The Philadelphia Flyers' decision to re-sign Kimmo Timonen has created an interesting salary cap situation for general manager Paul Holmgren to work out before next season.
As John Boruk of CSN Philadelphia explains, the Flyers will be close to the $64.3 million salary cap for the 2013-14 season with a few roster spots that will still need to be filled.
Since the Flyers don't have much defensive depth and there aren't any elite defensemen expected to hit the free agent market in July, re-signing Timonen was a smart decision. However, giving him $6 million for just one year was a terrible move.
Next season, the Flyers will have $12.5 million in cap space (almost 20 percent of total cap) tied up between two aging players in Timonen and veteran forward Daniel Briere, who are 37 and 35 years old, respectively.
The Flyers should be able to fill out their roster and still get under the cap next season, but since the team has nine players with contracts that include $3.5 million cap hits or larger for at least two more seasons, re-signing captain Claude Giroux, as well as young centers Sean Couturier and Brayden Schenn, could be difficult.
After next year, Giroux, Schenn and Couturier are all restricted free agents, and each player will be due for a big raise. Talented right-winger Matt Read will be an unrestricted free agent at that time.
Philadelphia needs to make sure that it has enough cap space to at least sign Giroux and Couturier, who will be important parts of the team's future as franchise cornerstone players.
Giroux could earn anywhere from $6-8 million per season in his next deal, especially since it will likely extend into his first few UFA years.
Re-signing the 25-year-old center as soon as possible must be Holmgren's top priority before next season because as long as Giroux continues to produce offensively and excel as the face of the franchise, he will become more and more expensive to keep long-term.
Unfortunately for the Flyers, back-loading contracts that are a decade or more in length are no longer allowed in the new CBA, so signing Giroux to a monster deal that is front-loaded to lower its cap hit is no longer an option.
Holmgren will have a few ways to free up some more cap space before next season. Let's take a look at a few of them.
- Put players on long-term injury reserve (LTIR).
- Buy out players who have huge contracts and are under performing on the ice. Per the new collective bargaining agreement (CBA), each team has two buyouts to use before the 2014-15 season.
- Trade one of the six forwards with a cap hit over $3 million for next season and fill the empty spot in the lineup with a top prospect (such as Scott Laughton).
The Flyers can keep putting veteran defenseman Chris Pronger on LTIR, which would eliminate his $4.9 million cap hit from the payroll (players on LTIR cannot be bought out). A wealthy team like the Flyers can afford to put Pronger on LTIR and pay his salary while he is unable to play.
The most likely buyout candidates for the Flyers are starting goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov and Briere.
However, since Bryzgalov has been one of the team's best players this season, buying out the 32-year-old netminder has now become a much tougher decision.
The lack of quality goaltenders expected to hit free agency this summer also complicates the decision on whether or not to buyout Bryzgalov.
If the Flyers do buy him out, the team's best option to improve its goaltending would be to trade for Vancouver Canucks star Roberto Luongo or Los Angeles Kings backup Jonathan Bernier, but neither player would be much of an upgrade over Bryzgalov. Luongo has nine years left on his current contract, and Bernier is talented but also unproven as a starter at the NHL level.
As for Briere, buying him out would not be easy because he's a fan favorite and has done so much for the franchise over the last few years. But at 35 years old, having him signed for two additional years with a cap hit of $6.5 million when he's not longer an elite player just isn't good business.
Luckily for head coach Peter Laviolette, his team has enough depth down the middle to be able to put four quality centers on all four lines next season (Giroux, Schenn, Couturier, Laughton).
Another issue for the Flyers in regards to their lack of cap space next season is their ability to build a deep group forwards.
Third and fourth line player such as Mike Knuble, Zac Rinaldo, Tom Sestito and Ruslan Fedotenko are all eligible for free agency this summer, and these players add some much-needed toughness and penalty killing to the lineup.
If the Flyers use most of their cap space to re-sign the team's best players, Holmgren might not have enough room under the cap ceiling to put together a quality third and fourth line. As the Boston Bruins and Los Angeles Kings have shown us over the last two seasons during their Stanley Cup runs (2011 and 2012, respectively), having a strong bottom-six forward group is crucial to playoff success.
Using buyouts would help the Flyers get under the salary cap, but re-signing the team's best players who are close to free agency while also putting together a roster with enough depth to contend for the Stanley Cup will be a very difficult challenge for Holmgren over the next few months.