In Paul We Trust?
Paul Holmgren and the Philadelphia Flyers are having quite a free agency so far. As their first order of business, they landed the best and safest option on the goalie market in Ray Emery, nailing him down at an extremely affordable price tag of just $1.65 million. It's a one-year deal, too, so any of the risk assumed with the contract is very limited. No long-term commitment here.
The Flyers are paying both Emery and Steve Mason pennies compared to what they spent on Ilya Bryzgalov the past two years, and the return they'll get from that tandem will almost certainly be better than what they saw from Bryzgalov the last two seasons.
The Vincent Lecavalier signing looks brilliant, too, given some of the other insane contracts being handed out around the league today. For example, the Devils will pay Ryane Clowe more than Lecavalier over the next five seasons. Hell, even the overpayment for Mark Streit doesn't look nearly as bad as it did a few days or weeks ago.
Holmgren's having a nice summer thus far, but it's not over quite yet.
At present, here's what the team looks like up front:
That's a really sexy looking group of forwards regardless of how Peter Laviolette ultimately decides to shuffle his lines. Vincent Lecavalier on the top line? Brayden Schenn back to center and Vinny on the wing? The top nine is phenomenal and the fourth line even looks great. Jay Rosehill is your extra guy, and there's that one hole to fill on the wing.
When it comes to that hole, there are a ton of options.
Internally, Scott Laughton could make the jump to the pros and play in that spot. He's responsible defensively, but I don't know what his experience is like on the wing. Worst case, Laughton plays his final year of junior hockey. No need to rush him because the Flyers don't necessarily need him.
Tye McGinn or Jason Akeson could play that spot on the wing, too. McGinn would be the best option -- I'd rather see Akeson get some extra time as a top-line forward in the AHL -- since he's responsible defensively, playing on a third line. Any of these options would likely work, though, and they don't cost the Flyers anything. All three guys are inexpensive against the salary cap, which we'll get to in a second.
There are a few external options, too. Simon Gagne is probably the most obvious one, especially since he seems keen on taking a pay cut to stay in Philly. It was rumored on Friday that the Flyers were in agreement on dollars but couldn't nail down a deal.
"It's probably too soon to say," Holmgren said when asked about the possibility of Gagne returning. "We don't have a lot of cap space right now. So it's pretty difficult to say right now."
Gagne's a perfect two-way winger to play on that third line, as Kurt wrote in detail earlier in the week. I can see him, Matt Read and Sean Couturier having a lot of success on both sides of the puck, and again, the Flyers can likely pick up Gagne for under $2 million at this point.
But if Gagne doesn't work out, McGinn or Akeson fit well also.
The defense is still a bit more complex simply because of the sheer number of bodies still on the team, but this is where the Flyers would get the cap savings to add a guy like Gagne. Or, for that matter, to insert a guy like Laughton or McGinn into the roster. Without those guys, they're already over the cap.
Much as we did earlier in the week, we'll have to make some assumptions here.
- Erik Gustafsson gets a slight raise as an RFA, from $900,000 against the cap to $1,100,000 against the cap. He's an NHL player.
- We'll also assume that Bruno Gervais sticks around and that Marc-Andre Bourdon will be in the AHL, especially now that the Flyers have lost Danny Syvret via trade. Bourdon fills that hole in Adirondack.
So there's a bit of savings right there, and really, those pairings aren't too bad at all. Timonen and Schenn were strong together last year, and we'd expect them to grow together again this season. Streit is a strong compliment to Coburn, and that pairing gives the Flyers a nice little top-four. Grossmann and Gustafsson also compliment each other well -- one bigger guy, one smaller puck mover.
Again, we're leaving Andrej Meszaros out of the equation here. It's the obvious move in my eyes since Braydon Coburn is better at hockey and healthier than Mesz. I still think the Flyers could dish him off for a bag of pucks, but if not, you could still bury him in the minors and get $900,000 in savings off his $4 million cap hit. Or you could keep Gustafsson in the AHL and get savings on whatever his cap hit turns out to be. The numbers work out to be about the same.
That would give the Flyers about $740k to sign a winger in that spot. That doesn't work, even if McGinn and his $775k cap hit is your top option. It comes down to this: The Flyers basically need to get rid of a highly-paid defenseman, and Meszaros is by far the best bet.
If dropping Mesz doesn't work, we know that Holmgren has been shopping Braydon Coburn around, but I think we can agree that that's not the best option here. It would make the defense that looks pretty solid right now significantly worse, and given that there'd better be a roster player coming back in any Coburn trade, the cap savings would still be less than if they were to trade Mesz for nothing.
So, if they can drop Mesz, here's the team we'll likely have (with the exception of McGinn vs. Gagne):
They could probably maneuver and ice a team on opening night that's under the cap if they opt for McGinn at forward and keep both Meszaros and Coburn, but that's pushing Erik Gustafsson back to the AHL and it'd require having Jay Rosehill in the AHL for opening night. Both players would be able to come back after Pronger goes on LTIR, but they'd still have to make that trek to the AHL to begin the season.
I doubt Rosehill would get claimed via waivers, but they'd also have to waive Gustafsson, and that's a move I'd rather not see happen as he's probably the most promising young defenseman the Flyers have right now not named Luke Schenn. He could be claimed, and it's not worth risking that to keep Meszaros on the roster.
So ideally, the Flyers can find somewhere to move Meszaros and clear that cap space. Gustafsson can take his spot in the top-six, and the Flyers can either go out and sign Simon Gagne, somebody else, or they can give the reigns to Tye McGinn or another young player. Most importantly, they can ice a roster that's probably going to the playoffs.