As the Philadelphia Flyers await the Nashville Predators decision as to whether or not to match the heavily front-loaded offer sheet signed by restricted free agent defenseman Shea Weber this past Wednesday night, Paul Holmgren has other issues with which to deal in the meantime.
The last of this summer's big catches, unrestricted free agent right winger Shane Doan -- who visited the Flyers arch-rival New York Rangers Friday -- makes a visit to Philly today.
The rugged 35-year-old has played his entire 16-year career with the Phoenix Coyotes and most likely will make a return to the desert, dependent upon the ongoing transfer of the beleaguered franchise's ownership situation. Along with Anaheim Ducks winger Teemu Selanne and Edmonton Oilers goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin, Doan is the last of the remaining players to have appeared in a full season with the first NHL incarnation of the Winnipeg Jets before the franchise uprooted and moved to Phoenix.
Serving as the captain since the 2003-04 campaign, the Coyotes are his first choice -- especially after leading his club to the Western Conference Final last year, where Phoenix finally succumbed to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings in five hard-fought games. Doan is loyal to a fault, and there's no doubt his ideal scenario sees him attempting to help build upon the momentum gained by Dave Tippett's squad over the past year.
That's not to say it's a lock he ends up wearing the desert dog on his uniform whenever it is the new season commences. Doan's tenure has certainly seen it's share of trying times, as relocation has been a constant possibility and remains an almost seeming eventuality.
While he born in Alberta, Canada and has played his entire hockey career on the West coast -- including juniors with the WHL's Kamloops Blazers -- Doan is one of those players that could make a tremendous contribution to a team like the Rangers or Flyers. The seven-time 25+ goal scorer's inclusion in either lineup would bring the additional scoring, toughness, leadership, and grit to elevate them to a favorite to come out of the East come next June.
The good news for the Flyers is Captain Coyote doesn't seem to be in any kind of rush to put his name on any dotted line as he watches Phoenix's ownership mess unfold. This gives Holmgren the time he needs to see what transpires with Nashville and Weber, and to assess just how hard he can push to bring Doan to Philadelphia.
It will be no easy task to land Doan, though, as it has been reported he will be seeking a four-year deal in the $5-$7million annual range -- and there are reportedly up to 16 teams that are vying for his services, so the price could go even higher.
If David Poile and the Predators do not match the Flyers offer sheet, the $7.85+ million cap hit that Weber will bring would just about make it a moot point as to signing Doan. With little more than $7.8 million in available space at the moment -- and RFA winger Jakub Voracek still unsigned -- Holmgren would already have to dump salary before the season begins. Add in the fact that it's almost certain the upper cap limit it dramatically reduced from the current $70.3 million (some reports placing it somewhere in the mid $50 million-range), and any thoughts of adding both Weber and Doan would appear incomprehensible. As a matter of fact even if the Flyers do end up with Weber and not Doan, there will be significant salary that will need to be moved to get close to that number.
One option is trading players to Nashville in exchange for not matching the Flyers offer to recoup any number of the four first-rounders that would become Predators property as a result of the RFA signing of Weber. This would help in not only retaining some of the picks, but also to lop off salary. Candidates for this scenario could be forwards Matt Read and / or Voracek, as well as defenseman Andrej Meszaros. Read's annual $900,000 tab wouldn't put much of a dent into the cap number, but Voracek is looking to sign for in excess of $3 million and Meszaros' price tag is $4 million.
That would be a start as to the Flyers upcoming season's cap compliancy.
Having already subtracted Jaromir Jagr, James van Riemsdyk, Matt Carle, and Sergei Bobrovsky and adding Luke Schenn, Ruslan Fedetenko, Bruno Gervais, and Michael Leighton, this has thus far not been the summer Philly had hoped for with which to improve their club.
But if the Preds do match and Weber slips away -- which is very likely to happen, even with the complex structuring of the contract that pays the blue liner $27 million in the first 13 months and $68 million in six years in an attempt to deter such an occurrence -- adding an impact player like Doan would become much more paramount to the Philadelphia off-season.
