Most casual fans do not pay close attention to the backup AHL goalie or the Flyers' depth defensemen. But it is in this minutiae that the philosophy of the organization becomes clear.
In an off-season with so much turnover and such drastic moves being made, there is plenty of room for emotional responses to the altered course the Flyers front office has taken. It is completely understandable. While the critiques of the organization for signing Ilya Bryzgalov to a contract worth way more than he deserves for more years than he will actually play are legitimate, signing Bryzgalov is not the most troubling development of the off-season.
No, the two unfathomable moves made this offseason were the minor ones made by the club. It was the fringe players most Flyers fans, and most NHL fans, have never heard of that form the basis of questioning the Flyers front office. For obvious reasons, the casual fan will look over the signings of Andreas Lilja and Jason Bacashihua and the decision to let Joacim Eriksson become a free agent. In the grand scheme of things, none of those three will make a big impact on the Flyers, and none will be worth the time to complain about.
But it is those three personnel decisions that leave me scratching my head the most. Not trading the team captain, or the leading goal scorer, or a letting playoff hero walk in free agency. As we sit right now, the Flyers have fifty non-slideable contracts filling up their fifty contract limit. That means they cannot sign another player in free agency without trading someone. They cannot claim someone on waivers, or make their favorite trade of all by sending a second round pick for an NHL player. No, they are at the contract limit.
It is in these minor depth moves that you see the philosophy of the organization.
Signing perennial number six defenseman Andreas Lilja to a two-year contract still makes the least amount of sense to me. Because Lilja is over 35 years of age, special rules apply to him. It is the same thing that applies to Ian Laperriere - perennial LTIR member - and Chris Pronger. If Lilja gets hurt, he counts against the cap. If Lilja has a career-ending injury and retires, he counts against the cap. If Lilja is so terrible that the team would send him to the AHL, he still counts against the cap. On a 35-plus contract, the Flyers cannot avoid his cap hit, other than a $100,000 credit if he goes to the AHL.
The Flyers made this signing despite having Matt Walker, Oskars Bartulis, Erik Gustafsson, and Kevin Marshall all capable of playing roughly ten minutes a game in the NHL this year. They opted for the veteran who cannot be waived away to purgatory instead of going with a young, cost-controlled player. They did this instead of signing their own UFA in Danny Syvret. And they even tacked on a second year just because.
Last year, signing Sean O`Donnell to a 35-plus contract was a better decision since it was for only one-year and came at a time when neither Gustafsson nor Marshall were ready and when Walker was still a noose around Steve Yzerman's neck. O`Donnell filled a need last year, even if he was not very good at the end of the season.
Instead, the Flyers decided to try that route again, despite every indication that Lilja was redundant at best, and an inescapable cap detriment at worst. They subjected themselves to a 35+ contract that will remain against the salary cap all season long, with the only escape clause being a trip to LTIR. Even Matt Walker was eventually waived to the AHL because Paul Holmgren understands LTIR is a worst-case scenario.
So while Andreas Lilja may not factor into the Flyers season much, he will be a #6 defenseman taking up a precious spot on the 50-contract limit, while also forcing his way on the NHL roster since the Flyers do not remove his cap hit from the team even if he's in the AHL. It is an unnecessary risk that does not have much reward, and he will be here for two years.
The signing of Jason Bacashihua is also infuriating. Full on hostility will be put on hold, since the only rational explanation is that the Flyers will be shedding a goaltender soon. But on a team that has Bryzgalov and Sergei Bobrovsky in the NHL and both Michael Leighton and Johan Backlund in the AHL, the giving of an NHL contract to Bacashihua seems like wasting the final contract available on a career AHL goalie.
But maybe that's precisely the reason he's here: to allow the Flyers to escape one of their previous terrible contracts. The Flyers have three goalies on one-way NHL deals (Bryzgalov, Leighton, and Backlund) with Bobrovsky commanding a very high $1.75 million cap hit this year due to the absence of a bonus cushion. Surely, Ed Snider cannot enjoy paying $2.4 million for two goalies to play hockey in the AHL (Leighton and Backlund), on a team he does not own in a building he does not control, while also paying his starting goalie in the NHL a $10 million salary and a $5 million signing bonus. That's a lot of money, even for Ed Snider.
With all of that said, the Flyers did not need to sign Bacashihua to a contract. Last year, they used former draft pick Nic Riopel in the AHL and ECHL on a purely AHL contract. He did not take up a spot on the fifty contract limit. Their former third round pick Jacob DeSerres is coming off a Memorial Cup victory and is on a tryout in Phoenix. There were goalies available who can be on an AHL deal, saving a contract spot for other, more important players.
Or they could have signed former top prospect Joacim Eriksson.
Most fans, and especially casual fans of the Flyers, probably do not know the names Lilja, Bacashihua, or Eriksson. They probably will never learn how to spell Bacashihua or Eriksson. They likely don't have a reason to, either.
But it is these moves, the minor depth moves, that the Flyers failed to properly execute this summer. They signed unnecessary players to unreasonably high-risk deals, filling out their maximum roster allowance on guys that will have little impact on, and/or no future in the organization.
Say what you will about trading Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, about letting Ville Leino go, and about signing Ilya Bryzgalov. Agree or disagree, there was a strategy and a purpose behind those moves.
Signing Lilja for two years and signing Bacashihua are deals that, at best, struggle to reach the level of defensible. At worst, they are a waste of resources on a team that found out today they owe the NHL $1.4 million for going over the salary cap last year.
The little things make all the difference.