I feel forced to think about the Flyers right now. They’re in the middle of their bye week, for one. More importantly, however, the Philadelphia Eagles are going to the Super Bowl.
So, that gets me thinking, is there anything the Flyers can learn from the Birds, a team going to its second Super Bowl in six seasons with almost an entirely new roster? While guaranteed contracts muddle the picture, the NHL and NFL are both salary cap leagues. Turns out, Chuck Fletcher (or Danny Briere or whoever is responsible for this team in 3 months) can learn a lot from Howie Roseman.
Know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em
Doug Pederson once said, “Nate [Sudfeld] deserved an opportunity to get some snaps.” Felix Sandstrom deserves an opportunity to make some stops. The Eagles were content to lose a meaningless Week 17 game that ended disastrous 2020 season. A win would have meant the Eagles would have fell from the sixth pick to the ninth in the following draft. They used the sixth pick to trade back, adding a future first round pick. After a smaller trade, they moved to pick No. 10. Sure, the Miami Dolphins took wide received Jaylen Waddle at No. 6, but the Eagles grabbed a comparable receiver, Devonta Smith, four picks later and the extra first provided the flexibility to trade for A.J. Brown a year later. If your season isn’t going anywhere, at least acquire draft capital. When you have a chance of competing, that’s when you add to your roster, which the Eagles did heading into this season. You don’t trade for Tony DeAngelo when your team probably can’t even make the playoffs. You make the push for Jack Eichel when you’re a player or two away.
Never get high on your own supply
The Birds probably dodged a bullet with Carson Wentz. The once-heralded franchise quarterback had a miserable 2020 season and then wanted out. The team obliged, Wentz is on his third team in three years and headed to a fourth, and Jalen Hurts has the Eagles in the Super Bowl. At some point, a player might have more value in a trade than in your franchise. It’s important to identify that moment and take advantage. Maybe the guy you thought was a franchise-changing goalie is merely good and headed toward a giant payday. Would you be able to get a haul from a desperate contender looking for its missing piece in net? Not naming anyone in particular.
Quickly identify your core
The Eagles have perfected this art over the years. Lane Johnson signed a market-setting contract in 2019 that now looks reasonable, even with a salary cap that is still recovering from revenue lost due to the pandemic. Jordan Mailata and Josh Sweat signed long-term extensions prior to last season when they were entering their first season as starters. They’re both already above-average starters on bargain contracts.
Assuming we avoid another pandemic or natural disaster of a similar magnitude, sports revenues are always increasing and, as a result, so is the salary cap. Getting ahead of the game and locking up your core early is crucial to build a championship roster. Look at the Colorado Avalanche, who are finally at the end of Nathan MacKinnon’s seven-year deal that carried him through his prime with a $6.3 million AAV. They’ve already locked up Cale Makar to a six-year, $54 million deal that has been surpassed at the top of the market. The Avs can afford luxuries down the lineup (at least when healthy) because their stars aren’t on top-of-the-market deals.
Now, the Flyers don’t have many building blocks. But let’s say Cam York looks like he’s a long-term piece, it makes more sense to commit to a long-term deal than a bridge contract, which only ends in another deal with a steeper price that will continue past his prime. That’s how you end up with a decision on whether you should commit to a 28-year-old Travis Konecny long-term. Can’t wait for this debate in three years.
As the Eagles were building, they took advantage when other teams backed themselves into a corner. The Tennessee Titans weren’t willing to commit to Brown long term, but the Birds swooped in with the cap space and assets to acquire him. The Giants capped out and had to release James Bradberry. The Eagles were prepared to address one of their few weaknesses.
Cap space is an asset in and of itself. When Devon Toews is available because the New York Islanders need to shed salary, a well-run team can pounce. If you’re rebuilding, you can help broker deals by eating salary in exchange for draft picks. If you’re not against the contract limit, maybe you can claim Eeli Tolvanen when the Nashville Predators waive him. Flexibility provides opportunity. The Eagles gave themselves the optionality to creatively assemble a roster while the Flyers neglected this luxury.
The Eagles were lucky. If Allen Robinson wanted to come here or Wentz wanted to stay, maybe I’m only writing about the Flyers today. But, to an extent, the Birds made their own luck with a series of aggressive moves that cleaned up a salary cap nightmare, provided roster flexibility, and made several savvy signings to create a Super Bowl-caliber roster.