At a time when the NHL’s salary cap landscape has been turned upside down by a global pandemic and the resulting loss of revenue, the Philadelphia Flyers are in pretty good shape. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have bad contracts.
The Flyers are lucky in that their young depth on lower-end deals serve as a counterbalance to the big ones. However, they haven’t re-signed Philippe Myers yet, they need to extend Carter Hart and Travis Sanheim in the next year, and the cap ceiling isn’t likely to budge an inch. Here’s a look at the Flyers’ three worst contracts.
James van Riemsdyk
Well, there’s no competition for the worst deal on the roster. James van Riemsdyk returned to Philadelphia in the summer of 2018 as a free agent, signing a five-year deal worth $7 million per season. In fairness, he was coming off a 36-goal season with the Toronto Maple Leafs, and scored 27 or more three other times during his tenure there. But history and common sense tell us 29-year-old power forwards generally don’t have many good years left before their body starts to betray them.
On that note, the term could have been worse. Over and over again, we’ve seen teams hand out max deals to unrestricted free agents nearing 30. Five years wasn’t totally unreasonable considering van Riemsdyk was arguably the third-best player on the market, behind John Tavares and John Carlson. Seven years would have been disastrous. Having three years left on the deal is bad enough.
He produced 27 goals and 48 points in 66 games in 2018-19 — solid totals, but certainly not worth $7 million. His numbers dipped this past season, with 19 goals and 40 points in 66 contests before the pandemic, and van Riemsdyk ranked fifth and sixth on the team in points, respectively. Those numbers are about what you would expect from a second liner, but he’s making top-line money. On some teams he would probably make the first unit, but that brings us to the other factor at play here.
The Flyers simply don’t need him. Between the emergence of Travis Konecny, the signing of Kevin Hayes and a solid cast of secondary scoring in Scott Laughton, Michael Raffl, Oskar Lindblom, Joel Farabee and company, Philadelphia has enviable forward depth. If they were to trade van Riemsdyk without getting a forward back, they could still trot out Giroux, Lindblom, Laughton, Farabee and Raffl on the left side. That’s pretty solid.
To drive the point home, van Riemsdyk was a healthy scratch four times in this year’s playoffs and managed only two goals in 12 games. The Flyers were without Lindblom for all but the final two games, Raffl missed a few to injury and Farabee was in and out of the lineup.
The Flyers could take that $7 million and make a big splash, perhaps for a top defenceman. However, it’s harder than ever to move money right now and they would likely have to pay a big premium to move him. Then again, if you can turn around and add an impact player who could vault the team into the elite, it could be worth it.
Shayne “Ghost” Gostisbehere came into the NHL like a shooting star. He went below the radar as a third-round pick, but after three years at Union College he joined the Flyers as an exciting prospect. And, he didn’t disappoint. Gostisbehere put up 17 goals and 46 points in 2015-16, standing out as the best rookie defenseman in the league and getting a Calder Trophy nomination in a class that included Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, Artemi Panarin, Dylan Larkin and Max Domi. Had he not spent 14 games in the AHL, his numbers would have been even better.
Gostisbehere took a slight dip as a sophomore with 39 points. That summer, he signed a six-year contract extension worth $4.5 million per season. It seemed like a no-brainer. He had shown he was capable of producing offense like very few young blueliners have done. Compare it to the deal the Maple Leafs gave Nikita Zaitsev a month earlier, after one year in the league, for the same money and one more year, and Ghost’s contract looked pretty good.
It looked like a true bargain in 2017-18, when he set the league on fire in his third season, with 13 goals and 65 points. That put him just three points back of Carlson for the league lead among defenders and 10th in voting for the Norris Trophy. He still wasn’t great in his own end, but it seemed like he would be an elite offensive defenseman on the Flyers’ blue line for years to come.
But then the bottom began to drop out. In the second year of his contract, 2018-19, Gostisbehere’s production dropped significantly, down to 37 points. He was also a minus-20. That’s a stat that generally means very little in individual player evaluation, but he tied with Wayne Simmonds for the worst mark on the team.
But the trouble was only beginning. His 2018-19 season looked fantastic compared with his brutal performance this past season. Ghost was flat right out of the gate, even on offense, where he struggled greatly. Head coach Alain Vigneault eventually resorted to making him a healthy scratch in favour of Robert Hagg. He managed a pitiful 12 points in 42 games before missing about a month with a knee injury before the pause. When the playoffs began months later, Gostisbehere was a healthy scratch for 11 of 16 games. He was simply too much of a defensive liability to be trusted in the postseason.
Trade speculation has been rampant since his game took a downswing. He’s another player who’s become surplus to requirements. Ivan Provorov and Travis Sanheim have taken the left spots on the top two pairings and they aren’t giving them up. With three years left on Shayne’s contract, Philly would likely need to include a sweetener. Perhaps he would rebound with a change of scenery, but at 27, he’s running out of time to turn his career around. When he’s on, he’s electrifying. When he’s not, he’s awful. That was on full display in 2019-20.
Voracek? Hayes? Giroux?
At this point, we’re left with three players who are huge parts of the Flyers’ top six and make huge money. These aren’t throwaway guys who would be moved as a cap dump. Jakub Voracek makes $8.25 million for another four years. He’s still producing pretty good numbers, but at 31, that price tag could hurt in the near future.
Then there’s Claude Giroux, who has two years left on his $8.275 million deal. The captain didn’t have his best stuff in 2019-20, with 53 points in 69 games and then a horrendous playoff showing where he scored one measly goal. At the same time, I refuse to call his contract a bad one. He brings so much more to the team than on-ice performance. And he’s only three years removed from a 102-point season.
This leaves us with the curious case of a guy who had an excellent first season in Philadelphia: Kevin Hayes. It’s hard to get down on a guy who made magic with Konecny all season, with 23 goals in 69 regular season games and 13 postseason points. But the hard truth is he’s on the books for about $7.1 million for another six years. I thought the contract was crazy when it was signed, and his solid first year hasn’t changed that. It’s too much money and term for a player who’s broken the 50-point mark just once. He brings a lot of good to the roster, including a 6-foot-5 frame, but that contract is going to look awful in its final few years.
The Broad Street Bullies have a lot of big contracts, but most of those guys perform at or close to the level they’re paid. It isn’t urgent that they move out one of the guys who doesn’t — but that could change when it comes time to re-up Hart and Sanheim.
Josh Lewis may have grown up in Canada’s smallest province, but his impeccable writing skills and passion for hockey have turned heads on much bigger stages. He pursued his sports writing dreams in Western Canada, either winning or nominated for a slew of awards while covering junior hockey and many other sports. In roughly a decade in the industry, his work has drawn raves from colleagues, coaches and fans.
Josh is excited to join the THW team, covering the Philadelphia Flyers!