Examining the Flyers’ buyout options
By Tom Dougherty (@todougherty)
Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren has a difficult task ahead of him. With the salary cap trimming down to $64.3 million next season, the Flyers have to shed about $3 million while also stitching up the defense and getting bigger up front.
According to CapGeek.com, as of today, the Flyers are $3,269,762 million over the cap without re-signing any of their free agents — unrestricted or restricted. Philadelphia will have more wiggle room once Chris Pronger is placed on long-term injured reserve.
By placing Pronger on LTIR, the Flyers are able to add salary but they do not necessarily have more cap space. A team has to spend to the Upper Limit before utilizing the benefits LTIR allows (for more of an understanding of how LTIR works, click here.)
Holmgren has the luxury of two compliance buyouts, which will make the transition easier. But who does “Homer” buyout and does he use both this offseason? Under the new CBA, teams can buyout players without the cap hit counting against the cap either this offseason or next.
Many believe that that Danny Briere has played his last game in the orange and black, which may be true. The 35-year-old veteran has two more years left on his contract at a $6.5 million cap hit.
Buying him out would get the Flyers under the cap and give Philadelphia $3,230,238 in cap space. But is that enough money to re-sign restricted free agents Erik Gustafsson, Oliver Lauridsen, and Brandon Manning, who all showed promise this season, while adding pieces?
The Flyers have 10 unrestricted free agents, and nine of them are players that are not expected back. The only UFA that the Flyers will likely try to bring back is Simon Gagne, and bringing him back for anything higher than $2 million should raise caution (see story).
Some argue that the Flyers will use one of their amnesty buyouts this offseason, and use the other clause next year. But that theory rests on the hinges that Ilya Bryzgalov comes back next season.
Bryzgalov is always a hot topic in Philadelphia. Whether it’s for his inconsistent play on the ice, his love for Joseph Stalin or thinking the City of Brotherly Love is old and dirty, “Bryz” may or may not be on the chop block.
When Flyers chairman Ed Snider recently interviewed with the Courier-Post, the 80-year-old hockey man didn’t exactly give Bryzgalov the ringing endorsement he has in the past.
“First of all, I didn’t pick Bryz. That’s not my job.” Snider said. “Our staff picked Bryz of the available goaltenders and Paul Holmgren basically decided that was the guy he wanted.
“My role in the whole thing was to say, “We’ve got to get a quality goaltender. We can’t go through what we went through that year with the goaltending in the  playoffs.’ I think we would have won that Cup if we had been a little more solid at the time in goal and not switching around so often. The point is that I don’t get involved.
“I don’t ever say, ‘I’m signing this player.’ I don’t know enough about the players. We have scouts. We have Paul Holmgren. We have all the people that work for Paul that make these decisions.”
Mixed in there were some digs at Michael Leighton and some half-truths. While Snider might have not actually signed Ilya Bryzgalov because that’s not his role as chairman, he was the one who orchestrated the search.
And Ed Snider wanted the best goalie on the market, and Paul Holmgren’s job was to sign the best goalie on the market. And the best goalie on the market was Ilya Bryzgalov. So Holmgren signed Bryzgalov at his boss’ wishes.
It appears that Bryzgalov is trying to talk his way out of Philadelphia, and speculating off the quotes from the head honcho, it sounds like he might be handed his plane ticket.
If the Flyers amnesty both Briere and Bryzgalov, Holmgren would have $8,896,905 in cap space to re-sign Gustafsson, Lauridsen, Manning and Gagne, and to add a defenseman, a backup goalie and possibly another forward.
Philadelphia’s defense needs reconstructive surgery, but that might take more than one year. Holmgren’s options aren’t necessarily intriguing, and there aren’t any long-term answers on the open market.
The Flyers could fill the gap by adding a defenseman like Winnipeg’s Ron Hainsey or Edmonton’s Ryan Whitney. Islanders’ captain Mark Streit will be available, but he recently said he wants to return to New York.
Holmgren could go swimming in the restricted pool and extend an offer sheet to either Alex Pietrangelo or Kevin Shattenkirk — both Blues defenders are RFAs this summer — or attempt to acquire a top-flight defenseman via trade.
But as the Flyers found out last year, that’s not as easy as it sounds. In theory, pricing small market teams like St. Louis and Nashville out of their best players is genius. However, it doesn’t always work.
The Predators found a way to match Shea Weber’s offer sheet with the Flyers, and Holmgren would be going to battle with a Blues team with roughly $24 million in cap space. Extending an offer sheet to Pietrangelo and/or Shattenkirk would have to be a rather lucrative one.
St. Louis has ammo to go to war. It’s not the same situation as it was with Nashville; a team that ultimately had to decide between keeping Weber and re-signing Ryan Suter, who signed with the Wild. And the Preds nearly lost both.
The Blues can easily match any offer sheet to Pietrangelo or Shattenkirk, which makes the decision even tougher. How much would the Flyers be willing to pay Pietrangelo or Shattenkirk above their market value to ensure St. Louis to match?
Then, you have to ask yourself is it worth it because by doing that, the Flyers would have to shed some more space somewhere else on top of buying out Briere and possibly Bryzgalov or someone else.
If Bryzgalov does get amnestied, the Flyers have some veteran options on the market. They could bring back Ray Emery, who might be priced out of their range after a terrific year with the Blackhawks, take a look at Tim Thomas, dependent upon his asking price, or Jason LaBarbera.
By doing this, the Flyers would be handing the keys to Steve Mason. After being acquired from the Blue Jackets, Mason went 4-2-0 in seven games in the orange and black and owned a .944 save percentage along with a 1.90 goals against average.
Mason looked strong with Philadelphia, but giving the job directly to him on such a small sample size has risks. He could either pan out to be the goalie Columbus thought following his rookie season or the goalie he was for the last 3 1/2 seasons.
That’s the reason why buying Bryzgalov might not occur until after the season, but that does appear like the avenue the Flyers will go down eventually.
No matter which way you peel it, it’s not an easy apple for Holmgren to carve. He has cut the fat of the payroll to abide to the lower cap next season, and the most logical ways are to buyout Briere and Bryzgalov even though simply trimming Briere would get the job done.
But what good does that do for the Flyers’ playoff chances? That would be equivalent to pumping the gas pedal when the car’s in neutral.
Contact Tom Dougherty at email@example.com.