Paul Holmgren was this close. This close to an offseason without a truly disastrous decision. Until news broke late last night of Dan Cleary's 3-year, $8.5M contract with the Flyers, complete with full NTC (WHAT?), the worst move you could argue Homer made this offseason was drafting Samuel Morin in the 1st round. And even then, we won't be able to evaluate that one for a few years. But then Holmgren gave 34-year old Dan Cleary a 3-year deal on September 9th. And it sucks.
First of all, the contract itself. It's September 10th. Cleary can't have had much leverage. So how in the world could he get 3 years at basically the same cap hit he had on his last deal with a full NTC? His agent earned his cut on that deal. And couldn't 3 years, $8.5M have potentially landed Damian Brunner, a superior player? But I digress.
I will readily admit that despite the presence of guys like Scott Laughton, Tye McGinn, Michael Raffl, Petr Straka, Kyle Flanagan, Jason Akeson, and Marcel Noebels, the Flyers needed an upgrade at 3rd-line LW. I think Laughton should spend another year in juniors to slide the start of his ELC, while the rest all have flaws: McGinn and Noebels aren't strong skaters and could use work defensively, Straka is an offensive-minded player who might struggle on a defensively-oriented line, Flanagan and Akeson's size works against them defensively, and Raffl is unproven. But the upgrade didn't need to come in the form of Dan Cleary. The best option was staring the Flyers right in the face: Simon Gagne.
First, let's compare the play of Simon Gagne and Dan Cleary from last year. Gagne played 38 games and recorded 5 goals and 16 points on a 6.6% shooting percentage. He posted a -3.18 Corsi On, starting in the offensive zone 52.6% of the time and finishing in it 49.9% of the time. Cleary, meanwhile, tallied 9 goals and 15 points in 48 games on a 9.7% shooting percentage. He had a nice-looking Corsi On of 7.40, good for 73rd-best among NHL forwards. He started in the offensive zone 52.7% of the time and finished in it 52.2% of the time. Cleary's Corsi Rel was 0.1, while Gagne's was -3.0. Cleary also had a Corsi Rel QoC of 0.846 while Gagne's was only 0.356.
So, to make sense of the numbers: while Gagne had one more point Cleary despite playing 10 fewer games, Cleary played tougher minutes and acquitted himself better in them. Cleary should also expect his point totals next year to go up, as his on-ice shooting percentage will probably be higher than 4.87%. That number is reflected in his PDO, which sits at 968 despite an on-ice save percentage of .919.
So Cleary had a better year than Gagne. Cool. However, money is and always will be a factor. Gagne wanted to be in Philadelphia. Probably still does. He probably would have taken a 1-year deal to stay here. There's no way the deal would have been longer than 2 years. And I wouldn't have expected the cap hit for the deal to be more than $2M. So let's say Gagne would take a 1-year, $2M deal. Is Cleary's admittedly better production worth an extra $0.75M a year for 2 extra years with a full no-trade clause? I'll venture to say no.
The length of the deal is important too not just for the ages of the players (Gagne is 33, Cleary is 34) and their respective injury histories, but for the future makeup of the Flyers' forward corps.
Right now, the Flyers lines would probably look something like this if the season started tomorrow:
Hartnell-Giroux-Voracek Schenn-Lecavalier-Simmonds Cleary-Couturier-Read Talbot-Hall-Rinaldo Rosehill
The length of years on the contracts of those players counting this year is as follows:
Hartnell (6), Giroux (9), Voracek (3), Schenn (1-RFA), Lecavalier (5), Simmonds (6), Cleary (3), Couturier (2-RFA), Read (1-UFA), Talbot (3), Hall (1-UFA), Rinaldo (2-RFA), Rosehill (2-ugh)
If we're operating under the assumption that Brayden Schenn is a part of this team moving forward and will at some point be signed to a contract extension, that means that there is only one top-9 spot that will be open after the year: Matt Read's. For anyone who knows me, I'm a pretty big fan of Matt Read's. I want him to be a Flyer for the long haul. And sure, Cleary's contract doesn't prohibit them financially from keeping Read next year if the cap rises. But the Flyers have a decision to make with regards to Read after the season that got a lot murkier with Cleary in the picture.
