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Flyers Cope With The Perils of the Free Agent Market

July 1 is always a day full of speculation and excitement in the NHL, but it also comes with dread and worry for teams leery of getting in a bidding war. The Flyers were largely able to avoid these pitfalls.

Nearly five hours into the start of free agency, we were reminded why the phrase "Free Agent Frenzy" gets thrown around. By the end of the day, noted 55 players who changed teams, and a handful more who re-signed with their previous team.

NHL teams throw money and years at free agents that they will regret not long after. Sure, Columbus has been coveting a puck-moving defenseman like James Wisniewski for years, but the 27-year old has only played 70 games in an NHL season once. It was last year. No matter, he got a six year, $33 million contract. The same is true for Ville Leino and Buffalo. Leino got six years and $27 million, despite only playing 56 NHL games in a season once before, and that also was last year.

These long-term, high-cost contracts are something the players clearly want and deserve, but the market for free agents this year seemed especially inflated. As Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero said, "This is not the market to be signing players." Why was this year's market so bad? Mostly because of Florida GM Dale Tallon, but even he has the excuse of needing to reach the cap floor.

The Florida Panthers have added over $31 million in salary since the NHL draft. They have taken on the terrible Brian Campbell contract, signed Ed Jovanovski to a four-year, 35+ contract worth over $4 million per year, given Tomas Fleischmann $4.5 million per year for four years, Scottie Upshall $3.5 million per year for four years, and more. SBNation blog Behind the Net looked at the Panthers spending and saw that they spent more than $1.3 million per additional win more than even this year's inflated free agent market.

What does this have to do with the Flyers? Well, the Flyers were able to (smartly) avoid paying Ville Leino $27 million, instead allowing the Sabres to overpay Leino. But the Flyers did give third/fourth line player Maxime Talbot a five-year deal. They gave sixth defenseman Andreas Lilja a contract that nobody seems to know how long it was. Is it a one-year deal? Two-year deal? Maybe even a three-year deal. While the Flyers may have gotten good deals in terms of cap hits, they had to lengthen the deal beyond what is prudent just to do it.

Such is life in the free agent market. Max Talbot is a solid player, but where does he fit in on this team? Last year, Talbot faced second and third line competition for the Penguins while starting in the offensive zone the 5th most often, and he still lost the shot battle, albeit not by much. Basically, Talbot was able to tread water for the Penguins last year, one year removed from struggling in a sheltered, third/fourth line role for the Penguins. But he got a five-year deal out it.

Andreas Lilja, while we don't quite know how long his contract is for yet, is also another questionable addition. Last year, he was on Anaheim's third pairing while getting the third most offensive zone starts. Even with the favorable situations, Lilja was unable to control the play, finishing last among Ducks defensemen in CorsiRel. This, only a year after being Detroit's 8th - and worst - defenseman. For one year, Lilja may not be a terrible contract, but he's at best unnecessary. Surely the Flyers have a sixth, seventh, or eighth defenseman in their organization already (Oskars Bartulis, Kevin Marshall, and Erik Gustafsson immediately come to mind, let alone Matt Walker), but they instead spent money - and a contract slot - on an easily replaceable part.

The good thing about not having much cap space is that there aren't many opportunities to give out bad contracts. The Flyers, despite being players on the free agent market, were largely able to avoid over-payments (ignoring Ilya Bryzgalov, of course). With teams like Florida, Buffalo, and Washington giving out large contracts that are unlikely to provide value, the Flyers deserve credit for limiting the damage and avoiding the perils of the open market.