Flyers’ fans can’t criticize the team for not being aggressive this off-season. The Flyers reportedly had $100 million offers on the table for free agent forward Zach Parise and free agent defenseman Ryan Suter on July 1st. Then, the Paul Holmgren signed restricted free agent defenseman Shea Weber to a colossal 14-year, $110 million contract two weeks ago.
If nothing else, the Flyers kept Parise, Suter (both of whom infamously signed with the Minnesota Wild on July 4th as American media were hoping to spend the holiday around their barbeques but instead were glued to their iPhones, Kindles, and other electronic devices), and Weber from conference and division rivals. Alas, the Weber offer sheet seemingly prevented the Flyers from making a last ditch effort at Columbus’ Rick Nash, who will now skate on Broadway.
The Flyers have been perennial big spenders, even in the cap age. According to capgeek.com, the Flyers have approximately $3.556 million in cap space, below the temporary, offseason cap of $70.2 million. Teams can exceed the cap by 10% prior to the start of regular season, and the Flyers will have a cushion, if captain Chris Pronger is unable to play (long term injured reserve status for his $4.921 million cap hit). On the flip side though, the Flyers need to exercise caution in that there will likely be roll backs in salaries and the cap with the new collective bargaining agreement.
Jaromir Jagr seemingly got impatient and signed with the Dallas Stars before the Flyers could make a formal offer. Matt Carle, who may have had a verbal agreement with the Flyers prior to the Calgary’s coup of manual market inflation with defenseman Dennis Wideman ($5.25 million average annual value), bolted to Tampa Bay for $5.5 million per year. As a result, the Flyers currently lack a scoring right winger on their top line another (Kimmo Timonen) offensively-gifted, puck moving defenseman amongst their top four. Defensively, the Flyers may have one of the strongest blue lines in the NHL. Andrej Meszaros, who underwent back surgery last season, may provide the needed spark offensively. In addition, the Flyers signed Bruno Gervais, who has struggled at times in the defensive zone, earlier this offseason. If the right-handed Gervais can provide adequate defense, he should be given every opportunity to show his abilities on the power play and offensive situations at even strength. Barring a trade of a defenseman to free up additional cap space, I believe it is unlikely that the Flyers will sign another free agent defenseman.
The thin free agent market currently features a few forwards of interest. Here is a list of players who are or should be on the Flyers’ list.
- Shane Doan– The Flyers reportedly have an offer on the table for Doan, as do about six other clubs. The veteran has been fiercely loyal to the Phoenix Coyotes, the only NHL franchise that he has called home during his 16-year NHL career. Doan, who will turn 36 on October 10th, has tallied at least 18 goals every season since the 1999-2000 campaign and reached the 30 goal plateau twice (2005-2006 and 2008-2009). At 228 pounds, he is a force in front of the net, and he would provide the Flyers with much needed size, particularly on the power play. Teammates and rivals have lauded Doan’s leadership abilities, which would help the young Flyers, particularly with the loss of Jaromir Jagr. If Doan does decide to cut ties with the Coyotes, the Vancouver Canucks and New York Rangers will provide stiff competition for Doan’s services, which may cost $30 million over four years, per TSN.
- Kristian Huselius. If the Flyers lose out on Doan, they could probably get the injury-prone Huselius for a song. The 33-nyear old Swede missed all but two games last season with a serious back injury. Huselius began his NHL career with back-to-back 20 goal campaigns with the Florida Panthers from 2001-2003. Following two disappointing years for Florida (15 goals in 100 games), he managed 15 goals in 54 games for Calgary the following season. He set a career high in goals with 34 in 2006-2007 and scored at least 21 for the next three seasons. Following two injury-plagued seasons, Huselius claims he is healthy again and looking to prove himself. Do the Flyers take a shot at another reclamation project? Given his injury history, Huselius may need to earn a spot as a non-roster camp invitee.
- Petr Sykora. Could a longtime foe (two stints with New Jersey, one stint each with Rangers and Penguins) become a comrade? The Devils took a chance on a reclamation project with Sykora last season, and he took advantage of the opportunity with a 21 goal output. In his previous three, full seasons, Sykora tallied 25, 28, and 22 goals. At age 35, his best years are probably behind him, but he has proven that he can still put the puck in the net. He will probably command more than Huselius, but given that he is still available in August, the Flyers will not have to break the bank for him.
Given that goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov holds a no movement clause and has eightyears left on a $51 million contract, the Flyers need to remain in “win now” mode, particularly following the Rangers’ acquisition of Rick Nash. I do not believe that the Flyers should gut their youth, but they do need to be aggressive in building a championship-caliber team. Moreover, given that so many players posted career offensive years last season, and that there are so many youngsters on the team, the Flyers cannot rest on their laurels. If the Flyers are unable to sign Doan and feel uncomfortable with the risks of Huselius and Sykora, then they need to make a serious play in the trade market. Regression is more likely than continued success across the board offensively, given how the Flyers are currently constructed. That is why a veteran, scoring winger needs to be the current priority.