The rumblings started early this morning. ESPN's Pierre LeBrun reported that Flyers forward Vincent Lecavalier was desperate to get back on the ice, and was willing to make major concessions in order to do so. With Philadelphia unwilling to give him ice time, his best hope for a dignified end to his career was a trade to a club with a different view of the aging center.
Just hours later, Lecavalier got his wish.
Let's break down why the deal made sense for the Flyers.
Luke Schenn's exit
First, it helps to understand why the team was willing to move Luke Schenn. The 26-year old defenseman never quite lived up to Paul Holmgren's expectations when he chose to trade James van Riemsdyk to the Toronto Maple Leafs for him in 2012. The hope was that Schenn, given a change of scenery, would develop into the top-pairing defenseman that scouts thought Toronto was drafting with the 5th overall pick in 2008.
Nevertheless, Schenn was a fairly useful player in Philadelphia, even if he never lived up to his pedigree. His even strength puck possession statistics (-1.13% Corsi Relative) put him in the range of a serviceable third pairing defenseman, and he even finished in the black during the 2012-13 and 2014-15 seasons.
Still, Schenn's contract was up at the end of the season, and the Flyers showed no interest in re-signing him. He missed time as a healthy scratch this year, and never seemed an ideal fit for the up-tempo Dave Hakstol neutral zone system. With young talent like Shayne Gostisbehere, Ivan Provorov, Samuel Morin, Travis Sanheim and Robert Hagg all closing in on NHL-readiness, the organization did not evaluate Schenn as being worth a spot in the new defense corps.
In terms of cap space, the Flyers clear a fair amount of Schenn's $3.6 million cap hit. They retain 50% of what is left of his salary, but since Schenn's contract expires at the end of the season, the impact of the retention is minimal. It simply allows Los Angeles to fit Schenn onto their roster in the here and now. And even with some salary retained, the Flyers gain enough cap flexibility to make AHL call-ups and protect against injury issues, which had become a major issue for Ron Hextall.
Schenn is the desirable asset in the trade for Los Angeles. They were clearly searching for help on defense, and Schenn provides a viable third-pair option for them. But the defenseman's Philadelphia career had run its course. Now, Dave Hakstol can comfortably place Evgeny Medvedev (scratched on Tuesday) back into the lineup and use Brandon Manning as his seventh blueliner.
In the end, since Philadelphia had decided that Luke Schenn would not be a part of their future, they needed to find a way to turn him into useful assets. Jordan Weal and a 2016 3rd round pick fit the bill.
The Lecavalier saga ends
Perhaps the biggest win for Ron Hextall and the Flyers, however, was the inclusion of Vincent Lecavalier in the deal. Lecavalier, with a no-movement clause and two years left on his contract, had become a major roster hindrance. His $4.5 million yearly cap hit hamstrung the Flyers when trying to make additions to the team, and his mere presence prevented superior players from earning a spot with the NHL club.
The trade should eventually erase Lecavalier from Philadelphia's books entirely.
In order to move the aging forward to the Kings, the Flyers were forced to retain 50% of Lecavalier's salary. In theory, this would mean that Philadelphia would be stuck with a $2.25 million cap hit for the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons. That may have been a better scenario than an end-of-season buyout, which would have stuck the Flyers with dead cap space through the 2019-20 season, but it obviously would not have been ideal.
Luckily for Philadelphia, Vincent Lecavalier apparently plans on retiring at the conclusion of the season.
Vincent Lecavalier will play for the #kings for the rest of the season and intend to retire at the end of it. Last season in the NHL.— Renaud Lavoie (@renlavoietva) January 6, 2016
The Kings likely would not have traded for the forward had they been forced to deal with a $2.25 million cap hit on their books for the next two seasons, so Lecavalier apparently pledged to retire and void the remainder of the contract at the end of the 2015-16 season.
