Philadelphia Flyers general manager Ron Hextall did something drastic when free agency started at noon on July 1. He did nothing and it was the best
move he could have made.
Big-name players and the Flyers go hand in hand. Once a notable player hits the open market, the Flyers are linked to him within the hour. Sometimes the Flyers sign the big name, sometimes he gets away, but the orange and black always make for a fun summer. If Paul Holmgren was still at the helm, maybe the Flyers would have signed a player or two, but Hextall remained firm on his plan to build for the future while keeping an eye on the present.
This plan first took shape when Scott Hartnell was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets for R.J. Umberger and a 2015 fourth-round pick. While Hartnell possessed better stats than Umberger, his contract made him a liability. Hextall gained a quicker player with Umberger and freed up some cap space three years down the road.
Days before July 1, the NHL announced a $69 million salary cap ceiling. This left the Flyers a little over the ceiling with more than $200,000 to shed. During the offseason, teams are permitted to spend no more than 10 percent over the salary cap. All teams must be compliant with the cap when they play their first game. This offers the Flyers a pinch of wiggle room but Chris Pronger‘s contract makes planning a little more difficult. Pronger will be on long-term-injured reserve for the next three seasons, he must be placed on the roster for one day if the Flyers want to access the LTIR relief.
Hextall not only has to consider what is right for the present team but what is also right for the future team. Several of the contracts that were handed out on July 1 were absurd.
The free-agent crop this offseason was good, but not great. Few players will be difference makers on their new teams. Matt Niskanen is a good defenseman, but he is not the top-paring defenseman the Flyers crave. Matt Moulson and Mike Cammalleri could have been suitable left wingers for Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek, but five years with a $5 million cap hit is far too long and far too expensive of a deal. Goal-scorers decline much faster than playmakers. The final years of Moulson’s and Cammalleri’s deals will hurt the Buffalo Sabres and New Jersey Devils.
Niskanen, Moulson and Cammalleri could have brought immediate help, but their contracts would have made a negative impact in the future. Two years from now, Voracek’s, Brayden Schenn‘s and Sean Couturier‘s contracts will expire. Luke Schenn, Michael Raffl and Braydon Coburn will hit free agency in two years as well. Steve Mason will also enter the final year of his deal during the 2016-17 season.
The cap will rise but so will the value of each of these players. Voracek will garner more than $4.25 million a season. Schenn and Couturier have the potential to breakout in the next two seasons and could be in line for a huge payday. Those players alone could could require a large amount of money when their contracts expire. The value of these players will be determined by the market standards, which shift every year.
Hextall must also consider how the prospects in the Flyers system will develop. Out of the core group maybe four players will make the jump to the NHL in the next two years. If they perform beyond expectations, they will demand a raise from their entry-level contracts. Look no further than Ryan Johansen‘s and P.K. Subban‘s disputes to see what a rising star can make.
Back when Peter Laviolette was fired as head coach, Ed Snider told one reporter that the Flyers did not need a change in culture. A couple trades, one draft and a few days of free agency later, the culture of the Flyers has begun to shift. Hextall knows the Flyers have a young and skilled core. He knows he can build for the future and still keep a competitive team.