The votes are in and the polls are closed. Distinguished BSH members have rejected my argument and sided with Ben, protecting Ian Laperriere and Scott Hartnell. That's fine, it's tough to break the habit of being snuggled up against the cap. We'd be lost without that problem. Just like if the Flyers found a franchise goalie: we wouldn't know what to do.
So with that, the honorable Messrs. Mirtle and Desjardins will be choosing from Darroll Powe, Blair Betts (surely gone), Greg Moore, Jody Shelley, and Dan Carcillo.
But now it's time to turn to the defense:
Protected: Chris Pronger, Kimmo Timonen, Matt Carle, and Braydon Coburn
Exempt: Marc-Andre Bourdon, Kevin Marshall, Joonas Lehtivuori, Erik Gustafsson, Tyler Hostetter, and Dan Jancevski
That leaves four players battling for immunity.
Now is the time for you to make it up to me. You chose offensive production over $12.6 million in cap flexibility. Now, I offer you $16 million in exchange for comfort. See, the Flyers currently have a much improved third pairing on defense. They have this by acquiring four (4!) bottom pairing players, all of whom are now before you asking to be saved.
Out of Andrej Meszaros, Matt Walker, Sean O`Donnell, and Oskars Bartulis, the Flyers will dress two of them every night. Now, it's no guarantee that any of these get selected in the draft, but that's not what we worry about here. Instead, I'm sure most of you wouldn't care to lose any of these players, especially since one of them will likely find themselves in Glens Falls next year anyway.
So with that, I have a few questions for you. Do you not wish to be a wolf of the sea? Do you not trust our Wolf to play 82 games alongside Mr. O`Donnell, knowing you have a Matt Walker available in case of injury? Are you not excited that the Phantoms will possess four (4!) very exciting prospects, three of whom are entering their sophomore seasons this year?
Yes, it is comforting to have Meszaros on the third pairing instead of Lukas Krajicek. But, what about next year? The Flyers are already committed to seven defensemen for the following season (only Mr. O`Donnell is unsigned), with Messrs. Bourdon, Marshall, and Lehtivuori just waiting for a chance to play. Without losing Mr. Meszaros, those three will have a very difficult time cracking the lineup, if they can at all.
What about the forward position for next year? The team will look to re-sign Messrs. Carter, Giroux, Leino, and Zherdev (and Powe and Carcillo, while finding another goalie) all with only ~$13 million in cap space. We are all well aware of the future - indefinite - problems this team will have with the cap, so why not open up the possibility of shedding $4 million a year for 4 years?
You're worried about this year, you say? Well, if you don't trust any of the other 3 players (or the 4 in the AHL) to make Michael Leighton serviceable again, there is still a pretty good player available in free agency: Lukas Krajicek. I kid, I kid. But seriously, Kim Johnsson is still available, as is Paul Mara and Andreas Lilja. If you wish to go the RFA route, the Flyers could still make an offer for Marc Staal or Matt Niskanen. There are options available to replace a player who we're all hoping finds his game again. Which he hasn't had in two years.
"But what about long-term, Geoff? Pronger and Timonen can't play forever!" Certainly. But Meszaros didn't show anything the past two years that he can replace them, either. And by the time Timonen's contract runs out, the Flyers would only have one year left on Meszaros contract anyway. You're saying in three years, none of Bourdon, Marshall, Lehtivuori, or Gustafsson will be able to fill in? Or that neither Matt Carle nor Braydon Coburn can step into first-pairing defensemen? You, then, are cynical.
What about next year? Well, besides the fact that the Flyers have 6 defensemen already signed for next year besides Meszaros, the unrestricted free agent crop will include Tomas Kaberle, Joni Pitkanen, Kevin Bieksa, James Wisniewski, and Christian Ehroff among others. And since the Flyers will still only require a #5 defensemen at worst, they can replace Meszaros (and Walker and Bartulis, assuming neither is more than a #6 at that point) with players such as Sean O`Donnell, Anton Babchuk, Randy Jones, Mark Giordano, Andy Greene, Jeff Woywikta, Jordan Henry, Freddy Meyer, and Nick Boynton among others.
In conclusion, the Flyers have a gluttony of defensemen right now. That's a positive, certainly. But it's a luxury. And when the team will be paying their top-4 a combined $17.89 million, needing to give Giroux and Carter raises, as well as replacing or re-signing five other players, that $16 million risk that is Andrej Meszaros could be dragging you down. Now is the chance to not only back away from the salary cap and bank money for next year's difficult free agency, but to create a space for younger, high-ceiling, cost-controlled players to step into.
I know Flyers fans aren't used to this, but balance the loss of Meszaros - which, no one is admitting, is a pretty big risk - this year against having $4 million a year for 4 years, allowing Marc-Andre Bourdon to become the next Kimmo Timonen. Or Kevin Marshall. Or Joonas Lehtivuori. Or Erik Gustafsson.
Do it for the kids. Vote Oskars.