In a galaxy far, far away, or perhaps just a different city with a different franchise that isn't as snakebitten as this one, Mikhail Grabovski's stick doesn't hit Chris Pronger in the eye on October 24th, 2011. Maybe Pronger is wearing a visor. Maybe Grabovski doesn't follow all the way through. But Flyers fans will always wonder what might have happened to the team if Pronger's career hadn't tragically been cut short.
First of all, the team doesn't trade for both Nicklas Grossmann and Pavel Kubina at the trade deadline. Maybe one, definitely not both. Since the Grossmann deal came first, let's say they still make that trade. So while they gave up LA's 2012 2nd rounder and a 2013 3rd rounder to Dallas, they held onto their own 2012 2nd rounder and a 2013 4th rounder.
Let's keep things simple and say the playoffs turn out exactly the same way with Prongs patrolling the D-zone: Beat the Penguins in 6 games and lose to the Devils in 5. By the way, Pronger in that Penguins series would have been absolutely hilarious. Epic trolling, fantastic sound bytes, and physical play. Moving on.
So now the offseason has arrived. The Flyers, at this point, have the following roster when everyone is healthy (2012-2013 cap hits in parentheses):
Hartnell ($4.25M)-Giroux ($3.75M)-Jagr (n/a-UFA)
van Riemsdyk ($4.25M)-Briere ($6.5M)-Simmonds ($1.75M)
Read ($0.9M)-Schenn ($3.11M)-Voracek (n/a-RFA)
Talbot ($1.75M)-Couturier ($1.375M)-Wellwood ($0.580M)
[Sestito (n/a-RFA), Rinaldo ($0.544444M)]
Pronger ($4.921429M)-Carle (n/a-UFA)
Timonen ($6.333333M)-Coburn ($4.5M)
Grossmann ($3.5M)-Meszaros ($4M)
Bryzgalov (5.666667M)-Bobrovsky ($1.75M)
Out of that group, the only unrestricted free agents are Jagr and Carle. Voracek and Sestito are restricted free agents. Now, the Flyers traded Bobrovsky for a 2nd round pick and 2 4th rounders (discussed ad nauseum in recent days), which was a smart move: they got valuable assets for their relatively high-priced backup goalie. But another pre-draft trade was the biggest one: Luke Schenn for JVR. Look at that defense again. There is no need for Homer to trade JVR for Schenn because Pronger is still in the lineup. Now, maybe JVR gets traded in another deal, but that group of defensemen is fine as it is. So, let's say that with Pronger here, JVR stays, and Bob is traded. The Flyers now have a 1st, three 2nds, a 3rd, and 2 4ths in the 2012 NHL draft, to go along with their 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th in 2013. Would they have used that abundance of 2nd round picks to try and move up or back into the 1st round to grab an elite prospect? Maybe. You never know what Paul Holmgren is up to. Maybe they could have moved Meszaros and his $4M cap hit to Columbus along with their bevy of picks for Rick Nash. Or maybe Anaheim would have been enticed by all these picks to move Bobby Ryan. Perhaps they move up in the draft and grab someone like Mathew Dumba, Jacob Trouba or Mikhail Grigorienko. Even if they keep the picks where they are, they could have taken Laughton, Stolarz, and Gostisbehere where they were and also added a couple other prospects-Dalton Thrower looks pretty good with one of those other 2nd-round picks.
After the draft, though, the Flyers enter unrestricted free agency with 18 of their 23 projected roster slots filled at a total of $58.418373M against the cap. Subtracted from the 2012-2013 salary of $70.2M, and the Flyers would have entered free agency with a little over $11.78M of salary cap space.
Let's look at the construction of the Flyers' roster at this point. They're in need of a backup goalie in the wake of the Bob trade, and they're facing the loss of two key players from the previous year's team: Matt Carle and Jaromir Jagr. We know that Carle eventually received a 6-year, $30M contract from the Tampa Bay Lightning and Jagr got a 1-year, $4.5M deal from the Dallas Stars. The Flyers would have been able to re-sign both of them at those salary numbers (and who knows if they would have taken a little bit of a hometown discount) and still been left with $2.28M in cap space to find a backup goalie and fill out the rest of the roster. Do-able. In fact, let's add Michael Leighton and his $0.9M cap hit to the team's salary picture right now, since he signed immediately after free agency started. 19 players, $10.88M in cap space. Can't forget about Jody Shelley, though. Hasn't been injured left. $1.1M. 20 guys, $9.75M in cap space. However, this still leaves Jakub Voracek as an unsigned RFA.
