Salary Cap Trouble Looming in Philadelphia?

It’s a concept that no NHL team wants to deal with, but that every team is forced to deal with, the salary cap.

If there’s one city where that rings true more than any other, it’s Philadelphia.

Ron Hextall Philadelphia Flyers
(Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Flyers are notorious for spending as much money as they can, even if it means pushing the full limits of the salary cap. In fact, in the 12 years that the cap has existed, I can’t remember a time when the Flyers had more than $5-million to spare.

That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Good teams in the NHL usually push the cap, but what is more important is how those teams manage the cap and get the most bang for their buck. That’s how you maximize production.

That hasn’t been the case in Philadelphia in recent years. Vinny Lecavalier, Ilya Bryzgalov, RJ Umberger, and Andrew MacDonald are just a few names that come to mind when talking about the Flyers’ cap disasters. Those names are no longer on the books and the Flyers got quite lucky in that sense, but what about the future?

Philadelphia has some serious work to do in the salary cap department, and the signings this summer made things a lot harder on them.

Flyers’ Bad Contracts

To say that the Flyers have a mess on their hands would be an understatement.

When the Flyers defense is mentioned in Philadelphia, the reaction is usually overwhelmingly positive, and rightfully so. Travis Sanheim, Samuel Morin, Ivan Provorov, and Shayne Gostisbehere are all young players who will transform the Flyers’ blueline. But that is exactly why the Flyers are going to have a cap problem in the future.

The team’s cap issues are a direct result of two guys on the Flyers’ roster, Andrew MacDonald and Radko Gudas. Their combined cap hit is now $8.35 million which is nearly 12% of the Flyers’ cap space. If those players were top tier defensemen, or at least worthy of the second pairing, that wouldn’t be bad, but neither of them is any better than a third pairing defender.

(Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)
Andrew MacDonald (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The MacDonald contract was a huge shock. The Flyers grossly overpaid for a player who was never stellar at any point in his career. He currently sits as the Flyers’ highest paid defensemen (salary wise) and yet is one of the least effective. The team is essentially stuck with him until the 2019-20 season.

Unfortunately, they are also stuck with Gudas until the 2019-20 season.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about Gudas possibly being a bad fit for the type of team that the Flyers have become. That may be true, but his contract is even more out of whack, and when you break it down the Flyers really had no void at the position, and shouldn’t have signed him to such a large deal.

Gudas was a free agent at the end of last season, and despite cleaning up his act and being an effective physical presence, the Flyers had plenty of defensemen in their system ready to go. But bringing him back wasn’t the real problem, it was the length and cap hit.

The Flyers signed him for four years at a cap hit of $3.35 million. That is very expensive for a guy like Gudas. To put things into perspective, Luke Schenn, who has possession metrics and offensive numbers very close to Gudas, has a cap hit of just $1.25 million. That’s what a defenseman of that stature should be raking in.

Not only do Gudas and MacDonald carry overpaid contracts, but they’re going to hinder the Flyers’ cap flexibility a few years down the line.

Future in Jeopardy?

Things were finally looking up for a Flyers defense that had no identity over the past few years, but those overpaid contracts could put the team in serious jeopardy. As mentioned above, the Flyers have $8.35 million in cap space committed to two guys who are no better than a third pairing, and that’s where they’ll play before long.

As a measure of comparison, the Blackhawks have a little over $2 million committed to their third defensive pairing, and the Penguins have about $3.5 million committed. That’s very reasonable, and it allows those teams to spend money elsewhere.

The Flyers, on the other hand, won’t have the luxury of spending money to fill roster holes and exhibit A is Shayne Gostisbehere.

Believe it or not, this is a contract year for Gostisbehere, as he will be a restricted free agent at the end of this season. Of course, being restricted puts the ball in the Flyers’ court, but there isn’t much room to give him a big contract, one he may deserve if he continues where he left off last season.

Where to Go From Here?

At the conclusion of the 2016-17 season, the Flyers will have around $22 million in cap space. That may seem like a lot, but it really is not an adequate amount of money to fill out the roster. Aside from signing Gositsbehere, they will need to sign at least two defensemen because, as of today, the only current defensemen under contract for 2017-18 will be Provorov, Gudas, MacDonald, and Manning.

They will also need to sign three bottom six forwards to fill the void of Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Chris VandeVelde, and Boyd Gordon, who will all be free agents and may choose to leave.

Most importantly, they will need to sign a starting and backup goalie. They will likely bring back one of either Steve Mason or Michal Neuvirth, but given the talent pool the Flyers have in goal, I highly doubt both of them will be back.

So, after all these other necessary signings, how much cap space will be left for Gostisbehere?

(Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)
(Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Given the contract that Johnny Gaudreau received in Calgary, it’s not unreasonable to think that Ghost’s cap hit will fall somewhere between $4 and $5 million. Luckily, that contract won’t be too hard for the Flyers to fit under the cap. They have their core group of forwards locked up, and one has to think that prospects Samuel Morin and Travis Sanheim will be NHL ready by next season. That should give the Flyers a cheap but viable option on defense for a few years. But what happens when those ‘few years’ are up?

Well, that’s where the real problems creep in.

Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny, Samuel Morin, and Travis Sanheim will all need new contracts the year before Gudas and MacDonald’s $8-plus million is freed up. Aside from the ‘young guys’, Wayne Simmonds will also need a new contract that offseason. That tied-up cash will be a huge roadblock for the Flyers. Assuming all of these guys play well and the Flyers want to keep them, they will have to do some serious financial work to stay under the cap.

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When It’s All Said and Done…

The signings of Gudas and MacDonald will have a significant impact on the Flyers in the long run. The team will most likely be forced to watch a guy like Michael Del Zotto walk this offseason so that they can fit Gostisbehere. That’s a shame considering Del Zotto probably has a leg up on guys like Gudas and MacDonald.

If there is any good news buried in all of this cap drama, it’s that the Flyers will have a short window where they will get top notch talent on the ice for a very low cap hit. That small window might be where the team can put together their strongest chance to contend for a Cup. A Cup run may happen, but one thing is for certain, the Flyers will face some serious decisions soon after.

Before then, they could see $8.5 million in cap space sitting in the press box every night. That is something no one wants to see, but cap problems will be present, and that’s a part of life in the new NHL.