The Case for Tom Sestito: Why He Should Replace Jody Shelley

If there has been one constant in the philosophy of the Philadelphia Flyers’ front office, it is the importance placed upon the role of the enforcer.

Over the past ten years, the Flyers have trotted out numerous heavyweights, players that have one job: intimidate and impose punishment on opponents in one-on-one conflict.

Todd Fedoruk. Donald Brashear. Ben Eager. Riley Cote. Jody Shelley.

While many NHL teams now view the role of enforcer as a relic of a long-gone era, gravitating more towards “super-pests” and overall team toughness in place of a sole pugilist, the Flyers clearly deviate from this newly-established norm. By consistently dressing an enforcer, the Flyers seem intent on proving that they still warrant their famous nickname from the 1970s: the Broad Street Bullies.

Many league observers have made the strong case that, in the salary cap era, using both cap space and a roster spot on a fighter who lacks other valuable hockey skills is a poor allocation of resources.

However, after analyzing recent Flyers history, it is clear that the front office still values the role of the enforcer, despite arguments to the contrary. Jody Shelley was signed to a three-year, $3.3 million contract during the 2010 offseason. And today’s Tomas Hyka episode only served to illuminate their devotion to the tough heavyweight concept, as they neglected to draft the shifty, talented Hyka in the 2011 NHL Draft in order to select Derek Mathers, a brawler from the OHL.

No matter what your thoughts may be on the importance of an enforcer, it is undeniable that the Flyers’ roster will still contain at least one player that fits the role.

But if the Flyers have decided that they must carry a pure fighter, who should that fighter be?

Jody Shelley is the probable choice of the organization. An 11-year veteran of the league, Shelley played 58 games with the Flyers in 2010-11, racking up 127 penalty minutes.

But there exists another option. Tom Sestito, a 23-year old left wing, was acquired by the Flyers on February 28, 2011 for prospect Michael Chaput and forward Greg Moore. Sestito is currently locked in a battle for a roster spot with other prospects, such as Matt Read, Ben Holmstrom, and Zac Rinaldo.

However, Sestito should not be battling for the 22nd or 23rd spot in the team’s lineup. He should be given a legitimate chance to knock Jody Shelley off the NHL roster completely.

The Right Stuff

Shelley defenders usually point to three main justifications for his presence on the roster: size, experience, and locker room attitude.

When Shelley was signed, GM Paul Holmgren touted his new acquisition’s size as a driving force behind the move. And Shelley is certainly a heavyweight, listed at 6-3, 225 pounds.

If Shelley was replaced by Sestito, the Flyers would not downgrade in size, because Sestito is actually bigger. He’s listed at 6-5, 228 pounds.

Shelley certainly beats Sestito in the experience department, 596 NHL games to 13. But is experience really that important for an enforcer? They’re not asked to take on tough minutes, or chip in with timely goals. They’re asked to fight. And the only way for a young enforcer to gain experience is to give him NHL playing time. It’s not like Shelley is the league’s most skilled fighter – according to hockeyfights.com, he finished 2010-11 with a record of 6-3-3 in his 12 fights.

As for locker room presence, this is a legitimate point in favor of Shelley. By all accounts, he is a high-character player off-the-ice and is well liked by his teammates. But for a team with Chris Pronger, Daniel Briere and Kimmo Timonen, leadership is not at a premium. So does the likely minimal benefits of having Shelley in the locker room outweigh the benefits of Sestito replacing him?

Sestito Has Some Skill

Tom Sestito will likely never be a scorer in the NHL. His chances of cracking the top three lines of his team are slim, at best.

Still, his statistics in junior hockey and the AHL hint at a player with far more offensive ability than Jody Shelley.

Shelley’s best season in juniors occurred in 1996-97, when he scored 25 goals and 19 assists for 44 points in 59 games for the Halifax Mooseheads of the QMJHL. Sestito’s best season, on the other hand, was the 2006-07 season, when he compiled 42 goals and 22 assists, totaling 64 points in 60 games, averaging over a point per game.

Sestito has since spent four years in the AHL. His most recent season was his best, as the forward scored 11 goals and 21 assists for 32 points in 46 games with the Springfield Falcons. He averaged a half-decent 0.450 PPG as an AHL player.

Shelley’s AHL PPG average pales in comparison, checking in at 0.165 PPG.

Shelley’s best scoring total in the NHL was 10 points in 80 games in 2005-06 as a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets. Sestito could reasonably be projected to score in the 10-15 point range as an NHL regular, given a full 82 game season.

It’s a slight upgrade, but an upgrade all the same.

It’s All About The Money

But the best case for a Shelley-for-Sestito swap comes in the form of their respective cap hits.  Shelley’s yearly cap hit is $1.1 million, while Tom Sestito would cost half the price, checking in at $550,000.

You might be thinking, “It’s only $550,000! How much of an affect could that have on a roster?”

As it turns out, plenty.

Assuming that Ian Laperriere will be placed on long-term injured reserve to start the season, the Flyers currently have $1.341 million in cap space, with 21 players on the roster. The roster maximum is 23, and NHL teams usually prefer to use every spot available, to protect against injuries.

With Shelley on the roster, the final two players that make the roster would need to have an average cap hit of $670,000. And considering that the cheapest Flyer in a legitimate battle for a roster spot is Zac Rinaldo ($544,444), the most expensive cap hit that a player could have and actually fit under the cap would be $797,000.

A Sestito-Rinaldo pairing would fit comfortably, although keeping both Shelley and Sestito on the same roster would seem superfluous. An Eric Wellwood-Rinaldo/Sestito combo would fit as well. Ben Holmstrom ($750,000) with either Rinaldo or Sestito barely makes the cut, but leaves the Flyers dangerously close to going over the cap threshold. But there’s one player that would be unable to fit under the cap if Jody Shelley makes the roster.

Matt Read.

The 25-year old Read has been extremely impressive in his first two preseason games, and fared very well in a short stint in the AHL last season, scoring 13 points in 11 games. The Flyers have made it clear that Read, signed to a three-year contract, will be given every chance to make the roster out of camp, and so far, he’s done nothing to quiet his supporters.

But if Jody Shelley beats out Tom Sestito for the enforcer role, it doesn’t matter how well Read performs. He won’t make this team unless another major trade (such as a Bobrovsky deal) or injury occurs. And even if Read does not make the roster, Shelley’s presence will make it very difficult for the young forward to be a midseason call-up in the event of an injury to a member of Philadelphia top-nine forward corps, even though Read is likely the best in-house candidate to fill such a hole.

Conclusion

Tom Sestito provides a heavyweight’s size and more scoring upside than Jody Shelley, at half the cost. Shelley’s contract is hindering roster flexibility, and possibly stopping the Flyers from giving a deserving young player in Matt Read a true shot at a roster spot.

His recent 10-game suspension will force the Flyers to keep him on the roster for at least the first five games of the season. But following his reinstatement by the league, the team will need to make a decision regarding Shelley’s future on the roster.

Shelley has one advantage over Sestito – his locker room presence. But is that enough to hold off a cheaper, younger, and likely more talented player for a spot?

We at Flyers Focus would say no.

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