What would the Flyers have done here? If you remember, they were pursuing winger Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter hard while keeping Jaromir Jagr and Matt Carle on hold as the backup plans for each player. If you remember correctly, the Flyers offered Zach Parise an absurd amount of money. $110M over 13 years. One-hundred and ten million dollars over the course of thirteen years. Cap hit of $8.46M. But how close did he come to taking that? We'll never know. What we do know is that he went to Minnesota with Ryan Suter for $98M over that same time period. If he had taken the money, it would have left the Flyers with just $1.29M in cap space-not nearly enough to sign Voracek to an extension. Would they have traded him? Probably not. They likely would have moved Andrej Meszaros and his $4M cap hit for a 2013 draft pick to be able to fit in Voracek and a depth defenseman like Bruno Gervais. If we add in the deals Voracek and Gervais eventually sign while letting Carle and Jagr walk, the Flyers enter the 2012-2013 season with $215,000 in cap space and the following roster:
How does it look? Basically, they subtracted Jagr, Carle, Meszaros, and Bobrovsky from the 2011-2012 team and added Parise, Gervais, and Leighton. An upgrade on offense for sure, with Parise being more versatile and better defensively than Jagr. There are downgrades, however, on the back end (after all, we've all bemoaned losing Carle and Meszaros is solid when healthy), and the Gervais-Gustafsson pairing would be (and has been) a liability for a team who considers themselves to be a Cup contender. Leighton is also obviously a downgrade from Bobrovsky between the pipes. This scenario would have blocked Jakub Voracek's development for a long time, as he would have been stuck behind Parise for the foreseeable future. Obviously that defense is an upgrade from what we have this year simply because of Pronger's presence, but no one was disputing that.
Let's say, however, that Parise does decide to go to Minnesota in this alternate universe like he did in real life. What would the Flyers' situation be? They'd re-sign Voracek, sure, and plug him in on the top line. But I still don't think they bring back Jagr. $4.5M was, and still is a lot of money for Jagr's services. I do, however, think that they would have re-upped with Carle. Maybe he gives them a little bit of a hometown discount. After all, Dustin Leed of TheHockeyGuys reported that Carle had agreed in principle on a deal with the Flyers before free agency began. In this alternate timeline, as a healthy Chris Pronger's partner the Flyers would love to hang on to him. Let's say he gets 3+ years at $4.5M a year. Added into Voracek's $4.25M a year, that leaves the Flyers with $1M in cap space and the following roster:
Thoughts on this edition of the Flyers? It's personally my favorite of the three. But then again, that's with the benefit of hindsight. JVR is flourishing in Toronto and Jakub Voracek is doing the same thing here. Without the knowledge of that beforehand, I would have been a little worried about Voracek on the top line and JVR's injury/production struggles the past few seasons. But looking at that lineup with what we know now, halfway through our lockout-shortened season, it looks like a very, very legitimate Cup contender to me-assuming the Bryz/Leighton tandem doesn't poo the bed completely. The defense is 6-deep with talented, players, all of whom are at least #5-caliber and up, with a high-end #1 in Pronger and 4 #2-3 defensemen in Carle, Timonen, Coburn, and Grossmann. There's even a nice balance: two smaller puck-movers and two bigger shutdown guys. Whether the salary commitments they've made allow them to lock up Wayne Simmonds and Scott Hartnell long-term remains to be seen.
Just for fun, here's what the Flyers' lineup would have looked like if they had retained Jagr and let Carle walk:
Again, very solid, but a little weaker on defense and Voracek's breakout season is likely hindered a bit. Coots is also buried on the 4th line.
Obviously this is all irrelevant because Mikhail Grabovski's stick did hit Chris Pronger in the eye and his career is effectively over. But it's still interesting to try to make an educated guess at what the Flyers team would look like with Chris Pronger in the fold, since it's impossible to know how they would have fared on-ice.
We don't know whether they would have made the Grossmann trade, but it seems pretty clear that they would not have made the Schenn-JVR swap and the Kubina trade. They wouldn't have aggressively pursued Ryan Suter or offer-sheeted Shea Weber. And it's entirely likely that they would have shied away from making a huge commitment to Zach Parise as well. to If we take the seasons JVR and Voracek have had in their respective homes so far and apply them to this Flyers team, that offense is potent. Especially in the scenario in which we re-sign Carle but let Jagr go (the most likely outcome in my opinion), that team is good top-to-bottom. A 3rd line of Read-Couturier-Schenn gets me all hot and bothered, while the JVR-Briere-Simmonds line would probably be a bundle of fun. And the compliance buyout in the 2013 offseason would have allowed the Flyers to buy Briere out, slide Schenn onto the 2nd line, and given them cap space to sign Hartnell and Simmonds to extensions.
Things would clearly be better with Pronger. But we already knew that. How that "better" would look is the interesting part of the debate, and it's what I tried to accomplish here. Hope you enjoyed.
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