Doan would be a terrific veteran presence and would find a probable spot on the right side of Scott Hartnell and Claude Giroux, but the defense -- which has been the area of Philly's game most in need of revamping since the loss of captain Chris Pronger last fall -- would still remain somewhat of a concern.
Braydon Coburn, Kimmo Timonen, Luke Schenn, Meszaros, Nicklas Grossmann, Andreas Lilja, Gervais, Erik Gustafsson, Brandon Manning, and Marc-Andre Bourdon (also a RFA) are the current group, and on paper, the pieces all seem to leave Peter Laviolette with a very good group.
Timonen's durability over the course of a full season and playoffs has to be a concern. The 37-year-old battled through numerous ailments last year and as a result wore down this past spring. Entering the final year of his contract, Timonen remains one of the most vital pieces on Laviolette's blue line if the corps remains as-is, but the Finn would definitely benefit from a reduced amount of ice time per game.
Meszaros is coming off an injury-plagued season, one in which he appeared in just 62 contests -- missing the last 19 regular season games and first 10 of the postseason following back surgery. The play of the second-year Flyer was much more inconsistent than the previous season when he won the Barry Ashbee Trophy as the team's best defenseman. A return to full health and his 2010-11 form is imperative for Philadelphia's success should he remain with the club.
In the seemingly certain event Pronger heads to long-term injured reserve, Coburn is the Flyers defensive anchor. His usual defensive partner has been Timonen, but a season-long grind of top pairing minutes is nothing the team should desire to rely upon. If Schenn were to be partnered with Coburn, the newcomers' defensive presence would allow Coburn the ability to use his excellent skating stride to be utilized by jumping into the play offensively more often.
With Carle gone, the second pairing could be Timonen and Meszaros, and the third Grossmann and Lilja, with Gervais serving as seventh defenseman. Gustafsson, Bourdon, Manning, and 6' 6", 220-pounder Oliver Lauridsen would all be extras or re-assigned to the Adirondack Phantoms, dependent upon their respective waiver limitations.
If Weber does indeed slip away, Holmgren's options for bringing in any impact defenders are running low. Signing someone such as a Milan Jurcina as an UFA at this point would be redundant, as a top-four rear guard would be necessary in any transaction for the reasons stated above.
One option in that regard could also eventually come from Arizona if defenseman Keith Yandle is still being shopped. The 25-year-old Boston-native's name made the rumor rounds during the NHL Entry Draft last month, and the Flyers were one of the clubs mentioned as being interested. The problem with this option is Holmgren would have to give up roster players, and the usual names of Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier -- who were both named as being in Poile's demands in trade negotiations when Holmgren was attempting to land Weber -- are likely to be included.
And we all know Holmgren isn't interested in moving either at this point, if at all.
TSN's Darren Dreger stated via Twitter Friday morning he believed the Preds may have already made their decision whether or not to match the Flyers offer sheet. If Poile believes having to pay Weber guaranteed monies in excess of $25 million is taking too much of a risk with no revenues coming in if an owner-induced lockout is the result of the ongoing CBA negotiations -- one of the most potentially-crippling aspects for Nashville included in the offer sheet -- the caviat of a side deal like the one the Flyers and Tampa Bay Lightning entered into in 1997 for RFA center Chris Gratton remains a strong possibility as to the conclusion.
Wednesday night, July 25th at 11:30 PM is the Preds' deadline to match. Just as this is an important time for the Flyers, the timing of the offer sheet to Weber could't have come at any worse of a time for the franchise. They just lost Weber's defensive partner Ryan Suter to an UFA contract to the Minnesota Wild, and the prospect of losing both ends of their top defensive unit is staggering.
As for Philly, the countdown is on in what will be the single-biggest deciding factor in the direction with which Holmgren will proceed over the rest of the summer. It could go in any number of ways, and one visits the City of Brotherly Love today in Doan.
While he is likely a contingency plan in case Nashville retains Weber, don't put anything past Holmgren. The GM has shown there is little that can limit the possibilities with which he can improve his team, and adding two difference-making captains -- while a Herculean task -- should not be viewed as a complete impossibility.
As you can see, the next 108 hours are crucial as to the future of the Flyers -- both immediately and in the long-term.