What has to give in Philly?


The Flyers have decided to make a move amidst a controversial ruling in the Stanley Cup Final. Perhaps the hit by Aaron Rome on Nathan Horton, and the subsequent 8-1 drubbing dealt out by the Bruins will be enough to keep the media focus on Vancouver and Boston. There should be no mistaking though, that something significant is going on in Philadelphia right now. Last night word broke that General Manager Paul Holmgren has acquired the exclusive negotiating rights to Ilya Bryzgalov in exchange for a 3rd round selection in the 2012 entry draft, and a conditional pick to be named later.

This opens up a lot of questions about how the Flyers are going to make this all fit under their cap. They are a team that has limited money to resign the players they already have, and may have to let Ville Leino and Dan Carcillo walk even without bringing in a presumably expensive unrestricted free agent like Bryzgalov. As of right now, it looks like a lot of the speculation and rumors about major players moving out of Philadelphia to make room for a legitimate starting goalie are looking pretty accurate. Given the situation, these are the questions that need to be answered in the coming days, weeks, or maybe even months assuming that Holmgren is comfortable sitting above the cap during the summer:

-How much cap space do the Flyers have to work with?
-How much will it cost to sign Ilya Bryzgalov?
-Who will be on the move to accommodate this signing?

Flyers Cap Situation

As of right now, the Flyers have eaten up approximately 57.8 million of their cap and have 5/6 players to add to make a full roster. Their only key resign is Ville Leino, but he is rumoured to want anywhere between 3 and 4.5 million dollars on an extension. He has made up a third of the best line on the team for the better part of the last 18 months, so it’s fair to say Holmgren wants to retain him.

The Flyers can clear a little bit of space right away by waiving Michael Leighton who eats up a substantial 1.55 million in cap. At that price the Flyers can likely not afford to have him on the roster. They may clear even more space by moving Bobrovsky to the AHL and signing league minimum backup goalie (ie. Brent Johnson in Pittsburgh). Beyond that though, it is clear the Flyers are going to have to move some bodies to retain Leino, and also bring in a veteran number one goalie to replace Leighton.

Making matters even tighter, is the contract status of one James VanRiemsdyk. JVR will see his ELC contract expire next offseason, so any potential moves by Flyers brass will have to take into account the future price of their power-forward left winger. VanRiemsdyk looks like he’s on the verge of breaking out, and could easily earn himself a payday equal to or greater than fellow Flyer Claude Giroux (3.75 million).

The Price of Bryzgalov

Rumors out of Phoenix suggest that Bryzgalov’s asking price could be as high as 7 years, at 7 million, or a 49 million dollar contract:

azc_mclellan Sarah McLellan
by kevin_mcgran
RT @Ian_Zymarakis_ Apparently Bryzgalov wants 7yrs 49mil.

That sounds high, but consider the value that Bryzgalov brought to the Phoenix organization. A fairly lackluster crew of mercenaries and second tier veterans were guided to two consecutive playoff appearances largely by the strong play of Ilya Bryzgalov and the excellent coaching of Dave Tippett. Still, as the old hockey saying goes, ‘You show me a good coach, and I’ll show you a great goalie’. Although the netminding position is often a thankless and highly scrutinized one, it is usually just as important as having a top center or an elite defender – if not more so.
Furthermore, consider the contract that the KHL offered Bryzgalov’s fellow countrymen Evgeni Nabokov just last summer. Nabokov raked in a staggering 24 million on a 4-year deal. The former Sharks netminder was also older than Bryzgalov and more obviously on the decline. Someone in that league would likely be willing to offer up significantly more to bring in a Stanley Cup winning star like Bryzgalov who is still young enough to be highly marketable.
The bottom line here is that if an NHL club wants to acquire the services of Ilya Bryzgalov, they are likely going to have to pay a hefty price. If you add that estimated 7 million dollar cap hit onto the Flyers current payroll, the club is over the cap with several roster spots left to fill. It won’t be easy, and it won’t be cheap.

