Philadelphia Flyers: The 179-Pound Elephant on the Ice

Dan KelleyCorrespondent IIJanuary 14, 2009

After an atrocious season in 2006-;07, the Philadelphia Flyers signed center Danny Briere to a six-year contract to make him one of the cornerstones of the team's rebuilding effort.

The move, and many of the other moves made by general manager Paul Holmgren paid off in the next season, resulting in an appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals.  Now, halfway through the 2008-'09 season, Briere has averaged a point per game.

Or, more accurately, nine points in nine games.

Briere, whose contract will result in a $6.5 million cap hit for the Flyers, has been injured for most of the season.  The center's most recent injury, a groin strain that has kept him out of 27 of the last 28 games, has been healed. 

When Briere officially ends up back on the Flyers roster, his contract will put the team about $4 million over the NHL's salary cap.

This means that $4 million worth of contracts will need to be moved elsewhere in the league or down to the minor leagues. 

In general, the Flyers have kept quiet about the situation, choosing to avoid the issue entirely by allowing Briere to test out the groin injury for two games with the team's minor league affiliate, the Philadelphia Phantoms. 

If Briere feels uncomfortable or re-injures himself, the Flyers would be able to keep their current roster intact.

But if Briere returns to the Flyers, three players are likely to be affected. 

Speculation indicates that defensemen Lasse Kukkonen and Andrew Alberts would be assigned to the Phantoms, meaning that they would need to clear waivers. However, coach John Stevens has recently chosen to start Alberts over 18-year-old defenseman Luca Sbisa, which may be an indication that Sbisa would be sent down instead of Alberts.

This still leaves another contract to be moved, and in all likelihood, that means a trade is on the horizon. 

Wingers Joffrey Lupul, Mike Knuble, and Scottie Upshall may all be on the chopping block. Lupul would likely attract attention from a number of teams interested in a shooter, but the Flyers recently gave him a contract extension, and he has become a staple on Philadelphia's SkyLine, the line that features Lupul, Scott Hartnell, and the league's top goal-scorer Jeff Carter.

It is unlikely that Holmgren would be willing to break up the SkyLine.

Knuble is unlikely to be moved because of his age.  At thirty-five, Knuble's stock among other teams is low, and it is unlikely that any team would be willing to give up a draft pick for him.

Which leaves Upshall.

Upshall has become extremely popular among Flyers fans, but his statistical contributions to the team do not compare to Lupul's or Knuble's. Upshall is the team's pest, willing to throw his body around and get under the skin of the opponent. While his role adds an element of excitement to the game, Upshall is expendable to a team looking to make a serious playoff run.

Upshall's contract is not quite big enough to put the team under the cap limit, but with an additional move sending another forward down to the Phantoms (most likely winger Jonathan Kalinski), Briere would be cleared to re-enter the lineup.

The Flyers lineup has been decimated by injuries this season, as only five players (centers Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, wingers Scott Hartnell and Mike Knuble, and defenseman Braydon Coburn) starting in all 43 games in the season.

Despite this fact, the team is in contention with the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils for first place in the Atlantic Division. And the team's strong core of young players has proven their ability to carry the team even when star players like Danny Briere are absent from the lineup.