Why Philadelphia Flyers Are Still Fumbling with Vincent Lecavalier Deal
The Philadelphia Flyers are back above the salary cap after signing another offensive-minded player despite the team's glaring weaknesses on the blue line and at the goaltender position.
5 years, $4.5 per for Vinny in Philly confirmed.— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) July 2, 2013
It's a move that, according to CapGeek, puts the Flyers over the $64.3 million salary-cap ceiling for the 2013-14 season by $318,522.
If injuries and/or poor performance make Lecavalier's contract a burden to the Flyers' cap flexibility, it will be hard to trade him because, according to TSN's Pierre LeBrun, his contract includes a "full no-move clause."
The Flyers currently have seven players with a cap hit of $3.9 million or more under contract for the 2014-15 season, which means that general manager Paul Holmgren has a lot of work to do if he's going keep his young core long-term.
Superstar center Claude Giroux, top-six winger Matt Read, young center Brayden Schenn and defensive forward Sean Couturier are all free agents after next season (all of them are RFAs except Read). Even if the cap goes up after next season as expected, all of these players will want good-sized raises when their contracts expire.
To gain enough cap room to sign Lecavalier and UFA defenseman Mark Streit, the Flyers decided to buy out the contracts of veteran center Danny Briere and starting goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov.
Briere has missed 31 games over the last three years, while Lecavalier has missed 44 in that same time. Even though Lecavalier's contract is about $2 million less than Briere's, the 35-year-old's deal was going to expire in just two years.
The Flyers have not made a significant upgrade at center by making these two moves because at this stage of their careers, Lecavalier is only slightly more productive than Briere. Head coach Peter Laviolette likes to play an uptempo style of hockey, which, as Nick Cotsonika of Yahoo! Sports points out, isn't a system that suits the former Lightning captain.
Laviolette likes to push the pace. Criticism of Lecavalier at this stage of his career: pace.— Nick Cotsonika (@cotsonika) July 2, 2013
Acquiring another center who will probably play on the second line will also slow the development of Couturier and Schenn, both of whom have exceptional talent but probably won't see much top-six ice time next year with Giroux and Lecavalier likely centering the first and second lines.
As a team that's not close to competing for the Stanley Cup, there's no reason to sign a veteran in his 30s to a five-year deal and force younger players to feature in less important roles. This signing is a win-now move by Holmgren, but his team isn't in that type of situation.
But the biggest issue with the Lecavalier signing is that it leaves very little cap space to fix the team's severe weaknesses on the blue line and the lack of talent and depth between the pipes. In the last two weeks, the Flyers have signed a 33-year-old forward and a 35-year-old offensive defenseman (Streit) despite the fact that they were one of the worst defensive teams in the NHL this past season.
Philadelphia ranked 23rd in goals against, 26th in goal differential, 28th in takeaways and gave up the fifth-most first- and third-period goals.
There were many instances last season in which poor defensive play in their own end, too many turnovers and being unable to shut down the opposing teams' top scorers cost the Flyers wins, resulting in the franchise's five-year playoff appearance streak coming to an end.
Holmgren doesn't have enough cap space to sign a defensive defenseman on the free-agent market such as Andrew Ference or Rob Scuderi. These are the types of blueliners who help teams win championships when the playoffs arrive, and the emphasis on defense and physical play are increased.
At the moment, here are the top six defensemen on the Flyers roster:
|Kimmo Timonen||Mark Streit||Braydon Coburn|
|Luke Schenn||Andrej Meszaros||Nicklas Grossmann|
There are no legitimate No. 1, shutdown defensemen in this group, which is especially concerning when you look at who's playing in net. That man is Steve Mason, whom the Flyers acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets last season after his career took a turn for the worst after winning the Calder Trophy in 2009.
Before joining the Flyers in April, Mason posted a .898 save percentage and a 3.11 GAA in the last three-plus seasons. In four career playoff games, he's 0-4 with a .878 save percentage and 17 goals against.
The Flyers will not make the playoffs next year if they have to rely on Mason to be their starting goaltender with a weak group of defensemen in front of him. He's actually the only goalie on the team's roster following Bryzgalov's buyout.
Will the Lecavalier and Streit signings result in a playoff berth next year?
Making the playoffs from a division that includes four postseason teams from last year (New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Islanders, Washington Capitals), in addition to the Blue Jackets (who would have made the playoffs if they were in the East), will be a difficult challenge for Philadelphia with its current roster.
As the last three Stanley Cup champions, the Boston Bruins, Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks have all proven that quality and consistent goaltending, combined with a talented and deep blue line, is the formula for success in the playoffs. Philadelphia is a long way from becoming this type of team.
The Lecavalier signing won't make the Flyers drastically better offensively, and it doesn't help address major weakness on the back end or in net.
Philadelphia is a franchise committed to winning, but that shouldn't result in the team being fiscally irresponsible in free agency when attempting to build a championship-caliber roster.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. He was also a credentialed writer at the 2011 and 2013 Stanley Cup Final, as well as the 2013 NHL draft.
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