Looking at CapFriendly, it appears the Flyers are hovering right around the cap ceiling and are using injured reserve to stay cap compliant. Many contending teams in the NHL are in a similar position, banking cap space with injured players (Ryan Ellis, in the Flyers’ case) and trading players to create room (Shayne Gostisbehere and a draft pick to the Arizona Coyotes for “future considerations”), all to stay under the threshold during the regular season.
There’s just one problem: the Philadelphia Flyers are not a contending team. If they’re not contending–which management isn’t trying to do, else they would’ve signed top talent–they should be rebuilding, but they refuse to do that as well. Honestly, then, what do they actually need cap space for?
Management made it clear in the previous off season that high-impact, top-line talent was not their priority when they passed on Johnny Gaudreau. The Flyers’ farm system, at least for now, doesn’t have the kind of high-end talent that would require a major contract, either, and even if a player like that was in the system, it’s likely that enough of the current contracts would be off the books and that kind of signing wouldn’t be an issue by the time it comes up. Cutter Gauthier’s the only one that comes to mind and he hasn’t even signed an ELC yet, so that’s several years in the future.
It’s clear to (mostly) everyone that the Flyers should be rebuilding. Even then, having cap space might not be necessary. Sure, you can’t take on albatross contracts with draft picks, but Arizona’s been doing that for years and it hasn’t exactly worked out for them; their team is loaded with first-round draft picks and they still can’t find their way out of the NHL’s cellar. If the Flyers actually started the process of a rebuild, who cares if they’re capped out for the next two or three seasons? At most, they’ll trade expiring contracts at the deadlines and maybe move a player or two with term remaining for futures. It’s slow, but it’s a start.
Ultimately, what cap space buys you is time. You want to push for a Stanley Cup? Sign those big-ticket free agents and force that window open for the next few years. Ready to admit that the franchise needs to start over? Take on those hefty, long-term contracts with draft picks attached, then flip those players at trade deadlines for more draft picks and prospects, hastening a rebuild by throwing as many darts at the board in as short a time as possible.
The lack of direction is the most disappointing part of the Flyers’ current situation. They’re not building a Cup-contender from the ground up, and they’re not bringing in the talent necessary to compete, and somehow they’re still flirting with cap penalties. That mediocrity and mismanagement of assets is baffling. Management essentially traded seven draft picks, Robert Hägg, and Shayne Gostisbehere in exchange for Tony DeAngelo and Rasmus Ristolainen, adding $4 million AAV to the cap in the process–and for what? A team that likely won’t crack the playoffs for the same number of years as if they’d committed to a rebuild?
If your goal isn’t to build a team that perennially contends for a Stanley Cup, then you are not doing your job. Fans can accept a few down years if it’s a part of something larger, but with no clear path forward, it just feels like a commitment to failure. The competitive Eastern Conference shows quite starkly which teams are the haves, and which are the have nots. The Flyers have some nice pieces, but they still fall firmly in the camp of have nots when it comes to the talent necessary to make a playoff push. For the next year or two, cap space should be the least of the team’s concerns as they sort out what they’re actually trying to do.