Flyers Goalie Situation Raises Philosophical Question

It seems like a yearly tradition in Philadelphia: argue that the team should be blown up, star players should be traded, and they need to go get a goalie. This year, the conversation is the same. Despite the Flyers' goalies playing superb hockey for 82 games, and Brian Boucher out-dueling Ryan Miller in a seven-game series, the masses see a bad four games and demand change. It's really quite something, living in this town.

Either way, the people arguing that a Sergei Bobrovsky - Michael Leighton combination is just not good enough next year have a point. Hell, I agree with them. I just wish those people felt this way last year, before the Flyers re-signed Leighton to a two-year, $3.1 million contract.

The problem becomes how the team can afford to pay a better goalie. For anyone who likes to speak about what the Flyers should do, I urge you go to CapGeek's cap calculator and see for yourself what is possible. Sure, it's easy to say "go sign Ilya Bryzgalov". What isn't easy is figuring out how you fit that paycheck under the salary cap.

We don't yet know what next year's salary cap will be, but the working assumption is a $3 million increase to $62.4 million. It could be more, it could be less. Either way, it is a working assumption. As of now, the Flyers have 20 players signed for more than $61.5 million. This includes Leighton, Matt Walker, Matt Read, and Ian Laperriere, all of whom are on one-way deals. But it is safe to say the Flyers regret acquiring Walker and signing Leighton, so let's remove them from our calculations. Also, let's just assume Laperriere is placed on LTIR and the Flyers put themselves in that unenviable position all year.

In this situation, the Flyers have $5.2 million to sign three forwards, one defenseman, and one goalie. That's an average of $1 million per player. Bryzgalov had a cap hit of $4.25 million last year alone, while Ville Leino turned down a $3 million per year offer from the Flyers earlier in the season. The only way both - and really, one of them - return is if the Flyers lose a high-priced player from their roster. Such is life snuggled against the cap.

Despite this difficult math, requests and demands to go get a goalie of Bryzgalov or Tomas Vokoun's ilk are not laughable. They aren't. Instead, they are demanding a complete philosophical shift in the Flyers organization. I've called for a philosophical shift in the Flyers' organization before as well, but the team still decided to dress Zac Rinaldo in the playoffs. It's fine if people wish to change how the team is built, but it's problematic to accept that a team who finished 2nd in the Eastern Conference a year after going to the Stanley Cup Finals is in need of a complete restructuring.

As it stands, the Flyers have seven top-9 forwards and easily a great top-6. The difference is that four of those top-6 are natural centers. So the Flyers built around those four, receiving strong contributions from Kris Versteeg, Nikolay Zherdev, and Ville Leino to create three deep, balanced forward lines. If people want a goalie, the team can no longer afford to roll three lines as deep as the Flyers did last year.

This is partially why people are willing to trade Jeff Carter for a goalie. If they want to put emphasis on a goalie, they need to subtract elsewhere. Even if I disagree that a goalie makes a large enough impact to justify losing a Jeff Carter type player, different philosophies are exactly that: different ways of thinking.

The difficult part of this offseason from a fan's perspective is that this philosophical difference is often lost in conversation. As we live in a capped world, simply calling for a better goalie isn't what it was during the 90's. You can't just throw money at a problem, but rather you have to re-arrange your organization. Shifting eight percent of the salary cap from one area to another results in a huge shift in the makeup of the team.

It's the difference between having a 66-point player on the third line with Nikolay Zherdev as a healthy scratch and having a bottom six of grinders and rookies. It's going from a deep offense and a deep defense to a top-heavy offense and a good goalie. It's a shift in strategy that probably requires a shift in Peter Laviolette's system, if not a change in coaching altogether.

Maybe this sounds like hyperbole, and it very well could be. But if you take Jeff Carter out of the offense in order to acquire a high-priced goalie, you've created a giant hole in your top-6. Maybe you don't re-sign Ville Leino in order to have more money to spend, but you still have limited resources to fill numerous spots in your lineup.

If there was one spot where the Flyers could shed salary while seeing only a small decrease in production, it would be downgrading from Scott Hartnell to Mike Testwuide. The two are not the same player, nor will they contribute the same next year. But it saves the club $3.3 million against the cap, which would go a long way toward accomplishing the philosophical shift desired, without requiring such a large dismantling of the team.

No matter what the Flyers decide to do, the discussions taking place need to be looked at for what they are: debates over the philosophy Paul Holmgren has utilized as GM. So to all those people calling for a goalie, go pretend you're a GM on CapGeek and show how you fit a $4 million goalie onto your roster. And ask yourself if that team can win.

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