Archive for June, 2011

Blowing Up and Starting Over


New homes for Carter and Richards, far away from one another.

It must have been a dream.

Price check on item numbers 17 and 18, again that’s price check on #17 and #18. Is the “store” crazy to sell the two lynchpins of their franchise at the same time for a seemingly discounted rate? This is the best sale of the century!

In fact it was not a dream at all, it is simply the tale of the Philadelphia Flyers’ moves in 28 hours leading up to the NHL entry draft, told from the perspective of anyone who has not had the proverbial “privilege” of being a flyers fan. Trading away two players that were touted to be the cornerstones of a franchise may seem brash, and in some circles even downright stupid, but the move to part ways with Mike Richards and Jeff Carter will pay dividends this year and for years to come. Two players, two long-term contracts, countless headaches by every fan, and zero Stanley Cups in the trophy case at the Wells Fargo Center with this group seems to have worn down the effervescent Ed Snider to a point of no return. Reasons that forced the chairman to inform GM Paul Holmgren to get rid of the two players he once stated he would take over Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

Maybe it’s not the play of Richards and Carter that can be blamed for the lack of results in this most recent playoff run; however, wearing the C on your sweater automatically pushes you to the front of the line in the pecking order when a finger needs to be pointed, and wearing the A means you aren’t far down that line. The goalie was an easy scapegoat for everyone to place blame on regarding the failures this season, and despite believing that Sergei Bobrovsky will eventually be a solid goaltender in the NHL, the Philadelphia Flyers tried to set the record straight, they aren’t okay with ‘eventually’. In three swift moves on one day the Flyers freed up cap space, freed themselves from two hefty contracts, got younger, acquired a future stud in Brayden Schenn, and locked up the cream of the free agent goalie crop, Ilya Bryzgalov for an exorbitant amount of time, and got better in the process.

Brayden Schenn, a highly touted youngster


If you were previously unsure, the name of the game is winning ‘now’, it always has been for this organization. They’ve just become accustomed to coming up short. Mid-season pick-ups, off-season maneuvers, and the outwardly constant shuffle of coaches have made that abundantly clear. The organization wants to win and were previously willing to do a good amount to try and make that happen. They have now proven that they are willing to do anything. Re-working the top of the line-up to accommodate the signing of Bryzgalov was not a necessity, but has been done with the overall purpose of re-formulating the game plan in an effort to hoist the Cup.

They could have taken the most logical path and traded away Carter, a move that would not have shocked many Flyers fans, in order to make room for the goaltender we so desperately needed. Instead they decided to give the 2011-12 Flyers a new identity, from the top down, by trading Richards along with the aforementioned Carter. Logical? Not exactly. Gutsy? You bet. If it all works out then the empty feeling that some fans had when they heard the news will be forgotten, replaced with joyous praise and multiple hugs, from people who don’t normally give hugs, once they see the big shiny Cup paraded down Broad St.

The idea that the Flyers are now better than they were with Richards and Carter is debatable, and obviously is rather hard to prove given the lack of finality that this roster currently has, or the understanding that they have yet to play a game. That being said, the constant question of “who is leading this team?” is now gone. The laid back attitude that both players seemed to have regarding losses, a trait that was nauseating to a fan base that detested even the idea of losing, is gone.

What is now added is the stress of figuring out a roster that is presently unfinished. There is still a fair amount of cap space, and there are more moves that need to occur to help round out the roster; but isn’t it nice that the Flyers finally have some wiggle room? For a team that is notorious for running their cap up to the ceiling, and sometimes being forced to sign college kids to 24 hour deals, having the ability to pick and choose what to do next is a welcomed change, and could be the remedy that they need.

With a new Captain, most likely Chris Pronger, and a group of young players that will be asked to step into the spotlight, like Claude Giroux and James Van Riemsdyk, this Flyers team has the opportunity to exceed expectations. There are sure to be some growing pains when players are asked to take on strange roles while the team takes on a different identity, but as the team moves forward, having the ability to make necessary moves and round out a roster the right way gives the Flyers a better chance now than before.

That’s the point, right?

It's their team now

Rights to Bryzgalov, Now What?


The Flyers new hope between the pipes?


For the Philadelphia Flyers the offseason started shortly after the handshake line on May 6th, for the fans it may have started directly after the all-star break, when the wheels started to fall off of a bus that was previously headed to the Stanley Cup finals. Ever since February rolled around fans have hemmed and hawed regarding the goalie situation more than any other subject surrounding the team.

The organization as a whole has tried to alleviate some of the blame given to that specific position, trying to deflect towards ideas such as numerous injuries, intermittent spouts of lackluster play without explanation, and an overall loss of control or team accountability. The problem with these ideas is simple; none of them will fly with the fans. Goaltending has been a hot button issue for the Flyers since the 88-89 season, before Hextall’s contract issues started to effect his play, but there is a possibility that a savior is on the horizon, or so everyone hopes.

