The Philadelphia Flyers recently traded a third round pick to the Phoenix Coyotes for the rights to goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov. It's the price they paid for a month's worth of exclusive negotiating rights with free agency's top-rated netminder. However, the move has caused both casual fans and analysts to ask how the Flyers could possibly afford him. There's a good reason for that question. According to CapGeek.com, the Flyers cap situation is as follows:
Number of players under contract: 18
Committed to the cap: $58.9 million
Bonuses: $1.7 million
Given that a standard roster usually consists of at least 22 players, the Broad Street squad is a few players short and is very tight against a projected cap of $62-63m next year. And that is before they potentially sign Bryzgalov.
The Russian netminder will likely command a contract that puts his cap hit near the top of the league for goaltenders, which is well-deserved. Bryzgalov has had Even-Strength Save Percentages (ESSV%) of .934, .918, .928, and .931 over the last four seasons. Those rates are fantastic and speak to his talent level between the pipes. "Bryz" also boasted a 21.5 GVT last season, which ranked 10th in the entire NHL. That puts him 15.4 goals (or 2.5 wins) better than Philly's best goalie, Sergei Bobrovsky, last season.
The issue isn't with Bryzgalov's talentit's with fitting his cap hit onto an already dollar-crowded roster. In 2010-11, the highest cap-hit goalies counted between $5.2 million and $6.9 million against their team's allocation. For the Flyers to fit their potentially elite crease defender in, it will likely mean letting talented but streaky winger Ville Leino walk in free agency along with moving another player of equal salary to Bryzgalov's new contract.
Leino had a good year, scoring 19 goals and notching 53 points, while amassing a GVT of 10.9, which was the seventh-best total on the Flyers. His scoring rate of 2.21 points per 60 minutes is easily worthy of playing in a top six role and his departure would leave a gaping hole in the roster. That said, even without signing Bryzgalov, the Flyers might have a hard time hanging onto Leino.
But let's consider for a moment that the Flyers GM Paul Holmgren actually gave up that third round pick with the intention of signing Bryzgalov. He has several players that he could consider moving to make the cap room.
Player Cap Hit ($M) 2010-11 GVT
Daniel Briere 6.5 16.1
Jeff Carter 5.3 16.6
Scott Hartnell 4.2 8.0
Kimmo Timonen 6.3 8.5
Chris Pronger 4.9 5.4
A lot of the rumors have centered on Briere or Carter being on the way out. Both are top-tier forwards but would let the Flyers deal from a position of strength (forward depth). But losing either one would relieve the team of an elite performer, which is less than ideal.
On the other hand, moving Timonen or Pronger would definitely provide the cap relief and make the team quite a bit younger, but both have been mainstays on the back-end and have taken harder matchup assignments than Matt Carle and Andrei Meszaros.
The best option appears to be moving Scott Hartnell. Much like the team parted ways with Simon Gagne last offseason, it would make sense to move on from a player who is still a very solid contributor, but not up to the expectations that his salary commands.
But given that Hartnell has a No Trade Clause (NTC), this would not be a straight-forward move. He would have to see the value in the team he was moving on to. Compounding this difficulty is the realization that the Flyers would likely get no better than the third round pick they just traded away for Bryzgalov's rights. Other GMs understand the time constraints the Flyers are faced with and won't be likely too pay much for a second or third line forward making over $4 million per year.
In the end though, the Flyers could come out of this having essentially traded Hartnell for Bryzgalov, and addressing their greatest area of need. Hopefully Philadelphia has enough parks to keep the Bryzgalov family entertained.
Ryan Popilchak is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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