On Tomas Hyka, Organizational Mistakes, and Media Reaction

It has been an interesting week. Undrafted camp invite Tomas Hyka went from unknown, to cut, to in the roster, to almost getting a contract, to being unable to get one.

Thursday morning, the Flyers admitted that they are not permitted to sign camp invitee Tomas Hyka and had sent him back to his Juniors club. A training camp invite being cut is usually not news, but Hyka is not the typical training camp invite.

On Monday, he was cut by the Flyers before being listed on the next night's roster in Toronto. He then impressed in his first preseason game, getting attention due to making it all the way to the airport before being told he wasn't cut. The Flyers chalked the cut up to a clerical error, but it was already apparent that Hyka was a media and fan favorite in a matter of days.

He had multiple beat writers speculating that he could be signed before the end of the week. But on Wednesday night, the Hyka story got even more interesting.

Anthony SanFilippo of the DelcoTimes spoke with a member of the Flyers organization, on the condition on anonymity, about Hyka.

The Flyers wanted to give him a look in a game situation before deciding if they want to offer him an entry level contract, which, according to a team source, is something the Flyers are seriously considering.

The problem, of course, is that Broad Street Hockey was already questioning whether the Flyers were allowed to sign Hyka, even in the middle of the game. By the end of the night, it became clear that the Flyers would need to find a loophole to sign Hyka, since he was not a free agent according to the NHL's Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). Something neither the Flyers nor the beat writers were aware of.

While the CBA is a difficult and confusing document, this particular scenario is fairly simple. In short, since Hyka played in Europe last year and he's under the age of 22, he is still draft eligible and cannot be signed to an NHL contract before re-entering the draft.

The reaction to this has been interesting, with two distinct groups. In one corner, those who were talking about how the Flyers could sign Hyka soon have ignored the fact that the team could not. The story has simply gone away, treated as any other camp invite being cut. One such reporter even responded by telling Flyers fans to "chill" since "it's not like they missed the boat on Wayne Gretzky here."

The other group is largely irate and furious at the Flyers - specifically Assistant General Manager Barry Hanrahan - for making another CBA gaffe, including the second one this summer. The Flyers let an impressive prospect leave based on an inability to understand something that a blogger can figure out in their spare time.

Neither side is wrong in their opinions, but the operations of the front office and the way those actions are perceived in the media is fascinating to me. I looked at it last year regarding free agents and roster battles, and it's still interesting. Hyka goes from complete unknown to "will likely sign an entry-level contract" shortly, but after it comes out that the Flyers didn't understand the NHL rules, he disappears from the news.

Beyond that, SanFilippo's article revealed another aspect of the Flyers organization that infuriates me.

"We thought about drafting Hyka in the third or fourth round," one Flyers executive told me prior to the game. "But the draft goes in a lot of different directions all the time, and sometimes you forget about guys - and that's what happened with Hyka.

"By the time we realized he was still on the board it was the seventh round and we were debating between him and a big and tough kid (Derek Mathers) and we decided to draft the tough kid hoping we could get Hyka into camp as an undrafted kid. It worked out for us."

The Flyers were looking to draft Hyka in the third or fourth round, but forgot about him. That's fine, that happens. And since no team drafted him, the fact that the Flyers didn't use a high pick on him has shown to be a good decision, or at least one that didn't cost them.

But by the seventh round, the Flyers were looking at their draft board and remembered Hyka. There was a guy they thought could be a third round pick and "a big and tough kid". Not only did they have to think about this decision, they once again opted for the goon.

The Flyers now have Derek Mathers, a guy with 171 penalty minutes and one goal in 55 games last year, under team control for two years. They opted to ensure they had Mathers, rather than the skill player they fell in love with this past week.

As the beat writer above said, Hyka isn't Gretzky. But the Flyers got Brendan Ranford in the 7th round in 2010, and he has two-straight 29 goal seasons in the WHL. The Red Wings drafted Henrik Zetterberg in the 7th round in 1999, and he's a four-time 30-goal scorer. Both Antero Niittymaki and Eric Wellwood were 6th round picks as well. Not to mention Sergei Kostitsyn and Patric Hornqvist as 7th round picks in 2005. It is rare, but late round draft picks are valuable and can be top-6 players in the NHL.

So while Hyka isn't a big loss, this past week showed that many members of the media are happy to speculate without questioning the organization, then quickly drop the story after being wrong. Rather than discuss the team's mistakes or their own off-the-cuff predictions, the story has been dropped, as if it never happened.

The organization may have made yet another gaffe, on yet another misinterpretation of the CBA, but it was on the eligibility of an 18 year old player with only 13 games in the Czech Extraliga, and none in North America. The mistake may have been small, but rather than admit their error, the team blamed a miscommunication with the NHL head office.

While neither the organization and their apologists, nor the fans and their haters, are handling this story as best they could, the way they are handling it is at least fascinating to watch.

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