With Options Dwindling, Can Dormant Flyers Compete?

After idly watching the majority of the league sprint out of the gate at the onset of the free agency period, the dormant Flyers appear to be biding their time. What we do know is that a deal or two must be made. Otherwise, Philadelphia will continue to eclipse the NHL’s $69 million salary cap.

But as each day passes without a solution, the list of available free agents subtracts little by little. And while transactions via the trade route are certainly within chance, if not probable, can the Flyers compete with the league’s heavy hitter’s this upcoming season?

In need of freeing up cap space, the dormant Flyers could include a number of players in a trade, including Braydon Coburn and/or Nicklas Grossmann.
In need of freeing up cap space, the dormant Flyers could include a number of players in a trade, including Braydon Coburn and/or Nicklas Grossmann. (Christopher Szagola-USA TODAY Sports)

Subtraction Before Addition

First things first: the Flyers must find a way to trim a little over $3 million from their salary cap to just break even. If GM Ron Hextall holds a fancy for anyone seeking a new home by way of free agency, he’ll assuredly need to cut more than that. But since a trade is virtually inevitable, the first year general manager may seek to find an upgrade by swapping skaters with another organization.

Don’t be fooled by Hextall’s inactivity, however. It’s not like he’s been playing with a ball and paddle, while watching Netflix in his new office. And although there are still multiple burdensome contracts that remain on the Flyers’ shoulders, he was quick to move Scott Hartnell’s long-term, $4.75 million yearly cap hit. Hextall also wrapped up business with Brayden Schenn’s two-year, $5 million bridge contract, while restocking the kitchen cupboard in Lehigh Valley, Philly’s AHL affiliate.

“I’m not going to make a deal for the sake of making a deal,” Hextall said shortly after trading Hartnell. “If something makes sense for us, then we’ll do it. As far as predicting, I have no idea.”

The Flyers haven’t made it a secret that they’re open to moving veteran center Vincent Lecavalier. With Lecavalier’s $4.5 million cap hit for the next four years, they’d prefer it. But after receiving a few low-ball offers for the 34-year-old to date, Hextall may need to turn his attention elsewhere. But where?

For starters, the defense is a blistering area for a facelift. Since losing Chris Pronger to a career-ending injury in 2011, the Flyers have lacked the puck-moving and possessing defenseman that all championship teams have.

“With the modern defenseman, you have to be capable of doing a little bit of everything,” said defenseman, Mark Streit. “It seems like in a lot of games the only way to create offense is that fourth guy who jumps into the play or even rushes the puck because everybody has three guys back. If you’re a good skater and can read the game, it’s a big plus.”

Dormant Flyers Ailing On Blue Line

While many criticize former GM Paul Holmgren for previous contracts handed out, ignoring this glaring flaw cannot be said of the new Flyers president. If signing Mark Streit to a four-year, $21 million contract wasn’t proof, look no further than to the 14-year, $110 million offer sheet Shea Weber signed in 2012. Despite Holmgren’s efforts to stop the bleeding on the blue line, various acquisitions resulted in a band-aid losing its adhesiveness.

Coincidentally, the price the Flyers are paying for the block that needs the most attention is staggering. If the blue line is left as is, even with the addition of depth defenseman, Nick Schultz, the Flyers’ defense accounts for a little over a $30 million cap hit for the 2014-15 season (counting Chris Pronger’s cap hit). If Lecavalier is retained, moving some heavy salaries on the defensive side could serve as killing two birds with one stone.

Braydon Coburn knows what it’s like to have his name in the rumor mill. The 29-year-old defenseman has been coveted by the Edmonton Oilers, dating back to last year’s NHL Entry Draft. And although Coburn is not considered an offensive defenseman, the decline in his point production suggest he’s not the player he was from 2007 to 2009; offensively at least.

When combined with a turnover problem, which seems to always occur at the most inopportune times, Coburn, and his $4.5 million cap hit, looks like the perfect bait for a trade, right?

Not exactly.