Yesterday the Flyers traded Matt Clarkson, a 2012 3rd round pick, and a conditional pick for the rights to Ilya Bryzgalov.

What does that exactly mean? The Flyers are now the only team that can negotiate a new contract with Bryzgalov until July 1st, a day where he is set to become the cream of the crop of the 2011 free agent class. Making a move to acquire rights to a player is a risky endeavor given the propensity most players have for testing the open market. At the same time, this is not the first time the Flyers have traded for negotiating rights, most recent of which was the move to negotiate with defenseman Dan Hamhuis last off-season. In that instance, a contract was never agreed upon. In theory, the addition of Bryzgalov makes the Flyers a top-tier contender for the Cup next season, but getting to that point is a lot harder than many fans might think; so before everyone rejoices and thanks the Flyers for finally answering their prayers it is a good idea to wait and see what happens at the negotiating table.

Bryzgalov made $4.5 million dollars last season for the Phoenix Coyotes and is easily the biggest reason the team has been competitive over the last two years. Now, at 31, initial reports are that Mr. Bryzgalov wants a 5-year deal somewhere in the range of 30-32 million dollars. That would average out to make him the 5th highest paid goaltender in the league, and the second, or third, depending on money, highest paid Flyer on the team, next to Danny Briere and Kimmo Timonen. With 78 regular season wins over the last two years the contract amount he seeks is not astronomical, but the Flyers aren’t interested in his regular season stats. They currently have a team that finished second in the standings in the regular season, yet they did not finish where they wanted.

Each year the Flyers have excuses due to their consistency to lose when it matters most, in the playoffs. And each offseason the front office makes a collection of moves that will hopefully help the team, without ever really answering the bell on a stud goaltender, for a few reasons. They don’t grow on trees, and they aren’t necessarily required to win a championship these days. Many fans have been screaming for a “legit, playoff experienced goalie”, while at the same time throwing out two prominent names of Tomas Vokoun and Ilya Bryzgalov. Now fans are staring at the possibility of cheering for the latter choice next season, but is that a good thing?

Recently, with a subpar back-end playing in front of him Mr. Bryzgalov has faltered in the playoffs. In 2010 he lost in a first round series that went 7 games, while sporting a 3.44 GAA, which is passable but not superb. In 2011 he was swept in 4 games, with a GAA clip of 4.36 and a save percentage south of 88%, both of which are not good. The Coyotes were certainly not as talented as the Flyers are up front, but their defense was just proven to be suspect, at best, even after you take away the bad goals allowed by Boucher and Bob. Is it worth over six million dollars a year to get a passable playoff goalie? Is it worth dumping a fair amount of cap space to put him between the pipes for 5 years?

If the answer is a resounding yes, which is a forgone conclusion at this point, then some things need to happen in order for the Flyers to create enough cap space to sign Bryzgalov. Offering money to current unrestricted or restricted free agents is going to be tough. That list includes Nikolai Zherdev, Dan Carcillo, Ville Leino, Darroll Powe, Sean O’Donnell, and Brian Boucher. Acquiring cheap replacements for that crop of players is unlikely, putting many of those positions up for grabs amongst the young farm system guys in training camp. Seeing those players go leaves the Flyers with six empty roster spots and a total salary cap hit of $55.65 million next season, $3.75 under the cap.

Depending on the players involved there will need to be two, or three, big dumps of salary to generate enough cap room, fill the necessary voids, and sign Bryzgalov.

Pay attention to the small fact that Briere, Richards, Hartnell, and Timonen have ‘no trade clauses’ in their contract, making them immovable entities. Taking that into account, the easiest solution is to take a player that can generate some trade interest, usually reserved for a younger player, and has a substantial cap hit; namely, Jeff Carter (sorry ladies), and his $5.75 million dollar contract per year. In conjunction with that the possibilities are abound, and could include trading Kris Versteeg, $3.075 million next year, or Matt Carle, $3.45 million next year. Last but not least, there is still the question of Bobrovsky. It is clear that he is in need of some tutelage, but given his age and his $1.75 million dollar annual cap hit, he could be an extremely inviting proposition for a smaller market team that has the luxury of time without as much pressure.

The idea that the Flyers could finally have a true NHL proven talent at goaltender next season is enticing, but there are far too many variables at this given moment to justify throwing a party or prepping the parade floats. A top-level goalie is nice, but only when you can work it into the framework of the team. We don’t live in the pre-salary cap NHL world any longer, despite our constant wishes. While the goalie is the most important piece to the puzzle, there still are many pieces that have to be accounted for. If signing Bryzgalov leaves us a few pieces short than the same outcome is sure to come along next offseason.

Contract disputes might leave Bryzgalov in the dark