Ever since taking the reins at the General Manager position for the Flyers in 2006, Paul Holmgren has done nothing but work wonders.
He brought a team out from the cellar by signing top-notch players and making some very smart trades. He has been tagged as the savior of Flyers' hockey, and there is no denying that.
Yet, as Holmgren has helped, he has also led the Flyers towards the edge of the proverbial cliff that is the NHL salary cap.
Over his tenure he has thrown a lot of money around, and for the most part, it has worked. His signing of Daniel Briere, Scott Hartnell, and Joffery Lupul to long-term deals helped solidify a growing crop of talented forwards that already included names like Simon Gagne, Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, and Mike Knuble. The Flyers' defense may still be weak, but the addition of guys like Kimmo Timonen, Braydon Coburn, and Matt Carle has built an adequate set of defenders to back up the balanced scoring attack. The Flyers' netminders Martin Biron and Antero Niittymaki aren't the greatest goalies out there, but they can both give strong performances in goal.
Yes, everything seems to be going alright for the Flyers with Holmgren at the helm, despite their worrisome start to their 2008-09 campaign. However, in truly Jack Baueresque fashion, Holmgren has gotten the job done by living on the edge.
He has created a very strong team but only by inching dangerously close to the salary cap. While the exact team salary isn't always easy to pinpoint, nhlnumbers.com has the Flyers coming within $449,000 of the Salary Cap at the present time.
Meanwhile, there is reportedly more than $11 million sunk into players on Long Term Injured Reserve, with three players (Derian Hatcher [$3.5 million], Randy Jones [$2.5 million], and Ryan Parent [$850,000]) who could possibly return and pose a threat of pushing the team salary over the limit.
While Holmgren may prove to be a "Salary Cap Sorcerer" of sorts who can work under the cap when doing so seems impossible, he's going to have trouble moving the team forward with the Flyers' contracts looking like they do now.
The Flyers will only have three players with salaries over $2 million who will become free agents this year (Martin Biron [$3.5 million], Derian Hatcher [$3.5 million], and Mike Knuble [$2.8 million]), and already have committed an estimated $47 million in player salaries for next year.
That's going to be a problem if they're hoping to improve their goaltending or defense next year through free agent signings, although it should be noted that the 2009 Free Agent class is short on top goaltenders.
The Flyers might also face a problem this year and potentially in the years to come, if they find themselves needing to make a deadline deal or other big trade, because they have so little cap room to work with.
If things do take a sour turn, and changes need to be made, don't be surprised to see one of the Flyers' top forwards shipped off in favor of cap space.
Mike Knuble is widely considered the top candidate for being traded to create cap space, as he is making $2.8 million in 2008-09, his contract year. Scottie Upshall has also come up frequently as another option, but his salary isn’t as significant as Knuble’s. Among players with long-term contracts, Joffery Lupul would seem to be a good choice, although it hasn’t even been sixth months since he signed a four-year contract extension.
Scott Hartnell’s name has come up a bit less than Lupul’s or Knuble’s, but he’s hardly indispensable to the Flyers. Other than that, it’s doubtful that Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Simon Gagne, or Daniel Briere will be traded any time soon.
The Flyers’ cap situation is in no way leading towards any sort of inevitable disaster. If this massive nucleus Holmgren has built is able to continuously contend at a high level like they did last year, then things should be fine.
Still, if you're a Flyers fan, it can be a bit worrisome to see how handcuffed Holmgren has become thanks to his dangerous dance with the salary cap.