The two biggest shoes in this crazy summer of NHL free agent spending had dropped Wednesday when the long-awaited choices were finally announced on July 4th and as expected, Philadelphia was not the final destination for either. Both defenseman Ryan Suter and forward Zach Parise inked matching 13-year, $98 million pacts to play for the Minnesota Wild.
While the Philadelphia Flyers offers didn't garner the duo, but they more than likely drove the pair's respective asking prices to the point where the arch-rival Pittsburgh Penguins couldn't land either. Not that Suter wanted to play anywhere in the East, but Parise on Sidney Crosby's right wing would have provided the Flyers with the daunting task of not only shutting down that line, but also the one with NHL MVP Evgeni Malkin and James Neal.
The rejection of the offers by Suter and Parise actually may end up being the best thing that could have happened in the situation.
The $7.54 million cap hits for Suter and Parise could have been the proverbial millstones around the neck of the franchise, one in which could have caused extreme difficulty both immediately and in the future.
There is talk that when the eventual Collective Bargaining Agreement is reached between the League and the NHLPA, the ceiling of the salary cap could be set lower than at the current $70.3 million summertime mark.
If the Flyers had somehow been successful in landing both and their cap hits, they would already be over the current high limit. Teams are allowed to carry up to 10% in excess of the cap during the off-season, just as long as they are compliant by the beginning of the regular season.
The immediate problem would have been if the cap were decreased, at which time Holmgren would likely have been pushed into a frenzied rush to dump salary.
The issues over the next few years would affect the ability to re-sign numerous key players:
Both defenseman Kimmo Timonen ($6.33 million) and left wing Scott Hartnell ($4.25 million) are entering the last year of their contracts. It's to be seen if the Flyers will be interested in exploring extensions with either, or if they'll be allowed to walk.
Timonen has been one of the best defensemen for the club since his arrival in 2007, but has been hampered by an increasing number of injuries. His back issues are becoming chronic, and it's to be seen if Timonen can hold up to the rigors of the 82-game schedule. Not to mention he will have turned 38 years old before the postseason commences.
Hartnell notched a career-high 37 goals last season and has been a fixture on Claude Giroux's left side since early last year -- when he joined Giroux and the since-departed Jaromir Jagr, who signed an free agent pact with the Dallas Stars. Before that, he played a major role on a line with Danny Briere and Ville Leino (who signed as an UFA with the Buffalo Sabres a year ago), one in which carried a large part of the scoring load when the club reached the 2010 Stanley Cup Final. He will be 31 years old next spring, and much will depend on the market and Hartnell's contract demands.
Perhaps one of the trickiest summers, as a good amount of the Flyers young core come due. Giroux will become a RFA, and will be in line for a huge increase from his current $3.75 million contract. Both Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier's entry-level deals will expire and the pair will be RFAs, and Matt Read's bargain of a pact (just $900,000 per year) will also reach its finality.
With the 10th-highest salary committed for the 2012-13 season, the Flyers -- traditionally one of the NHL's top spenders -- are in unfamiliar territory at the moment, and still have ongoing negotiations with restricted free agents Jakub Voracek, Tom Sestito, Marc-Andre Bourdon, and Harry Zolnierczyk.
The moves by Suter and Parise allowed defenseman Matt Carle to place the 'former-Flyer' tag in front of his name, as he inked a six-year, $33 million pact to return to the Tampa Bay Lightning. If you recall, Philadelphia acquired Carle from the Bolts during the 2008-09 season in exchange for feisty winger Steve Downie and rear guard Steve Eminger.
With huge offers on the table to both Suter and Parise, the Flyers delay in waiting to see if second choice (Carle) was still available likely caused his departure from South Philly. By exploring options perceived to be better and then coming back to Carle when the others had signed elsewhere, the expected 'hometown discount' afforded Paul Holmgren was most certainly gone.
You really cannot blame him for leaving.
