Philadelphia Flyers Free Agency Preview

General Manager Ron Hextall is going to have his hands full Salary Cap-wise this summer.
General Manager Ron Hextall is going to have his hands full Salary Cap-wise this summer.

Now that the 2014-15 NHL Season has concluded (congratulations Chicago Blackhawks, you have yourselves a dynasty), it is time to look ahead to the offseason and then of course the 2015-16 campaign.  The Flyers are going to have a busy offseason, but not in the way that they usually do.  Thanks to salary cap issues and a lack of marquee free agents, the Flyers will likely be more shrewd and quiet this summer regarding free agency.  In this article, we’ll highlight some free agents the Flyers could target tomorrow and beyond. (NOTE: All figures relating to salary cap are from http://www.generalfanager.com ; a VERY helpful source)

Salary Cap Pertinents:

The NHL Salary Cap for the 2015-16 season is set at $71.4 million, with the floor at $52.8 million.  The Flyers as of June 30, 2015 stand at $64.5 million, which amounts to $6.9 million in cap space.  The Flyers need to re-sign Michael Del Zotto and sign a backup goaltender, and might look to add a depth winger or defenseman.

Important Players’ Salary Information:

Vinny Lecavalier is a popular name for the Flyers to potentially buy out or trade.  Lecavalier makes $4.5 million a year, meaning a buyout would cost around $1.7 million over 6 years.  A buyout would have to be done by 5:00 pm today, meaning it is unlikely at best.  However, it could be seriously argued that the Flyers are better off biting the bullet and buying out Lecavalier.  While it is painful to pay Vinny such a quantity of money not to play for Philly, the Flyers will have to pay him something anyway in a possible trade considering Philadelphia would have to take back some money on their side to make the deal worthwhile.  There is absolutely no fit for Vinny in Philadelphia right now, and they will have to rid themselves of him somehow this summer.  The Flyers will likely have to pay up to $2 million a season in a possible trade, which would count against the cap the same way a buyout would.  The Flyers would also likely have to include a prospect or future asset.  A buyout is a much better option for the Flyers to consider.

R.J. Umberger makes $4.6 million a season as the Flyers’ second highest-paid forward, but could be dealt.  There is no obvious fit for him either, but the fact that he can play left or right wing makes it easier.  Umberger is probably more of a 3rd or 4th line winger than anything, but is still being paid like a top-6 player. Umberger also has more potential to offer to Philadelphia next year than Lecavalier, but could also find himself a victim of circumstances in a salary dump.

Andrew MacDonald is the new Nick Grossmann, a defenseman everyone loves to hate on (and rightfully so!) that is seemingly indispensable.  Unlike Grossmann, who had a decent contract, Andy Mac is untradeable due to his lofty $5 million cap hit over 5 more seasons.  It would be more apt for the Flyers to trade Luke Schenn, Mark Streit, or Nick Schultz, who carry cheaper cap hits (except Streit, but he is a far superior player).   The Flyers need a little more space to sign some pieces, and they will have to move either Lecavalier or Umberger, as well as at least one of the aforementioned defensemen in order to free up up to $6 million more.

As stated before, the Flyers need to re-sign Michael Del Zotto and find a backup goaltender.  These are must-dos, and will subtract cap space.  For Del Zotto, a valuable offensive defenseman with speed to burn, he could command a deal around 3-4 years at $3-4 million per.  Let’s take the middle path and figure on a $3.5 million cap hit.  The backup goaltender will not cost over $1.5 million.

Free Agent Targets:

Now imagine the Flyers free up $2 million with Lecavalier, $3 million with Luke Schenn, and sign Michael Del Zotto for around $3.5 million a year.  This puts the Flyers with $1.5 million more cap space than before (now at $63 million total).  This would allow for $8.4 million in spending room, a solid amount for a Flyers team that also needs to lock up many key pieces by next offseason (Jake Voracek is a pending UFA that would need $6 million a year plus, Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier are pending RFAs, likely requiring $3 million each, and Michael Raffl, Ryan White, and Sam Gagner would all be UFAs as well).  If the Flyers want to re-sign all of those key players, which they likely do, they will need to have a more low-key offseason this year.  Here are some target players and projected salaries if they become Flyers.

