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How the Flyers could (and should) finalize their roster by temporarily demoting Shayne Gostisbehere

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Injuries and the salary cap make it complicated, and perhaps unpopular. But seriously, don’t worry.

NHL: Anaheim Ducks at Philadelphia Flyers Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

While the 2016 training camp will hopefully be long remembered by fans of the Philadelphia Flyers as the moment when future stars Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny proved they were ready for the NHL, the camp will likely not be a fond memory for general manager Ron Hextall. He surely knew that this year’s camp would bring a number of tough roster decisions for his front office. But he likely didn’t imagine that it would cause his team to be this injury-ravaged before the regular season even began.

It started with veteran Nick Schultz suffering a minor lower-body injury that put him out of commission for a week, and AHL defenseman Mark Alt falling victim to a serious upper-body injury. But the big ones have come recently, with forward Scott Laughton expected to miss up to a month with a lower-body injury suffered in practice, and Brandon Manning battling a nagging shoulder injury that could make him unavailable for the start of the year.

Laughton and Manning both had viable chances to make the Flyers’ opening night roster, even if they weren’t locks. But because injured players cannot be waived, neither is an option for demotion now. That put the Flyers in a tough spot from a salary cap standpoint. While injured players can be replaced on the roster and not take one of the 23 open spots (so long as they are placed on injured reserve, which would keep them out at least a week), they still count against the Flyers’ start-of-season salary cap. As a result, it looked like Hextall would be forced to send multiple healthy players through waivers in order to become cap compliant for the start of the year.

Everything changed on Friday, however, when the team announced that Michael Del Zotto would miss 4-5 weeks with a lower-body injury. Obviously, losing the presumptive top defenseman on the depth chart is a devastating blow. But it also adjusts the way that the Flyers will aim to be cap compliant by Tuesday at 3 p.m. when the season officially begins.

Prior to the Del Zotto injury, it appeared that Hextall planned to avoid placing Laughton on long-term injured reserve, and instead would cut enough players to keep the Flyers below the $73 million salary cap ceiling even with Laughton still on the books. Tapping into LTIR makes it impossible to “bank” cap space for transactions later in the season while it is in use, so it’s generally ill-advised to turn to LTIR unless there is no other option.

However, the Del Zotto injury makes the usage of LTIR a near-certainty, unless Hextall wants to enter the season-opening road trip with just 12 healthy forwards and six fully-healthy defensemen (not counting Manning, who today said he might be ready). The risk of having an undermanned roster if just one more skater gets injured outweighs the reward of avoiding the use of LTIR.

If the Flyers do choose to place Del Zotto on long-term injured reserve, that decision provides clarity regarding the final roster moves of camp. To understand the thought process behind the most likely set of moves, let’s quickly review the concept of LTIR.

Understanding LTIR

Long-term injured reserve is often described as extra cap space, which isn’t exactly accurate. It’s essentially an allowance to exceed the salary cap ceiling by only as much cap space as the injured player would have filled. As noted above, the major drawback of tapping into LTIR is that since it is not technically space and more an allowance to exceed the cap, a team is not “under” the cap ceiling even if they are not using the full allowance, so they do not bank unused space for future use. It’s just wasted allowance.

Still, due to the possibility of additional injuries, it’s best to try to maximize the amount of allowance provided by LTIR, to ensure the most roster flexibility possible. There are two ways to do this. Either you spend as close to the allowance ceiling before placing your injured player on LTIR, or you spend as close to the league-mandated salary cap ceiling before using LTIR.

For example, Del Zotto’s cap hit is $3,875,000 and the salary cap ceiling is $73,000,000. If the Flyers were to utilize Option A, they would want to get as close to $76,875,000 in total cap obligations before placing Del Zotto on LTIR just before the season begins.

Unfortunately, Philadelphia does not have a combination of possible players under contract that would come anywhere near that $76,875,000 figure while still adhering to the 23-man roster requirement. As a result, their best option is to get as close to the $73 million cap ceiling (without going over) to ensure cap compliance on Day 1 of the league season, and then place Del Zotto on LTIR afterwards.

Let’s say the Flyers are able to put together a roster that for Tuesday that spends to $72,900,000. They would be $100,000 under the cap. Then, after placing Del Zotto on LTIR, they would be granted a maximum of $3,775,000 in allowance. To determine the allowance, you subtract the $100,000 from Del Zotto’s cap hit, ending up with the final number.

So what is the best road map to maximizing LTIR allowance space while still ending up with a deep opening night roster? There are a few options, but the possibility below maximizes that space, ensures that no players could be lost via waivers, and accounts for the performance of the players in camp.

Step 1: Demote Roman Lyubimov

Prior to the injuries, this was already looking like a plausible outcome for the Flyers. Lyubimov has been impressive in camp, but he is adjusting to a new style of play on a new ice surface. Sitting in the press box as the 13th or 14th forward won’t do much to ease his transition, so if he isn’t penciled into the opening night lineup, it might be best for him to work out the kinks of his game at Lehigh Valley.

