
There aren’t really any easy answers to some of these tough questions. There’s no way for the Flyers to fix Lecavalier/Umberger/MacDonald taking up roughly 20% of the team’s salary cap. Those contracts are all untradeable and all have at least 2 years left on them before their expiration. The Flyers can try to move Grossmann for cheap and re-sign Del Zotto, but a top-6 of Streit, MacDonald, Del Zotto, Schenn, Schultz, and Gudas is not going to strike fear into the hearts of any opponents.
As of now, the 2015 Flyers would look a lot like the current edition:
And it’s been made abundantly clear to us that this edition of the Flyers cannot legitimately compete for a playoff spot. There are definitely players in free agency who could help the Flyers–on defense, Mike Green, Andrej Sekera, Christian Ehrhoff, and Francois Beauchemin are all solid top-4 guys, while forwards like Martin St. Louis, Justin Williams, and Michael Frolik are some of the more intriguing names in a solid but unspectacular group of free agent forwards. However, the Flyers don’t need to be committing more long-term money to veterans with the bad contracts already on the roster and Voracek and Raffl becoming UFAs and BSchenn/Couturier becoming RFAs after the 2015-2016 season.
The Flyers have an incredible competitive advantage right now when it comes to their forwards. They have 8 undisputed top-9 forwards (Giroux, Voracek, Simmonds, Schenn, Couturier, Read, Raffl, Laughton) locked up for a combined $26.1M. That’s incredible! To put it in perspective, that’s less than the Penguins pay Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Patric Hornqvist, and Chris Kunitz. And yet, they’ve squandered that competitive advantage by dishing out bad contracts left and right the past couple years. And that competitive advantage, unfortunately, will expire to a certain extent after this season when Voracek and Raffl receive massive raises and BSchenn and Couturier see solid salary bumps as RFAs. That’s why the best course of action for this season might be to try to avoid adding more long-term salary commitments, clear out as many of the bad/unnecessary contracts on the roster as possible to create space for new deals after the season, and clear out roster space for rising prospects at both forward and defense coming through the system. By the 2016-2017 season, it’s more than likely that at least 2 of Sam Morin, Robert Hagg, Shayne Gostisbehere, and Travis Sanheim will be ready to play in the NHL, and the Flyers need to plan accordingly.
The main idea of this article is something no one needs to be explicitly told: Ron Hextall needs to focus on clearing out bad contracts off of the Flyers’ salary cap. But it’s still important to look at where exactly the Flyers stand this offseason and what they’ll be able to do or not do this summer with regards to both salary cap space and roster slot flexibility. Neither, unfortunately, looks all that great as of right now.