On The Outside Looking In

Holmgren has put his cards out on the table now. The whole NHL can see that he wants to sign Ilya Bryzgalov. They likely could have guessed as much without the blatant trading of negotiating rights, but this just makes matters even more clear. Unfortunately for the Flyers, it also puts a strain on a lot of potential negotiations. Now anyone dealing with Holmgren knows that their business will result in Bryzgalov being a Flyer. Essentially, this makes Bryzgalov part of the negotiations for other teams. This is not at all favourable for Holmgren, but it is a risk he needed to take with the constantly lackluster goaltending in Philly becoming a major media distraction.

It is likely the Flyers will have to move about 8-10 million in salary if they are to sign Bryzgalov and get Leino under contract once more. Doing this would leave the team approximately 5 million dollars to fill 7 or 8 roster spots, depending on who is moved. So while some followers of this situation have suggested the Flyers will move a horde of perimeter players (ie. Carle, Coburn, Versteeg), it is worth considering that those players would still need to be replaced. The Flyers have one of the thinnest prospect pools in the league thanks to many consecutive blockbuster trades and deadline acquisitions. They simply do not have the depth within their club to accommodate losing substantial NHL depth. This would be a Chicago Blackhawks scenario all over again.

Moreover, if Holmgren tries to push lesser players on other GMs, he will likely get lesser returns. Much like the Blackhawks last year, he is in no position to bargain for major assets. The Hawks had to watch Andrew Ladd turn into a team captain while they were stuck with Ivan Vishnevskiy. They also suffered Dustin Byfuglien transforming into a Norris-calibre defender while they awaited the hoped for arrival of numerous prospects and picks. Draft picks are great – except of course for when they’re not.

So the guy on the outside looking in for the Flyers might well be a blue chip player or a member of the core. We can be fairly certain it won’t be any of the players with movement clauses (Hartnell, Briere, Timonen, Pronger). Why would any of those players want to move away from a perennial Cup contender at this stage in their careers? We can also be fairly sure it won’t be Mike Richards, who is the heart and soul of the forward group and the team captain. Although reports did surface about him being unhappy, he clarified that it is only the media that upsets him. He went on to explain that dealing with those personalities is worth it if it means being a Flyer – spoken like a true captain. Moving Giroux or JVR would free up only minimal cap space, and also eliminate some of the best ‘bang-for-your-buck’ options the team has. That would be a step backwards. They could move Carle and Meszaros out of town. Both are attractive enough to merit decent returns, but with an aging and oft-injured Pronger and Timonen, can the Flyers really afford to decimate their defensive depth? The team was absolutely lost without Pronger this year, and that situation would only get worse if their depth fell apart.

When you really do the math and break down the situation in Flyer-town, two names continue to surface as potential trade candidates. Jeff Carter, the much talked about near-Olympian is certainly one of those candidates. The other is expensive defender Braydon Coburn, who has had his role usurped by Andrej Meszaros. The two of them moved out together would make about 8.5 million in cap space available. That would go a long way towards getting Bryzgalov and Leino inked, while also filling out the rest of the forward group. Carter would also net the team a substantial return regardless of the situation. Generally speaking, you have to pay up for talent at the center ice position no matter the circumstances. Moving Carter may be nothing more than asset management in the end.

If you believe incarcerated bob the two most involved teams on the Carter talks are the Maple Leafs and the Blue Jackets. The lingering rumor is that the Flyers are looking at Gunnarsson (and presumably Methot or Russell in Columbus) as the main piece of a package that would also include draft picks and a prospect. This makes a lot of sense when you assume that Coburn will be the other piece moved out of town. At the end of the day, a pair of moves like these would help restore some depth to a depleted prospect pool, add the top tier goalie the Flyers are desperate for, keep the best line on the team intact, maintain the strong depth of the defensive group, and leave 4 million dollars to fill in 5 roster spots. When push comes to shove, the benefits of moving Carter for a reasonable return are going to outweigh the benefits of finding cap space in an alternative method.