Over the past few days, the NHL world has been fixated on the draft; however on Saturday, things got even more interesting:
PK Subban will he heading to NJ for Santini, prospect Davies and two second round picks. No salary retained by NSH.— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) June 22, 2019
Reports indicated that the Predators were willing to retain up to $3 million of Subban’s salary. Turns out the Devils have taken on all of Subban’s salary, clearing space for Nashville (who reportedly are all in on Matt Duchene). This is very much a move that has set the market, and unfortunately, the way it has been set does not make the Flyers’ moves look smart. The Flyers have retained around $1 million of Radko Gudas’ salary in taking on Niskanen’s 5.75$ million cap hit, signed Kevin Hayes for a cap hit of $7.14 million, and are absorbing the $3.8 million cap hit of Justin Braun. Per Bill Meltzer, the Flyers will have $21.4 million in cap space to spend, which isn’t a lot considering they need to re-sign RFA players as well.
Per Capfriendly, Flyers have about $21.4 M of cap space with cap ceiling officially set at $81.5M.— Bill Meltzer (@billmeltzer) June 22, 2019
Personally, I understand that the Flyers appear to be evaluating Niskanen and Braun based on assumption rather than observation. Both Niskanen and Braun are coming off of down seasons. Assuming that Niskanen was over-exhausted following the Capitals’ playoff run, and that Braun’s numbers looked bad due to usage, it is completely understandable that the Flyers believe they will perform better than last season. Taking aside the Flyers’ evaluations of the defensive talent they acquired, the Flyers’ acquisitions compared to the potential acquisitions on the trade market show that they could have maximized the cost-effectiveness of any trade had they exercised patience. Lets take the Niskanen trade, for example, and compare it to the Subban trade.
Let’s put the Flyers and Devils on the same side of the trade as “buyers” and the Capitals and Predators on the same side as “sellers”. In order to acquire Matt Niskanen, the Flyers gave up Radko Gudas and retained around $1.0 million in salary. Niskanen looks to be a slight improvement on Gudas as a 2nd pair defenseman. The Devils gave up a Corsi-negative defenseman in Steven Santini, an okay prospect in Jeremy Davies, and two second round picks (each a year apart) for P.K. Subban, who is at worst a #2 defenseman and at best one of the best offensive defensemen in the NHL. Even coming off a down year, his point share last season was still two points better than Gudas and Niskanen.
Objectively, the Devils traded for an elite defenseman using expendable (and honestly, bad) assets when the Flyers made a slight upgrade but worsened the deal by including the retention of salary. Now, I do understand that the Flyers may have never been in on Subban (especially with hiring Therrien) and that the Predators needed to clear cap space that the Flyers couldn’t afford to clear for them. But with patience, the Flyers could have extracted more from a now-favorable market given what Subban went for. The point isn’t about any particular guy like Subban or even Trouba (since he went for practically nothing). There are objectively better defensemen that the Flyers could have traded for, and now this is no longer an option since the Flyers decided to make their moves early. Even if the Flyers knew they had their “guys” identified in Niskanen and Braun, it feels like non-diligent practice to jump the gun before a team knows how much buying power they will have given market valuations of their assets. Heck, even the Carolina Hurricanes were able to extract a first round pick out of Toronto in order to take on Patrick Marleau.
Alternatively, to their credit, I feel like the Flyers were smart with signing Kevin Hayes. While his contract may be an overpay, it is not too gross an overpay that it was not warranted, and unlike Niskanen and Braun, the money feels well spent considering that Hayes is a very good player who can get better. Hayes gives the Flyers a solid top six, and assures that they will not be a one-line team. The only negative is that combined with the other moves, it may make for a tricky situation when the Flyers will need to sign Sean Couturier in a few years.
I didn’t and still don’t feel like it’s necessary for the Flyers to make a big splashy headline-type trade. But that being said, when you can get a better player for a similar type of value or even less, compared to what the Flyers did with Niskanen and Braun, you should do so even if it means being a bit more patient. The Flyers didn’t need to make all their moves before the draft, but they did, and I think that may turn out to be a poor decision. I’m certainly hoping that the Flyers are correct in banking on bounce backs from Niskanen and Braun, but if they are truly on the decline they have shown, then the Flyers will be kicking themselves for taking such an extreme bias for action.