In addition, Lyubimov is waiver-exempt, meaning that other teams will not be able to poach him on waivers before the Flyers officially assign him to the AHL. The same cannot be said for Nick Cousins, Matt Read, Jordan Weal and Chris VandeVelde – all also on the bubble.

Assuming that Laughton and Del Zotto will begin the season on normal injured reserve (their cap hits still count, but their roster spots can be used by replacements), that would leave the Flyers with 23 active players – a full roster. But there remains one problem. Their salary cap obligation mark would be at $73,749,998 – about $750,000 over the $73 million cap ceiling. They would still need to get below that number to become fully cap compliant.

But there’s an easy, riskless way to fix that problem. It might cause immediate panic among the Flyers’ faithful, but it would have no negative impact on the roster for opening night on October 14th.

Step 2: Demote Shayne Gostisbehere

Imagine the firestorm if/when this happens. After all, we’re talking about the Ghost Bear, rightfully one of the most popular players on the roster and a burgeoning star in the NHL. How could the Flyers even consider returning him to the AHL?

Here’s the thing – it’s purely an on-paper transaction.

Remember, the Flyers are trying to get as close to the $73 million cap ceiling without going over, in order to maximize their LTIR allowance. To do that, they will probably want to avoid waiving any players who they could possibly lose to another team, so that rules out bubble guys like Nick Cousins, Matt Read, Jordan Weal and Chris VandeVelde.

This leaves two possible options for the transaction – Andrew MacDonald, who is effectively waiver-exempt because no team is going to claim him and his massive contract, and Gostisbehere, who despite his stellar rookie season actually has yet to play in enough NHL games to lose his waiver-exempt status.

So which player would result in the Flyers having more LTIR allowance? Let’s check the numbers.

Andrew MacDonald

  • Team Cap Figure: $73,749,998
  • Savings from waiving MacDonald: $950,000
  • Cap Figure after waiving MacDonald: $72,799,998
  • Cap Space Left: $200,002

Shayne Gostisbehere

  • Team Cap Figure: $73,749,998
  • Savings from demoting Gostisbehere: $925,000
  • Cap Figure after demoting Gostisbehere: $72,824,998
  • Cap Space Left: $175,002

Sending Gostisbehere down temporarily gets the Flyers $25,000 closer to the $73 million cap ceiling than would Andrew MacDonald. It’s not a huge difference, but it is a difference, and there’s no reason not to maximize allowance space if the team can help it and it makes no difference to the on-ice roster.

Step 3: Move Michael Del Zotto from normal injured reserve to LTIR

And now we get to the truly necessary roster move. Del Zotto clearly will not be able to play in the season opener or in the weeks immediately following, so he’s a clear candidate for LTIR status.

This is also where we see the impact of choosing Gostisbehere instead of MacDonald. Once Del Zotto is officially on LTIR, the Flyers are granted their formal allowance. This allowance is the cap hit of the player placed on LTIR minus the amount of actual cap space that the team had prior to using LTIR. If Gostisbehere is the one that they waive, Philadelphia would receive a little less than $25,000 more in allowance than if they had waived MacDonald.

If MacDonald is waived

$3,875,000 (MDZ’s cap hit) minus $200,002 = $3,674,998 in allowance space

If Gostisbehere is waived

$3,875,000 minus $175,002 = $3,699,998 in allowance space

Obviously, we’re not talking about a ton of space here. If the Flyers don’t want to take the PR hit of briefly sending down their exciting young defenseman, they aren’t likely to be burned by choosing MacDonald instead, unless the team was absolutely ravaged by injuries in the first few weeks of the year. But if the goal is to maximize space, Gostisbehere is the better choice to waive in this scenario, especially because Step 4 is so easy to execute.

Step 4: Gostisbehere is recalled a day later to the Flyers’ active roster

With the $3,669,998 in allowance space locked in after moving Del Zotto to LTIR, the Flyers can now easily recall Gostisbehere to Philadelphia. Since Ghost has a cap hit of $925,000, this move leaves the team with $2,774,998 in allowance space for the duration of Del Zotto’s stay on LTIR.

All of these transactions would be completed by Thursday at the latest, over 24 hours before the Flyers play their first game on Friday. Now, the Flyers are looking at a roster for opening night that includes 13 active forwards, six-to-seven active defensemen (depending upon the availability of Manning), two goalies, one player suspended (Brayden Schenn), one on normal injured reserve (Laughton), and one on long-term injured reserve (Del Zotto). That’s a 23-man roster with 25 total players technically “up” with the Flyers.

Unfortunately, Philadelphia is technically over the cap, so they won’t bank any cap space for as long as LTIR is employed. But Del Zotto should be healthy eventually, and once he returns, they can make corresponding roster moves (likely demoting a couple players to the AHL) and return to being below the $73 million cap ceiling. Then, they can begin to bank space, just a few weeks later than they would have liked.

As we see, becoming cap compliant for the start of the league year will take some CBA gymnastics from Flyers general manager Ron Hextall. But it’s certainly possible, and right now, I would wager that the above scenario is the most likely path for him to take.