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With little cap space, the Flyers’ roster is anything but set

Long a crutch for the team, the Flyers may be forced to dip their toes back into the long-term injured reserve pool.

Montreal Canadiens v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images

With Nolan Patrick missing time due to being diagnosed with migraine disorder, and Morgan Frost being sent to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms of the AHL, the team’s opening night roster should be getting pretty clear. And down to just thirteen healthy forwards in camp, at first glance it appears that Chris Stewart has made the team. However, they can’t actually afford to sign him to a playing contract. Not yet, at least.

As the roster currently stands the Flyers are over the salary cap by just over $1.3 million, and will have to cut some money ahead of the start of the season. But with three injured skaters who are all ineligible to be placed on waivers, or assigned to the minors, the team’s cap situation has them in a tough position.

So where do they go from here? Let’s do some math.

Flyers’ 2019-2020 Cap Hits

Player Cap Hit
Player Cap Hit
Claude Giroux 8,275,000
Jakub Voracek 8,250,000
Kevin Hayes 7,142,857
James van Riemsdyk 7,000,000
Ivan Provorov 6,750,000
Matt Niskanen 5,750,000
Travis Konecny 5,000,000
Shayne Gostisbehere 4,500,000
Sean Couturier 4,333,333
Justin Braun 3,800,000
Travis Sanheim 3,250,000
Scott Laughton 2,300,000
Brian Elliott 2,000,000
Michael Raffl 1,600,000
Robert Hagg 1,150,000
Tyler Pitlick 1,000,000
Nolan Patrick 925,000
Oskar Lindblom 925,000
Joel Farabee 925,000
Carsen Twarynski 775,833
Andy Welinski 750,000
Connor Bunnaman 736,666
Carter Hart 730,833
Samuel Morin 700,000
Philippe Myers 678,889

Together that’s a team cap hit of $79,248,411 — below the allotted amount of $81.5 million. However, after accounting for the cap penalties that they had incurred from buying out both David Schlemko’s and Andrew MacDonald’s contracts, along with retaining salary in the Radko Gudas trade, they exceed the NHL’s salary cap. The three have a combined cap hit of $3,071,667, bringing the Flyers’ total up to $82,820,078 — $1,320,078 above the cap ceiling.

As we work our way out of this predicament, the first thing to make note of is that while players placed on injured reserve (IR) don’t count against the 23-man roster limit, their salaries still count against the salary cap. This means that Patrick, Andy Welinski, and Tyler Pitlick’s cap hits will continue to count against the Flyers’ cap if they are placed on IR.

This would still be the case if any of them were placed on long-term injured reserve (LTIR), however the team would be granted a temporary cushion that would allow them to exceed the league’s cap ceiling by a certain amount. That amount is based on the injured player’s cap hit, and the replacement player’s cap hit.

That last part doesn’t matter much to the Flyers currently, as all three injured players have small cap hits.

Patrick to LTIR?

While not having to use LTIR would be the best case scenario, as it can cut into your future cap space, they may have to use it to get out of the first few weeks of the season.

Let’s say that they decide to place Patrick on LTIR the day that the season starts. To do this they could loan both Philippe Myers and Connor Bunnaman to the AHL on the final day of training camp, dropping the team’s cap hit to just $95,477 below the cap ceiling and making them cap compliant. The next day they could then place Patrick on LTIR, and re-call one of them. Unless they’d want to open the season with an eleven-forward, seven-defenseman lineup, we have to assume that they would use the space to re-call Bunnaman.

Barring a defenseman being waived or traded ahead of time, Myers wouldn’t start the season in Philadelphia, rather with Lehigh Valley. But it probably wouldn’t last for long.

Once Pitlick is deemed healthy, they could send a waiver-exempt forward — likely Carsen Twarynski or Joel Farabee, since they’ll still be relying on Bunnaman to play center — to Lehigh Valley, and subsequently call Myers up if they so wanted. Once Welinski is cleared, he could then be waived and sent to the AHL, allowing them to bring back the forward that they had potentially sent down, or Myers.

Then, after at least 24 days have passed or ten games have been played, and once Patrick is ready to return, depending on the circumstances they’ll have to do one of two things; if nobody else has gotten injured, or if the injury is minor, they’ll need to send somebody to the AHL, or make a trade, to free up the cap space to activate Patrick. If there has been an injury, placing that player on LTIR would then become an option as well, depending on the severity.

However, given that Myers is in Switzerland with the team, this theory doesn’t seem very likely. Then again, supposedly all of the players who made the trip aren’t necessarily on the opening night roster. While they have 25 players along for the trip, they technically don’t have to cut anybody since Stewart doesn’t count as long as he’s on a PTO, and teams playing overseas are allowed to carry a third goaltender without them counting against the 23-player roster limit. Any further cuts will be performance or salary cap related, not roster size.

What about Welinski?

Another path that they could take would be placing both Patrick and Welinski on LTIR, allowing them to have both Bunnaman and Myers for the first game of the season. It’d free up $1,770,477 in cap space; enough to cover them both. You don’t really want to rely on LTIR, but it’s not as if this would be a year-long thing. It’d be a short stay, relatively speaking.

The viability of this option depends on how long they expect Welinski to be out. The most recent update on him is that he remains week-to-week, and while it’d be surprising to see him cleared ahead of the season opener, it’d go a long way in getting them out of this situation.

If we’re to read into the roster that they brought overseas, placing both Patrick and Welinski on LTIR makes the most sense. They’d have to do this if they wanted to keep all three of Hagg, Morin, and Myers on the roster.

What if they just didn’t?

There is one more option, however. There is a way for the Flyers to place nobody on LTIR and still have enough healthy players under contract to open the season. To do it, they’d have to send Myers to the AHL and either waive or trade one of Robert Hagg or Samuel Morin. Needing to cut just over $1.3 million to be cap compliant, removing any two of the three from the roster gets it done.

Again, the fact that all three are in Switzerland does make this option a bit more unlikely, but it shouldn’t be ruled out entirely.

The main downside here is the risk of losing a player for nothing by placing them on the waiver wire. Although it wouldn’t be the end of the world, and your evaluation of the players involved may make it sound totally fine, it’s just not ideal. No organization wants to lose anybody that they view as a contributor for nothing. The second downside is that they’d have very little injury insurance. Pitlick, who has been cleared for contact, should be ready for game action soon, but they wouldn’t have a seventh defenseman.

So what’s the upside in doing this exactly? It’d essentially let them pocket some cap space for a potential deadline deal. It wouldn’t be much, but it’d be some. And some is better than none. To be exact, if they were to keep Hagg and move Morin they’d be only $58,811 under the ceiling, while doing the inverse would push that number to just above $400K. The question is whether either figure is enough to make it worth it to only be able to carry one extra skater on the roster.

Pitlick’s timeline does make this option plausible, and Flyers General Manager Chuck Fletcher did mention that he could see the team carrying as few as six defensemen at times this season. If they choose to not place anybody on LTIR, they’d likely be doing that in week one.

We’ll learn their decision soon, as the regular season kicks off just two days from now on Wednesday, October 2nd, and they’ll have to be cap compliant ahead of then.

Salary cap data via CapFriendly.