Tyler J. Altemose

 With the Flyers once again on the verge of being eliminated from the playoffs, I felt it was time to do a little looking forward to next season.

I was a little cautious about writing this piece because I know there are emotional people out there in Flyerland. But I could explain how this shouldn't come across as me throwing in the towel or giving up on the team until I'm blue in the face, and there would still be people out there who want to throw me under the bus. So I'll say it just once.

This piece is not intended to come across as me throwing in the towel or giving up on the team. It is merely an exploration into the team's options (especially in net) for next season. If you can understand that, I appreciate it. If you cannot, I apologize.

Let's jump in, shall we?

The Flyers are in a precarious position going into next season. Currently the team has $58,969,155 invested in only 18 players (out of a maximum 23). With only $89,169 left per open position, the Flyers have literally the least amount of money to work with of any NHL team.

Making matters worse, the CBA expires next season. Why is this bad news bears? Because with the oncoming expiry of the CBA, there will be no bonus cushion next season. That's another $1.7M that the Flyers have working against them.

The only "good" news about the team's cap situation for next year is that Ian Laperriere will likely remain on LTIR, so there's another $1.1M or so of wiggle room.

I'm going to try to streamline this as best I can to make it easier for you, the reader, to understand and take in. I'll break down the free agents on defense, then the forwards. Finally, I'll take a look at what reasonable goaltending options remain for the Flyers.

Defense

Sean O'Donnell ― UFA ($1.3M in 2010-11)

  • Prognosis:  Won't return.

Sean O'Donnell came in as a veteran presence designed to help the Flyers on defense which came up short in the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs. Unfortunately, he has underperformed for a greater part of the season and the defense hasn't seen the improvement it was looking for. With O'Donnell being an aging defenseman, the team will likely let him walk.

Nick Boynton ― UFA ($500K in 2010-11)

  • Prognosis: Won't return.

Acquired off of waivers midway through the regular season, Nick Boynton barely made a blip on the Flyers radar. Brought in mostly as a response to a Chris Pronger injury, Boynton saw limited ice time with the Orange & Black. What ice time he did see was lackluster and forgettable, even by his own admission. So much for that move.

What happens next on defense?

I'm going to assume that Oskars Bartulis and Matt Walker are still in line as the 6th and 7th defensemen (put them in any order you like, it doesn't matter). But as a cost-cutting measure, I wouldn't be shocked to see the Flyers keep Walker in the AHL. They simply cannot afford to pay a salary like Walker's in exchange for a Walker-like performance.

In a discussion I had a couple of months ago with Tim McManus, he suggested that Kevin Marshall is the best bet for cracking the roster next season. At $845,833, Marshall is the cheapest defensive option aside from Oskars Bartulis and Danny Syvret. It strikes me as strange though that a guy predicted to make the Flyers roster by the guy who knows the Phantoms best isn't out on the ice now in the absence of Chris Pronger.

Danny Syvret saw his playing time limited to the playoffs in place of the (re) injured Chris Pronger. He fared, in my opinion, fairly well. I mean, he played like a guy who has his level of experience in the NHL playoffs. Give him and Marshall a full offseason to prepare and I think they could prove to be reasonable assets to the team's defense.

Finally, there's Erik Gustafsson. Gustafsson was talked about frequently, but I think he has to spend another season developing with the Phantoms. I expect him to be the top call-up, but I've seen this organization act far too impatient with their farm system and it would be a bit of a disappointment if he were to be called up to the NHL prematurely.

At the end of the day, here's what my projected defensive roster looks like:

  • Chris Pronger
  • Kimmo Timonen
  • Braydon Coburn
  • Andrej Meszaros
  • Oskars Bartulis
  • Danny Syvret
  • Kevin Marshall

Forwards

Nikolay Zherdev ― UFA ($2M in 2010-11)

  • Prognosis: Won't return (but should).

Nikolay Zherdev went through stints with the Columbus Blue Jackets and New York Rangers before his (frankly) childish antics and apparent lack of dedication forced him back to the KHL.

Over the summer, Paul Holmgren signed him to a one-year deal for a relatively cheap price considering the caliber of player Zherdev can be. Unfortunarely, the Flyers brass saw much of what was seen in Columbus and New York, and Zherdev was later put on waivers.

However, after 29 other teams passed on the offer, Zherdev quickly realized that he needed to change his ways. From the latter part of the regular season and throughout the playoffs Zherdev has proven to be one of the more versatile and dedicated forwards in the Flyers lineup.

In my opinion (thinking in my gut that Zherdev won't return to his old ways), I think it would be smart for the Flyers to re-sign him, but I just don't see the team having enough money to do so while keeping the smaller pieces up front and taking a starting goaltender into consideration.

Dan Carcillo ― RFA ($1.075M in 2010-11)

  • Prognosis: Won't return.

My hatred for Dan Carcillo is well-known. But I have to admit; the guy has kept his wits about himself and has brought lots of energy throughout the playoffs. The fourth line as a whole has looked pretty impressive in its entirety for that matter.

But once again we're dealing with a "lack of money" issue here. Compounding matters is that the organization has two other guys in line to fulfill his role, and at much less a cost: Zac Rinaldo and Tom Sestito.

Rinaldo, while under contract through next season, is probably the lesser of the two options. Personally, I think the only reason he saw any action during the playoffs was to amp up the crowd at the Wells Fargo Center―a tactic that hasn't produced any positive results for head coach Peter Laviolette. Rinaldo is a nut case, frankly speaking, and in my personal opinion he needs to stay far away from the NHL.