Carle's absence will likely leave a sizeable hole on the blue line, but the addition of Bruno Gervais as a free agent signing Thursday -- along with bringing back forward Ruslan Fedetenko to where his NHL career began -- Paul Holmgren is either going with a total youth movement, or he is laying the groundwork for a major trade to come about.
"Well continue to look to see what's out there and what we can do", Holmgren said via conference call on Thursday. "I really like our team, and I'm hesitant to look at anything where I've got to give up something to get something back. We have a lot of good, young players that have tremendous potential. Quite frankly, I'm happy with our team right now."
So it would seem that he's done for the off-season.
"We still have the nucleus of our young team that we had at the end of last year," the GM added. "I think we’re going to be better with all those guys having one year under their belts -- Jakub, and Wayne Simmonds, and Couturier, and Matt Read, and the other young guys that gave us things like Wellwood and Rinaldo. We’ve added Luke Schenn, Nicklas Grossmann we get to see and get full season out of. You could argue that we lost a lot of good players and we did. But the maturation process of our group and adding a solid guy like Ruslan to our forward mix and a steady guy like Bruno on our back end. I think we’re still a good team that has a lot of potential."
Holmgren is still looking for ways to improve the Flyers, as always.
"That doesn't mean we won't look and see what happens."
As the summer progresses, there are, however, many feasible options afforded Holmgren in the wake of 'losing out' on the most-desired free agents available this summer:
The Flyers have one of the most-balanced offensive attacks in the League, and their defense is more than serviceable. If Holmgren waits it out and has cap space available to add players at the trade deadline, it would be a luxury he has not been able to enjoy since taking over the GM post.
Holmgren may still add more via free agency:
While the remainder of defensemen available is thin (at best), there is an interesting forward still out there via free agency. Captain Coyote Shane Doan is the prototypical Flyer -- big and tough with a scoring touch -- and he would fit in nicely on Giroux's right side. The problem with this option is there is no guarantee the Flyers can get Doan, and the winger hasn't even indicated as of yet if he intends to leave the desert or not. He's spent his entire 16-year playing career with the franchise, and the same decision to remain status quo as Martin Brodeur recently made could very well end up being Doan's choice. He is not considering offers until July 9th at the earliest, so that puts teams in a bind if they're in need of upgrades. Kind of the same situation as waiting on Parise and Suter.
Add in the fact that the 35-year-old is seeking at least a four-year deal, and it may be best to pass. The feeling here is Holmgren moves on and explores other options, as Doan has spent every season of his hockey career playing in the West -- even having spent his junior years playing for the Kamloops Blazers of the WHL. Even if the seventh-overall in the 1995 entry draft does leave Arizona and the unstable Coyotes organization, it would seem almost a lock he will find a suitor in the Western Conference.
He could instead go the trade route:
The $7.8 million cap hit that Rick Nash carries was once thought to be ridiculous, but is not looking nearly as bad considering some of the numbers the 2012 free agent class have received. Columbus Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson is likely still burning after trading Voracek and a first-round draft choice (Couturier) in exchange for Jeff Carter last summer. Both Voracek and Couturier turned out to be integral contributors to the Flyers offense, while Carter moped his way out of Columbus to trigger a trade to the eventual Cup champion Los Angeles Kings.
It's thought that Howson is demanding at least Schenn and possibly Couturier in addition, as well as draft picks. With his job obviously hanging perilously in the balance, he needs to come away with a major haul in any deal made for his captain, but it's unlikely if Howson does not come off those demands that Nash will wear the Orange-and-Black.
South Jersey-native Bobby Ryan has expressed a certain level of discontent in Anaheim, as the winger mentioned he's sick of having his name included in constant trade rumors. There's no doubt that Holmgren would love to facilitate Ryan's transfer back to the East coast, but Anaheim GM Bob Murray has also expressed his desire for a young forward to be included.
Schenn's was the name heard during draft weekend in Pittsburgh -- along with draft pick(s), as to what he was seeking in return. It remains to be seen if Holmgren can substitute Read and a defenseman and / or draft picks to spring Ryan to Philadelphia.