This works beautifully for Philadelphia. Just as the contract will disappear from Los Angeles' cap obligations starting in 2016-17, the Flyers are absolved as well. They will have successfully cleared $9.0 million in cap space over the next two seasons, and only needed to retain 50% of his salary this season in order to do it.
By retaining portions of both Schenn and Lecavalier's contracts, the Flyers have now reached the maximum number of salaries that can be legally retained. The limit is three salaries at one time, and since Philadelphia still is paying part of Nicklas Grossmann's contract this season, Hextall will not be permitted to provide cap relief to another team in a 2016 deadline trade.
Still, that was a small price to pay for the ability to exit the Vincent Lecavalier contract. Any way you slice it, it's a slam dunk for Ron Hextall.
What the Flyers got in return
Just clearing Vincent Lecavalier's albatross of a contract would have been cause for celebration among Flyers fans. But due to the inclusion of Luke Schenn in the deal, Hextall was able to extract two assets from Los Angeles in return - a 2016 3rd round pick, and forward Jordan Weal.
The draft pick's value is self-explanatory. Hextall has long championed the importance of building through the NHL Draft, and this gives the Flyers a whopping ten picks in 2016, including five in the first three rounds.
Weal is more interesting. A 2010 3rd round pick of the Kings, Weal is an undersized forward who has dominated in the AHL thus far in his career. His 173 points in 221 AHL games show that he possesses offensive ability. In addition, he won the award for playoff MVP last season as he led the Manchester Monarchs to the Calder Cup. That resulted in SBNation's Kings site Jewels From the Crown ranking him sixth in their 'Top 25 Under 25' rankings this offseason.
Unfortunately, it has yet to translate to the NHL level. Through ten games with the Kings this season, Weal has yet to score a point, and has a Corsi Relative of -5.72%. Right now, Weal is a 23-year old AHL/NHL tweener, not terribly different from Jason Akeson.
Like Akeson last season, Weal cannot be sent down to the AHL without passing through waivers. The concern of losing Weal for nothing on the part of Los Angeles was likely a driving force behind his inclusion in the trade.
Most likely, the new acquisition will take Lecavalier's place as the 13th forward on the Flyers' roster, at least to start his Philadelphia career. But he surely will be given a shot at some point to prove his value. For him, this is a new beginning, and a chance to establish himself in an organization no longer beholden to the "size over everything" Broad Street Bullies mentality of the past.
The Flyers may not have received a haul in return. But a 3rd round pick and a fairly-intriguing older prospect would have been a decent return for merely Luke Schenn. To move Lecavalier in the deal was just gravy.
Final evaluation of the trade
It's tough to find many negatives in this trade for the Flyers. By trading Luke Schenn, the team resolves their logjam on defense in the short term, and adds another draft pick in return for a player who was not going to be re-signed anyway. Schenn was far from a useless defenseman, but spots on the defense were limited considering the incoming youth movement. His performance simply did not warrant a guaranteed lineup spot over the next few seasons.
But the inclusion of Vincent Lecavalier in the trade was the real masterstroke for Hextall. In the absence of a trade, Hextall was looking at only a few options to resolve the Vinny problem - all bad ones. He could keep Lecavalier on the roster for the next two seasons and keep his $4.5 million cap hit off the ice the entire time. Or he could have bought out the forward, but that would have kept dead cap space on the Flyers' books until 2020.
Instead, Hextall found a trading partner, giving Lecavalier a chance to close out his career on the ice rather than languishing away in the press box or at home. In addition, Lecavalier's concession to retire at the end of the season (a necessary decision to made this trade possible) is the best-case scenario for Philadelphia. So long as the forward follows through on his promise, the Flyers will have no financial obligation to Lecavalier once the 2015-16 season concludes.
With this deal, Ron Hextall continued the process of slowly removing the Philadelphia Flyers from salary cap hell, and received tangible assets in return. It may not help the team win more games this season, but the Flyers are in much better shape for the future than they were this morning.