Sestito, on the other hand, is a big forward known for locking horns from time to time. And with 237 PIM and 35 points (enough for second and seventh on the Phantoms roster, respectively), he's proven that he isn't a one trick pony.

The only concern here is that Sestito is a RFA after this season. Look for the team to save money while keeping the same role player.

Andreas Nodl ― RFA ($850K in 2010-11)

  • Prognosis: Will return.

He's (relatively) cheap, he's young, and he's hard-working. It's easy to see why this organization likes Andreas Nodl. Yes, his point production waned off and he was benched by Laviolette late in the season. But remember; James Van Riemsdyk and Zherdev were also benched at various points in the season and both saw marked improvements upon their return, especially in the postseason.

Another thing to take into consideration is that this was Nodl's first full NHL season. In my opinion, the guy just ran out of gas. Give him time to develop in the offseason and his stamina will improve, as will his numbers. Andreas Nodl is another little piece in a deep offense that, when utilized correctly, is one of the best in the NHL. The organization knows this, and that's why I expect to see him back next season.

Darroll Powe ― RFA ($725K in 2010-11)

  • Prognosis: Will return.

Powe is, in my opinion, the most effective forward you don't know. He isn't the kind of guy who is going to score 20, 30 goals in a season. And if you aren't doing that or getting in a fight every other game, you essentially get lost in the shuffle.

Powe led the Flyers in hits this season. In fact, since his tenure as a Flyer started in 2008-09, he's been in the top five in hits each season. He's third amongst forwards in blocked shots, and he remains a valuable asset to the PK. Furthermore, his cost is low. Of all the soon-to-be-free agents on this roster, he stands the best chance of returning. It's almost a no-brainer.

Ville Leino ― UFA ($800K in 2010-11)

  • Prognosis: Won't return.

The biggest concern with Ville Leino is the amount of money he's going to command for next season. This has little to do with his performance on the ice.

It's unfortunate to see situations like this because it's once again a reflection that, at the end of the day, the NHL is a business.

There were reports earlier in the season that Leino's agent and the Flyers were close to a deal which would get Leino $3-4M. That isn't happening anymore.

Why? Because Kris Versteeg happened, that's why.

People can whine and complain about Versteeg not being the missing piece or whatever, but the fact remains that Kris Versteeg is a better hockey player than Ville Leino.

What happens next for the forwards?

Well, assuming that Powe and Nodl return, and also assuming that Tom Sestito takes over for Dan Carcillo as the new Dan Carcillo, two roster spots remain up front. Hello, Eric Wellwood and Ben Holmstrom. There are your forwards.

For those of you keeping track, here are the 15 (yes, 15) forwards I project for next season:

  • Scott Hartnell
  • Daniel Briere
  • Claude Giroux
  • James Van Riemsdyk
  • Mike Richards
  • Kris Versteeg
  • Andreas Nodl
  • Jeff Carter
  • Darroll Powe
  • Jody Shelley
  • Blair Betts
  • Tom Sestito
  • Eric Wellwood
  • Ben Holmstrom
  • Ian Laperriere

Now it's onto the crux of the issue―the furious goaltending debate.

I think it's pretty safe to assume that the only guy who is guaranteed a job in net next season is Sergei Bobrovsky. Brian Boucher's contract is up and Michael Leighton―well, what can I say about Michael Leighton?

I'll say this much: I see him riding out the last year of his contract with the Phantoms next season. That is all.

So who fills the void, and how much money does the team have to spend on him given the scenario I have unfolded? Well, check out this chart I made through Capgeek's Cap Calculator.

There are a couple of elements to consider here:

  • Changing salary cap ― The 2010-11 salary cap was set at $59.4M. The salary cap for next season, although unofficial, is set to increase to the $63M area. That has been accounted for.
  • Loss of the bonus cushion ― As I've hinted at before, with the CBA expiring next year the bonus cushion has been eliminated. The chart takes into account the over $1.9M in bonuses as part of my projected roster.
  • Someone's missing ―  If you look at the chart carefully enough, you will notice that someone on defense from this season is missing. That would be Matt Carle. Again, the "business" side fo the league rears it's ugly head.
  • Also be aware that "Roster Size" only includes active members.

While Carle remained one of the best in terms of 5/5 play, his performance toward the latter end of the season and into the playoffs really waned. Compounding the situation is the fact that Andrej Meszaros has once again become the dominant defensive force he used to be as a member of the Ottawa Senators. This makes Carle all the more expendable. Offloading Carle's contract allows the team to keep the smaller pieces up front.

At the end of the day, with all the above elements considered, the Flyers are looking at a little over $5.2M in cap space sans a goaltender.

I've seen big names like Ilya Bryzgalov and Tomas Vokoun thrown out there. That is not happening. There just isn't enough money.

Why not? Because you have to account for the fact that Powe, Nodl, Sestito, and Syvret are being re-signed and hence are going to be paid more than they were this season.

Guesstimating, I'd have to say that the Flyers are looking at $2-3M to pay for a starting goaltender. If the team wants a solid starting goaltender for the amount of money they have at their expense, they should look no further than Evgeni Nabakov.

However, if the Islanders decide to "toll" his contract that won't be an option.

What happens in that case? Well, it seems like its back to the preverbial drawing board. My work here is never done.

 

Questions, comments or concerns? Feel free to email the gang at PhillyReign@gmail.com