4th-Line Grinder: Ryan White

White was very successful in a 34 game trial with the Flyers last year.  He surprisingly scored 6 goals and 12 points while always playing with fire without crossing the line.  Basically, White is a smarter and overall better version of Zac Rinaldo, who was traded to Boston for a 2017 third round pick (highway robbery, Hexy!). If Chris Vandevelde and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare are getting paid $712,500 for extremely similar statlines and similar solid defense, then White’s salary should be around that figure.  Let’s say $750,000 over 1 year.

Depth Defenseman: Jamie McBain/Nate Prosser

With my projection for the 2016 Flyers having no more Luke Schenn and no new additions to the top 6, the Flyers will at least need more depth on the back end.  They have Brandon Manning signed as a left-shooting 7th defenseman, but could use another experienced NHL option that is right-handed.  Radko Gudas and Luke Schenn (who is gone in my projection) are the only right-handed Flyer defenseman, although it should be noted that Mark Streit always plays on the right side even as a lefty.  Therefore, having one more righty could be key.  Jamie McBain and Nate Prosser offer this flexibility.  McBain would likely be accepting of a veteran minimum 2-way deal, whereas Prosser could be more inclined to seek a team that offers more playing time.  Neither of these defensemen are anything close to a game-changer, but are solid depth options.  McBain would be around $750,000 for 1 year, while Prosser could cost up to $1 million for 2 years.

Backup Goalie: Thomas Greiss/Michal Neuvirth/Jhonas Enroth/Karri Ramo/Rob Zepp

The Flyers need a new backup goalie for 2016 with Ray Emery likely gone, and the team will not want to spend over $1.5 million a year at this spot.  Greiss has long been a favorite of mine for his solid play no matter where he goes or what defense is in front of him, and I feel he could be the best bargain on the market this year.  Neuvirth may have more talent than Greiss, but has struggled recently with the Capitals, Sabres, and Islanders.  Nevertheless, Neuvirth has maintained a steady save percentage over this time, meaning that his defense could be to blame for his spotty GAA.  Enroth and Ramo are the most talented goalies here, but each have an unattractive catch.  Enroth is only 5’10” and 166 pounds, while Ramo could pursue a starting job elsewhere for more money.  If all else fails, Rob Zepp could step in as the cheapest option and provide average backup capabilities, but the Flyers need more than that in case Steve Mason gets injured again.  I predict the Flyers will sign Greiss or Neuvirth to a 1-year, $1.25 million contract while grooming Anthony Stolarz to perhaps back up in 2017.  Stolie will likely be the first to be recalled if the Flyers need a goalie in a pinch.

Forward Depth: Blake Comeau/Lee Stempniak/Scottie Upshall

The Flyers could look to find a more appropriate winger for Matt Read and Sean Couturier than R.J. Umberger.  If that’s the case, then these three will be on the Flyers’ wish list.  Comeau is a sneaky-good all-rounder, good for at least 8 goals while playing excellent defense.  Stempniak is a similar player, and old fan favorite Scottie Upshall also fits the role to a T.  Any of these men would be good at their jobs while remaining cost-efficient.  Let’s say 1 year at $1 million or slightly less for any of these guys’ services.

Top-9 Winger: Michael Frolik/Justin Williams/Drew Stafford

Finally, if the Flyers are able to make room in their top 9 by removing R.J. Umberger and Vinny Lecavalier, they could have room for one more forward of a bit higher caliber.  Frolik is only 27, and a 4-time 15 goal scorer, usually as a third liner.  Williams is familiar to Flyers fans and has a penchant for playoff heroics.  If he is willing to take a pay cut, Williams could provide savvy in the dressing room as a winger for Read and Couturier.  Drew Stafford played under Dave Hakstol at North Dakota, and is a proven commodity as a 3rd line winger.  The Flyers would love to acquire any of these three, but may not have the room on the roster for any of them.  If possible though, these players could be good fits in the Orange and Black.

Projection For 2016:

When written before free agency begins, roster projections are usually wrong on many levels.  However, I’m going to take a shot in the dark and try to configure my best 2016 Philadelphia Flyers team while remaining cap-compliant.  Here goes. (Italics indicate new arrivals)

Forwards:

Raffl-Giroux-Voracek

Schenn-Gagner-Simmonds

Comeau-Couturier-Read

VandeVelde-Bellemare-White

(Spare: Umberger)

Defense:

Schultz-Streit

Del Zotto-Gudas

Medvedev-MacDonald

(Spares: Manning, McBain)

Goalie:

Mason-Greiss

Cap Figure:

$66.8 million Cap Hit, $4.6 million Cap Space

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