“Perhaps the best and easiest way to identify the quality of a defenseman and his value to the team is to look at how often he plays and in which situations he plays. Coburn plays in all situations and he plays more than any Flyer. He is good, even if you got really mad about that turnover he made on December 6 against Columbus or whatever.

“Beyond that, though, we’ll say to these rumors the same as we did last season: How would the Flyers replace Coburn, and what would they get back to make it worth it? Replacing Coburn with somebody who makes less than the $4.5 million against the salary cap that he does would be next to impossible, and Edmonton is interested in him because they don’t have strong defensemen of their own.” — Travis Hughes, Broad Street Hockey

Contractually speaking, Coburn isn’t a killer. With two seasons left on his four-year deal, maybe he’d be more appreciated if he had the luxury of being paired with a Drew Doughty, or even a Duncan Keith. Even though that’s not close to reality, that doesn’t mean he’s useless. It’s hard to say, though, what Coburn’s value would be right now. After a disappointing showing in the playoffs, finding a trade partner worth Hextall’s time could be difficult. Especially since Coburn has a modified no-trade clause.

Since the Flyers are in a desperate mode to shave salary, discrediting a possible trade that features Coburn wouldn’t be wise. But that’s not to say there aren’t other pieces that can be dangled.

Luke Schenn and Nicklas Grossmann both have two seasons left on their respective deals, and could find a fit with certain teams in the league.

“Ideally, the Flyers would be better off dealing the other Schenn, Brayden’s older brother Luke, and/or veteran blueliner Nick Grossmann.

“Luke Schenn is a $3.6 million cap hit for two more seasons and a third-pair defenseman. Grossmann’s cap hit is $3.5 million through 2015-16.” — Randy Miller, nj.com

Ideally? Sure. But both Schenn and Grossmann have modified no-trade clauses, which means if traded, it must be done within a window specified in the contract to a team of the player’s approval.

“In layman’s terms, neither player can be traded to certain teams without their approval. Usually, a player with this kind of clause will be asked to submit a list of teams he’d be willing to go to or not willing to go to if a trade seems imminent.” — CSN Philly

Mark Streit’s 44 point season, Andrew MacDonald’s $30 million contract extension, and Kimmo Timonen’s return for one last season indicates they won’t be moved. This leaves Coburn, Grossmann, and Schenn in play, like it or not.

Dwindling Options

Daniel Winnik is one of a few potential free agency targets for the Flyers.
Daniel Winnik is one of a few potential free agency targets for the Flyers. (Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA Today Sports)

Despite the attention aimed at the defensive side of the roster, the Flyers would like to add another forward or two in a perfect world. Trading Lecavalier would clear the space necessary to shop for a bargain, but we’ve been down this road.

Whether Hextall was interested or not, names like Radim Vrbata, Dany Heatley, and Steve Ott are just a few of the many pieces that have recently been moved off the board of available forwards.

“Ex-Avalanche center Paul Stastny went to St. Louis to get paid $7 million a year for four years. Thomas Vanek, Ryan Miller and Jarome Iginla all got three-year deals for $19.5 million, $18 million and $16 million from Minnesota, Vancouver and Colorado. Buffalo took the nuttiness a little further, signing Matt Moulson to a 5-year, $25 million deal.

“That’s only one day. Don’t be surprised if Hextall has saved his best for later.” — Rob Parent, Daily Times

If Hextall has a master plan rolled up his sleeve, not only is he good at keeping it concealed, but it’ll most definitely come in the fashion of a trade. Depending on the cap space Hextall can free up, there are forwards who have yet to latch on with a team. But this inventory is shrinking.

Dustin Penner, Daniel Winnik, David Booth, and (gulp!) Ville Leino are left wingers who would likely sign a team-friendly agreement on a short-term basis. Besides, who doesn’t love a bargain? Should it not work out, there’s basically nothing lost.

Still, a grim outlook for a team that’s surrounded by others who have souped up their rosters. If the Flyers march into the new season with the same defensive core they walked out of Madison Square Garden with in April, the forward position won’t matter.

For the time being, it’s looking like Lecavalier is staying. But then again, you never know. I hear Evander Kane is looking for a clean breakup with Winnipeg.