(AP Photo/Ralph Freso)
Ron Hextall put the cherry on the top of a fantastic weekend yesterday when he unloaded both Nicklas Grossmann and the contract of Chris Pronger to the Arizona Coyotes. In return, the Flyers took back 26 year old forward Sam Gagner, and a conditional 3rd/4th round draft pick. Wizardry from Hextall. The deal does make sense for both clubs on some level, but the Flyers come out huge winners here. Some brief thoughts on the trade:
NO MORE GROSSMANN
Heading into the 2015-16 season, the Flyers had 8 defensemen on the NHL roster, not including Michael Del Zotto. One of Ron Hextall’s main goals was eliminating at least one defensive contract, and he was able to do so by sending away arguably the worst defenseman on the roster. At this point, we all know that Grossmann performed extremely poorly by almost every metric out there. Dave Hakstol seems to be partial to mobile defensemen, and Nicklas Grossmann is the exact opposite of mobile. Removing Grossmann and his 3.5 million dollar cap hit will be helpful to the Flyers.
NO MORE PRONGER
After multiple years of having to use LTIR relief just to reach salary cap compliance, the Flyers were finally able to free themselves of Chris Pronger’s 4.9 million dollar cap hit. This part of the deal made sense both ways, as the Coyotes will be able to reach the cap floor in a relatively cost-effective way. They will only need to pay Pronger $575,000 for this season, but they will reap the benefits of his full cap hit. For the Flyers, it will certainly make things easier. They will not need to exceed the salary cap during the offseason before placing Pronger on LTIR on the first day of the season. Both sides get some value out of this part of the deal.
THE SAM GAGNER SITUATION
Coming back to Philadelphia is Sam Gagner, a 25 year old center/right wing who scored 41 points last season with the Coyotes. Gagner will hit the cap for 3.2 million dollars in 2015-16 before reaching UFA status next summer. Shortly after the trade, news broke that the Flyers could potentially buy Gagner out, as Ron Hextall would not commit to having him on the roster next season. Hextall told reporters “We’ll make that decision and other decisions we have to make here. It could be a combination of a few things. I really don’t have an answer for you and I don’t want to speak before I have all the information in front of me”.
Is buying out Gagner the right move? Several things come into play here. Gagner is certainly a limited player, especially on the defensive side of the ice, and he is due 5 million dollars in salary this year.
My opinion on the matter is that there’s very little reason not to hold on to Gagner. He could still serve as a useful third or even second line player for the Flyers, and they will have a difficult time finding a better deal on the UFA market. In fairly sheltered minutes as a Coyote last season, Gagner did score 1.41 even strength points per 60 minutes. That is more than Brayden Schenn (1.39) and very close to both Wayne Simmonds (1.44) and Michael Raffl (1.42). His most common linemates (forwards) were Martin Erat, Tobias Reider, Shane Doan, Lauri Korpikoski and Martin Hanzal. Nothing spectacular there.
It will be very difficult to find a more useful player for that amount of money and term on the UFA market. Basically any player on that list who outscored Gagner at 5v5 last season is going to cost more and also ask for a longer contract that just one year. If the Flyers keep Gagner and he disappoints, they simply wave goodbye next summer and gain some cap flexibility. If they hit the UFA market looking for a slight upgrade, they jeopardize the long term cap flexibility that Ron Hextall has worked fairly hard to attain. With several huge extensions coming next summer, staying as flexible as possible should be a top priority.
It’s certainly possible that Ron Hextall has something bigger up his sleeve, but without any other major moves, the Flyers would be wise to hold onto Gagner for this season and see what happens.