The first round of the NHL playoffs for the Philadelphia Flyers almost ended in an absolute disaster. It took them a full seven games, which included a come-from-behind win in Game 6, to eliminate the injury-rattled Buffalo Sabres.
After escaping by the skin of their teeth, the Flyers had a semifinal rematch with the Bruins. Let's just say the epic comeback of last season did not see a repeat.
The Flyers were outscored 20-7 in the four-game sweep and played like the Flyers of 2007, a season in which the team ended the season with 56 points. One stat that certainly jumps off the table is that the Flyers actually outshot Boston in the series 149-129.
The goal differential, in light of the shot differential, highlights the Flyers' longtime problem: goaltending.
GM Paul Holmgren, in what many consider to be the most comical comment of the playoffs, said, "I don't think that we can fault our goaltending at any point in this series."
While he is right that the backchecking amongst the forwards was not as good as it should have been, to not blame your goalies and their collective 4.50 GAA and .877 save percentage is ridiculous. Goaltending is clearly a problem for this team. It always has been, and unless Holmgren can man up and realize it is an issue that needs to be fixed, it may always be a problem.
The Flyers clearly need to get a frontline top goaltender to answer their woes.
They have tried the Chicago and Detroit track, where you put no money into the goaltender, and it has failed them miserably. There are two star goaltenders in Ilya Byzgalov and Thomas Vokoun that are going to be on the open market and will ask for approximately $5 million per season.
The problem facing the Flyers is how to sign them to a contract.
Here is a list of the salaries that they owe to their top 11 players for next season:
Daniel Briere: $7 million
Mike Richards: $6.6 million
Jeff Carter: $6 million
Scott Hartnell: $3.7 million
Kris (crippling trade) Versteeg: $3.1 million
Claude Giroux: $2.75 million
Kimmo Timonen: $5 million
Chris Pronger: $7.6 million
Andrej Meszaros: $4 million
Matt Carle: $3.8 million
Brayden Coburn: $3.2 million
Total: $52.75 million
Note: This is a list of actual salaries. The cap hit on the contracts is varying in both directions.
With the suspected cap hit of $62 million, the Flyers are left with about $10 million to fill out over half of their roster. This is before they re-sign Ville Leino, their top UFA.
Thanks to Holmgren's short-sighted trade for Kris Versteeg, a deal made without giving up a penny from the current roster, he has left his team in contractual problems that makes the 'Hawks' woes of last year look like nothing.
The Versteeg trade made even less sense when you realize that they had absolutely no need for another offensive player. It fails me to understand what the Flyers had to gain.
There are two scenarios that may allow Holmgren to sign either Bryzgalov or Vokoun. Either they are able to option a player making a lot of money, like Matt Carle or Brayden Coburn to the minors, or trade them. These guys, especially Coburn, who is an absolute beast on the penalty kill, may garner attention from teams looking for a young and steady defenseman that carries a short-term contract into the new CBA.
The other scenario that may arise, that will allow for the Flyers to sign a goalie, is if the market suffers from the "Turco/Nabokov syndrome." Essentially, there is nobody on the market that is willing to pay for a goaltender, so you can either accept a minimum veteran's salary, or go play for a couple of weeks in Europe before promptly requesting to come back to the NHL, only to be claimed by the least desirable destination in perhaps all of sports. Hmm...
I do not believe that the Panthers have any interest in re-signing Thomas Vokoun. They have the No. 1 goalie prospect Jakub Markstrom in their system, and since they are in full rebuilding mode, there is no need for a 35-year-old goaltender that will not contribute to any long-term success.
The only way I see Vokoun returning to the Panthers is if they give him a big one-year deal. Again, I do not think that this deal would make any sense hockey-wise for either party.
Bryzgalov is a very interesting case. If the Coyotes end up moving to Winnipeg, he has said that he has no intentions of playing there and will move on from the organization. While he may end up getting swayed by money, he has eliminated one of the few teams that will be in the market looking for a goalie.
Also, with all of the ownership issues, it may be difficult for them to organize the funds to re-sign him to an adequate contract, especially with Kieth Yandle becoming a restricted free agent.
The Flyers are the only ones that actually have realistic championship capabilities and will be a huge draw to any goaltender looking for a new home.
So while the asking price may be $5 million, the Islanders may be scared off by paying for another goaltender, the Jackets might think that Steve Mason will remember how to play hockey, and the Avs might decide that they can find another one-hit wonder like Craig Anderson and keep their costs as low as they possibly can.
It may be possible with the lack of demand for goalies on the market that the Flyers can get away with a lowball offer of approximately $3 million. While I think Bryzgalov may end up returning to Russia to play in the KHL, it is very possible that Vokoun may bite.
If these avenues do not work out, the only other option left for the Flyers is to make a trade. The one thing that they most definitely have on their side is a significant amount of assets. While I do not usually like to speculate, the one glaring trade scenario that really seems to work is the Flyers acquiring Jonathan Quick.
As documented as the Flyers' inability to procure a top-notch goaltender has been, the inability for the Kings to land their much coveted partner for Anze Kopitar has nearly been equally emphasized. The Kings have tried absolutely everything. They have signed Alex Ponikarovsky, traded for Marco Sturm and Dustin Penner and lost out on the opportunity to choke themselves by signing Illya Kovalchuk to an enormous contract.
With the most heralded young goalie in Jonathan Bernier, the Kings should be looking to trade Quick while he still has value on his low contract. Quick is signed for another two seasons at $1.8 mil each. The Flyers can afford this and can also provide the Kings with the top-line players they need. The Kings have an extensive number of restricted free agents to sign, highlighted by superstar Drew Doughty, and the best young third liner in the game, Wayne Simmonds. After all the internal signings are completed, the Kings will be left with approximately only $3 million in cap space to begin the 2012 season.
With not much flexibility to play around with, it seems the best option for them is acquire to James Van Riemsdyk.
He is on his entry-level contract this season and will be looking for a big pay hike at the end of the upcoming season. By then, the Kings will be able to afford to pay him the money, with almost $18 million coming off the books at the end of the 2011 season.
Ryan Smyth ($6.25 mil), Willie Mitchell ($3.5 mil), Dustin Penner ($4.25 mil) and Jarret Stoll ($3.6 mil), even if re-signed, will be at a discount from what they are currently making.
This will free up some money for the Kings. JVR has certainly showed that he is developing into one of the premier power forwards in the entire NHL and is the best asset that the Flyers can dangle to acquire a top-notch goaltender.
While it will hurt the Flyers in the long run to lose a player of JVR's ilk, the future for this team is now.
With Briere, Pronger and Timonen on the wrong side of 30, this team is built to compete for a championship at this juncture and must sacrifice a little for the future. The future is not completely lost, however, with Carter, Giroux and Richards up front, there is still plenty of talent for the Flyers to continue to score with the best of them.
However, as is always the case, their success is contingent on finding a goaltender, and that is what they need to do. In essence, when Holmgren traded for Versteeg and the addition of his $3 million salary, all he was doing was ensuring he would need to lose a key piece of his future.
It is time for him to admit his mistake and finally do it the right way.
Homlgren: Go find a goaltender, and do whatever you have to do to get him. Your comments about goaltending not being the problem makes you sound foolish and in denial of the reality.
Who do you think they should sign?
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