The two words that make every Flyers fan start to have visions of the Stanley Cup dancing in their heads -- Shea Weber -- just so happens to be the one player if Holmgren would be successful in acquiring that could very well push Philadelphia over the top. While it seems almost incomprehensible that David Poile would even consider moving the All-Star defender and Norris Trophy runner-up out of Nashville, the way things unfolded surrounding Suter could be the reason he ends up moving Weber. It was a bitter pill to swallow for the GM to watch Suter leave with the Predators receiving no compensation in return, especially when Poile believed there was a very good chance he would be able to get Suter to re-up in Music City. That belief provided the onus for Nashville's hesitance in dealing Suter before the trade deadline, or moving his rights prior to July 1st.
The thought of losing Weber -- who becomes an UFA next July 1st -- the same way should have Poile seeking to find out if Weber's camp will accept a long-term contract to stay put. With his team of representatives at Titan Sports management talking patience and a wait-and-see kind of approach, it should immediately send off all kinds alarms for Poile.
Thing is, the longer he waits, the less he may be able to control the situation. And the ability to demand more from potential-trade partners may not be as biting as it is at this time.
Possessing a dynamite stable of young fowards, the Flyers would seem a logical place for Poile to explore. After acquiring Luke Schenn to help stabilize the team's blue line, it would seem doubtful that Holmgren would move his brother, Brayden, in any deal. Stranger things have certainly happened (especially in Philadelphia), but the chances would appear slim.
That brings about the next name always mentioned in trade talks, that being Couturier. Just as advertised in scouting reports before the 2011 entry draft, the young centerman proved to possess a wealth of talents at both ends of the rink. Playing a game that is comparable to that of Jordan Staal, many teams would love to get their claws into the 19-year-old.
While he's been named as a demand of Howson's in Columbus in the Nash talks, it would seem the only player available at the moment that Holmgren should consider moving the player that shut Malkin down in the playoffs for is Weber. The 6' 4", 232-pound rear guard is the franchise defenseman the Flyers have lacked for so long. They acquired Chris Pronger -- who appears may never play again -- in hopes of being that player, but his body had obviously worn down with the wear and tear through nearly 15 years of NHL regular seasons, postseasons, and international play.
Turning just 27 in August, Weber would put Philadelphia in a position of strength on the back line for years to come. He brings perhaps the most complete package of any single defenseman in the NHL: tough, defensively a shutdown rear guard, one of the biggest shots in the game from the point, and a true leader as evidenced by serving as captain of the Preds.
Someone who can control the game from the blue line, and help clear the porch in front of Ilya Bryzgalov over the next decade.
Poile has the money to throw at the RFA, having the least amount of salary committed for the 2012-13 campaign of any team at barely more than $40 million. That leaves the GM with over $30 million to spend, so he would have no problem offering a contract that rivals the highest-paid skaters in the League. The only question is if Weber will accept, or if he wants a change in venue for the remainder of his career.
Only time will tell if Holmgren is setting up to go this route or if he is indeed sticking with his youth movement. He does have the pieces in place for the club to to improve if the youngsters can elevate their game each season. In addition to the young forwards on the roster, Nick Cousins and Derek Mathers could also be on the way in the near future.
Or headed out of town as part of a package for one of the afore-mentioned players.
Holmgren also has several veterans -- as well as newly-appointed head of Player Development, Ian Laperriere -- capable of guiding them along in their development. It is not out of the realm of possibility, it just goes against the "win now" approach taken by the organization for the last couple of decades.
Maybe a new philosophy should be allowed to be tested, since there has been no ultimate "win" for the Flyers over the past 37 years.
Is Holmgren happy with the current version of the Flyers? Were the additions of Fedetenko and Gervais merely veterans to fill in bottom line support roles, or were they cheap roster fill-ins as the preface to a big trade where players will need to be replaced?
Any way it plays out, it should be an interesting next couple of months watching everything unfold in Philadelphia.