While injuries, failed free-agent bids and one unsuccessful offer sheet have made the 2012 NHL offseason a time to forget for Flyers fans, general manager Paul Holmgren spent his summer making the right choices about who should stay and who should go.
The Flyers were faced with a number of questions as the offseason began, with big-name players like defenseman Matt Carle and right winger Jaromir Jagr in need of new contracts to stay with the team.
Certainly, either player would have been valuable to the Flyers at the right price, but Paul Holmgren has been steadily learning how to budget his salary cap cash. The extra money given to a role player today could prevent the team from signing or extending a superstar tomorrow.
For most of his tenure with Philly, Holmgren seems to have been an enthusiastic follower of the “big, long contract” philosophy that the NHL is currently trying to fight by capping the length of contracts in the new collective bargaining agreement (source: Global Toronto). But until that deal is passed, general managers have the free rein to sign players to deals that exceed 10 years.
In addition to contract length and money, an aggressive GM can court a player by putting a no-trade clause or no-movement clause in the contract, which gives the player virtual control over his own destiny.
Rick Nash reportedly exercised one of these clauses to keep himself from becoming an Ottawa Senator (per Sportsnet's Ian Mendes).
Holmgren was no stranger to these long deals, as his record displays (all contract information from capgeek.com).
Daniel Briere: Eight years, $52 million, no-movement clause.
Mike Richards: 12 years, $69 million, no-trade clause.
Jeff Carter: 11 years, $58 million, no-trade clause.
These three contracts are the three most significant long-term deals that Holmgren has put together, yet two of the three players listed (Richards and Carter) are no longer with the Flyers.
It became necessary for Holmgren to move Richards and Carter in June 2011 because the team was having increasing difficulty re-signing key players and keeping enough room under the salary cap to improve the team where it was needed.
Thus, the flaw of Holmgren’s aggressive tactics was exposed, and the team paid for it. The organization was left with no choice but to jettison two big, movable contracts (neither Richards’ nor Carter’s trade clause had kicked in).
This offseason, Holmgren seemed to be presented with yet another opportunity to dish out a long-term deal to a key player in Matt Carle, but Holmgren did not bite.
While Carle was no slouch on the Flyers, the team already had more than $22 million invested in six defenders (not including Chris Pronger’s $4.9 million cap hit), with only about $7 million coming off the books at the end of the 2012-13 season.
Piling on Carle’s contract, which would have been at least $5 million per year, even with a “hometown discount,” would have done little more than increase the depth of an already-deep defense and tie up more money on a part of the roster that was already rounded out.
Holmgren, of course, could not have foreseen how valuable Carle’s presence would be when Andrej Meszaros (via Philly.com) and Andreas Lilja (via ESPN) each required offseason surgery. Nonetheless, the GM made the proper long-term choice.
Holmgren continued his fine decision-making when he let free-agent winger Jaromir Jagr walk. Jagr signed with Dallas for $4.5 million, which was at least a million more than he made as a Flyer.
Jagr’s influence was invaluable, but his work ethic rubbed off on the impressionable Flyers youngsters so well that it became unnecessary to do it for another year.
Instead, Holmgren signed right winger Wayne Simmonds to a six-year extension that will kick in next summer, keeping the popular power forward performing for the Wells Fargo Center crowd through 2018-19.
Simmonds, who turns 24 this month, easily attained career highs in goals and points during the 2011-12 campaign and has been an even better fit in Philly than Holmgren could have pictured when he dealt for the former King last June.
For what it’s worth, Simmonds totaled more goals and points than Mike Richards, the player sent to LA in exchange for Simmonds and prospect Brayden Schenn. Richards, of course, won the Stanley Cup as a consolation prize.
Holmgren’s most significant trade was dealing struggling winger James van Riemsdyk to Toronto for struggling defenseman Luke Schenn, brother of Brayden.
Both Luke and JVR seemed to be in need of a shake-up as their development had stunted, and Holmgren jumped at the opportunity to trade an expendable piece of his already-deep offense in order to add a more positive defender to his defensive corps.
Of course, there was no lack of trying when it came to the summer’s big names, as Philadelphia was a player in some of the offseason’s hottest trade talks (Ottawa Sun), free-agency pitches (Philly.com) and even a massive offer sheet to RFA Shea Weber (ESPN).
But despite limited success on the open market and trade blocks, Holmgren did not make a panicky, short-term move that could jeopardize the team’s long-term future. The Flyers appear to have enough space under the cap that they will not be straining to re-sign center Claude Giroux during the 2013-14 season.
The corps of rookies and youngsters remains intact, and the Flyers have all the pieces to be major contenders, even in the extremely competitive Atlantic Division.
Last offseason’s dramatic shake-up was evidence that Paul Holmgren will do anything to win, but this offseason proves that Holmgren is equally capable of doing nothing in order to win.
And for Homer, that was a tough lesson to learn.