If they had given Gagne a one-year deal, this isn't much of a discussion: after the 2013-2014 season, Gagne walks and Read is extended. The vacant spot on the 3rd line goes to Scott Laughton. There is much rejoicing. But with Cleary in town, one wonders whether Matt Read is in their future plans. While Adam Hall is probably a one-year option on the 4th line, I'm not sure the Flyers want to keep Scott Laughton on the 4th line for the first couple years of his career. And if they don't, and they envision him taking Read's spot on the third line, it will mean we essentially traded Matt Read for Dan Cleary. And that's something I would not be happy about.
If the Flyers want to re-sign Read and keep Laughton on the 4th line for the first couple years (or maybe even the duration) of his ELC, fine by me. He'll fit down there and it'll keep the value of his 2nd contract down. But what does that then say about the next tier of Flyers prospects? Did Tye McGinn show them nothing during his call up last season? Do they not have confidence in Michael Raffl, Petr Straka, Kyle Flanagan, Jason Akeson, Marcel Noebels, et all to be NHL contributors? If Read is retained, the Flyers have a logjam in the bottom-6, and if Read isn't retained it is a mistake. A real catch-22.
Yet aside from the forwards, signing Dan Cleary also brings the discussion back to cap space and the defense, where every discussion about the present incarnation of the Flyers seems to end up anyway. The Flyers are over the salary cap. They were before they added Cleary and they are even more so now. Putting Chris Pronger and potentially Marc-Andre Bourdon on LTIR will help matters, but that can't take place until the season begins. To get cap compliant, a trade is going to have to be made.
And what do you know! It'll have to be made on defense. The Flyers have 7 clearly starting-caliber defensemen for 6 spots: Kimmo Timonen, Bryadon Coburn, Mark Streit, Luke Schenn, Nicklass Grossmann, Andrej Meszaros, and Erik Gustafsson. Timonen, Streit, and Schenn aren't going anywhere. Gus also figures to be here this year, since trading his $1M contract wouldn't help much in terms of cap space and he has a 1-way deal. So 1 of Coburn, Grossmann, and Meszaros will be traded before the season.
Coburn is a top-4 defenseman making $4.5M coming off a down year. Grossmann is a bottom-pairing defenseman making $3.5M a year. Meszaros is an injury-prone bottom-4 defenseman with a $4M cap hit and $5.5M real salary. Who's the most desirable trade candidate of the 3? Easily Coburn. But if they have to move him for 50 cents on the dollar because they lack leverage since every team knows they need to become cap compliant, this Cleary deal becomes even worse for the Flyers. If they can move Meszaros for a bag of pucks? Not as bad.
So, with Dan Cleary here's how our Philadelphia Flyers will likely look next season:
Does signing Dan Cleary make them better this year? In a vacuum, yes. If they manage to move Meszaros or Grossmann instead of Coburn, probably. If they have to move Coburn, very debatable and probably no. Does this make them better in the next couple years? Again, debatable. It takes away flexibility both against the cap and with regards to what young forwards make the team in the coming seasons while Cleary's play will likely decline as his deal winds on.
So, to recap. Positives for the Cleary contract: he's not a bad player and in fact is better than Simon Gagne, it will give Sean Couturier another talented linemate, and it will keep Scott Laughton in juniors for another year. Negatives: could lead to Braydon Coburn's departure this year and Matt Read's next year, too big of a cap hit, too many years, another NTC, creates a short and long-term bottom-6 logjam, decreases cap flexibility in the offseason, there was a better option staring them in the face named Simon Gagne when taking into account money, flexibility, etc.
Welcome to the 2013-2014 Flyers, folks. No one said things were going to be smooth.
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