Photo credit: Amy Irvin (38Photography)
Nick Schultz’ extension will be analyzed from all different angles. The angle from which I intend to examine it is a very steep one. I’m going for the bird’s eye view, the one from 30,000 feet up. How does Nick Schultz’ extension fit into the program rebuild over the next few years? Let’s take a look at what next year’s team looks like on paper…
We have 11 forwards under contract (everyone on this year’s team less Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Jason Akeson, Chris Vande Velde and Ryan White), in addition to seven defenders (everyone less Del Zotto (restricted free agent), Colaiacovo, and Timonen) and Steve Mason. With a salary cap expectation of about 73 million dollars, the players listed above only cost 69.429 million. That means we have roughly 3.5 million for two bottom-six forwards, a seventh defender, and a backup goalie. We should be able to get that done, and that’s without having to put Chris Pronger’s 4.91 million dollar cap hit on long-term injured reserve.
Will we be Stanley Cup contenders next year? Of course not. But we should be a wild-card level team, especially if Sam Morin and/or Shayne Gostisbere can break into the Flyers defense and replace either of the struggling Nick Grossmann and/or Andrew MacDonald.
Looking forward, I think 2016-17 is when we really could see the dividends from nurturing home-grown defensive prospects. We only have seven forwards under contract: Giroux, Umberger, Lecavalier, Simmonds, Read, Rinaldo, and Laughton. The only defenders against the cap will be Streit, MacDonald, Pronger, Schultz, and at that point we’re going to count Gostisbere as being on the roster. Including Mason’s salary, we’re at roughly 48.25 million dollars, about 28 million below a projected 75 million dollar cap, with lots of holes to fill.
Let’s start out with the players we’ll need to re-sign. I’m going to be conservative here, giving each player toward the upside of what I think they could potentially get paid. Let’s say Jake Voracek maintains his point-per-game pace; I could actually see him making more than Giroux at 8.5 million. Sean Couturier and Braydon Schenn currently make 4.25 million combined and unless one of them really breaks out offensively, I don’t see them both making more than 8 million in their upcoming deals. Michael Raffl has had a very good year, but still only has 16 points in 42 games; I’d be shocked if he makes more than 2.5 million when he becomes a UFA in the 2016 off-season. To fill in the holes on the blue line, and to show that everyone can fit under the cap, I’m calling up all three of Robert Hagg, Travis Sanheim, and Sam Morin, in addition to 6’6” goalie prospect Anthony Stolarz.
With those signings and call-ups, our roster is shaping up: 11 forwards, eight defenders (including Pronger in the final year of his deal), and two goalies for $71,621,427. That leaves about 3.37 million to sign three bottom-six forwards. There are two options we can use to create more effective cap space. We could send Pronger to LTIR effectively letting us spend an additional 4.91 million over the cap, which could have some negative consequences for our cap situation the following year. Or we could buy out RJ Umberger’s last year on his contract, saving us roughly 2.9 million dollars in cap space – plenty of cash to supplement our young defense. Buying out RJ saves us the 4.6 due on his contract, but would leave us with a 1.6 million dollar cap penalty in 2016-17 and another 1.5 million in 2017-18.
In this scenario, we let Coburn, Luke Schenn and Nick Grossmann walk, but we could figure out ways to scrounge up the cash if we wanted to extend one of the three. The point of this exercise isn’t to pick the players that we will have. It’s showing that we could pay everyone that’s coming due over the next few years with plenty of room to spare. I would be shocked if the Flyers don’t make the playoffs in 2016-17.
The 2017-18 season is the year that the Flyers should re-enter the NHL’s elite. Giroux, Voracek, Simmonds, Raffl, and Read should be in the mid-to-back-end of their primes. Couturier, Braydon Schenn, and Scott Laughton should be entering the middle of their primes. RJ is gone, either totally off the books or we already bought him out and he’s only costing us 1.5 million against the cap this year. Vinny is either in his last year, or we could buy him out at this point for a similar price to the one we’d potentially pay for Umberger’s buyout. The “Big-4” of Hagg, Sanheim, Ghost, and Morin should be in the NHL at this point, with the only other defender on our roster being MacDonald. Laughton and Ghost will both be entering the first year of their second deals; I plugged them in at 5.5 million combined between the two of them – again a conservative estimate for the Flyers standpoint. The total cap hit for all of those players is 51.18 million dollars, leaving us roughly 25.81 million dollars (with an estimated 77 million dollar salary cap for 2017-18) to sign two to four bottom-six forwards, two defenders and two goalies.
Sticking with the conservative theme (aggressive from the player’s perspective), let’s say Mason continues playing at the level he has been since he’s been a Flyer. I think that he’ll cash in for about 7.5 million with Stolarz signing his second deal at 1.8 million. Assuming we bought Umberger out the prior year and have his 1.5 million dollar hit on the books, we’d have 13.61 million to sign four bottom-six forwards and two defenders. If we buy Vinny out at this point, we’d recoup about 2.8 million dollars in space to take us to an astounding 16.51 million in cap space.
I want to point out that I don’t think the Flyers will come close to following this plan. They’ll most likely make two moves within the next two weeks, totally blowing up everything I laid out. The key takeaway is that finally we should have the cap flexibility to sign all of the players we need, and have some spare change in the bank. Whether or not we buy out certain guys or re-sign some pieces of lower importance isn’t the issue. The issue is that, over the past handful of years, we haven’t had any flow of quality NHL prospects on entry-level deals to counter some of the poor deals we’ve made of late. Ron Hextall has spoken about commitment to the long-term from the day he took over as our GM. Hopefully this piece points out that the future is very bright for the Flyers and the salary cap shouldn’t be too much of an issue.