I woke up this morning all but certain that I was going to write about the Washington Capitals signing of Tomas Vokoun to a one-year, $1.5 million contract and how that affects the Philadelphia Flyers in 20/20 hindsight.
That announcement was shocking and one can’t help but think about how different the Flyers could have looked next season if they signed Vokoun to such a salary cap-friendly agreement instead of the comparably rated Ilya Bryzgalov to his nine-year, $51 million contract.
Sergei Bobrovsky may have had a future with the Flyers. It could have enabled the signing of fan favorites Ville Leino or Simon Gagne, or perhaps even led to acquiring Brad Richards.
However, as I was reading articles about Vokoun’s signing, as well as comments from Flyers fans and Flyers haters, those factors were largely ignored and there was one recurring theme: the Flyers wouldn’t have been forced to trade Mike Richards and Jeff Carter if they had chosen Vokoun instead.
And that line of thinking is just appallingly untrue.
Trading Mike Richards and Jeff Carter was GM Paul Holmgren’s choice, or at least the choice of someone within the Flyers front office.
The NHL salary cap increased by $5 million so keeping Richards and Carter and signing Bryzgalov would have been as easy as trading Kris Versteeg’s $3 million cap hit, which the Flyers ended up doing anyway.
So the Flyers could have traded Versteeg and Leino for Bryzgalov and returned with most of last year’s team intact.
Granted, the Flyers most likely would have two current Phantoms forwards, say Matt Read and Ben Holmstrom, on their opening-night roster and cap space would have been very tight. That may have necessitated moving Bobrovsky sooner than they wished; but the point is that signing Bryzgalov was certainly doable without messing with the core of the team.
Holmgren did not, as has been written ad nauseam by a local beat writer, opt to attempt winning a Stanley Cup relying on defense and goaltending. He chose to restructure the entire team by making the Flyers more physical and younger at forward, loading up on draft picks and shedding long-term contracts to give them flexibility with an uncertain future collective bargaining agreement.
Whether you agree with the moves or if they will work out in the end is debatable; however, no one can dispute the fact that Holmgren was not required to do it. He decided to dismantle the team and obtain a franchise goaltender, but he was not forced to choose between the two options.
Personally, considering what we know about Philadelphia's free-agent targets, I would have rather seen the Flyers keep Richards for at least another year and use Carter’s salary to sign Bryzgalov and Versteeg’s salary to sign Jaromir Jagr.
Again, the salary cap room would have been constricted (around $1 million remaining), but having Richards and Read on the roster this season is a safer bet to be productive this season than Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds.
The Flyers still have cap room remaining so the final 2011-2012 product is not fully known; however, there is no reversing the total reconstruction of the team and Paul Holmgren will ultimately be held accountable for making that choice.
That being said, it is abundantly clear that his preference was not necessitated by the signing of a franchise goaltender, no matter how many people try to say differently.