Temptations At The Candy Store: A Look At The Philadelphia Flyers’ Team Building Strategy
“Just because something looks good doesn’t always mean it’s good for you.”
This advice that all of us heard from time to time when we were growing up from our parents, but it certainly remains sage counsel.
So as the Philadelphia Flyers approach NHL Draft weekend in Pittsburgh, the rumors are out there as hot and heavy as the sweltering temperatures in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Because of a perceived dearth of high level talent in the July 1 unrestricted free agent market beyond the Ryan Suters and Zach Parises of the world, the league’s general managers now turn to a different method of talent acquisition: the good, old fashioned trade, using a combination of players and draft choices.
With the possibility of this, rumors of the potential market of productive, in- or approaching- prime players being made available prior to this weekend continues to grow. The anticipation of what the candy store’s stocking on their shelves is palpable.
And no team seems to be as linked more with as many possible trading partners as the Philadelphia Flyers. All possible angles are examined, be it through that manner or in unrestricted free agency. Looking at the speed in which the July 1st is approaching, the names rattle off the tongue like an NHL All Star roster. Rick Nash, Bobby Ryan, Shea Weber, Parise...it goes on.
All come with potentially great benefits. Nash, unquestionably one of the league’s most electrifying scorers, who presents a power forward presence to any team he might play for likely requires sending two roster players, two prospects and taking on a colossal $7.8 million per year cap hit until 2018. While Nash’s offensive game could hit the stratosphere if playing with a true top line center, he has never been described as having a top level two-way game that could justify his current salary cap number.
Ryan, while on the market, is an interesting quantity at this point. With several 30 goal seasons under his belt, he is a top line winger for most NHL teams, but not what would be described having superstar quality. At this point it’s unknown what Ducks GM Bob Murray is asking for him, but rest assured, with a $5.1 million cap hit that continues until 2015, the cost will be considerable.
Zach Parise had an excellent first season as the New Jersey Devils captain, but the team’s extended run to the Cup Final likely sets him on two possible paths: Either re-sign with a team that he stated was one of the “closest knitted teams” he’s played for, or look to sign with another team outside of the Atlantic Division. Certainly money talks, but his stated lack of desire to sign with the Rangers seems to set a clear signal that he’ll attempt to avoid as much exposure to the Devils if he does, in fact, leave.
Weber is the proverbial face of the Nashville Predators, a team that is nearly $38 million below the salary cap ceiling. As intimidating a defensive force as there is in the NHL, Weber can blow you away with a hit into the corner boards or a nearly 100 mph slap shot from the point. Want to offer sheet the restricted free agent? From the Flyers perspective, it would be an ill-advised maneuver as in all likelihood general manager David Poile matches and you run the risk of ruining a fruitful relationship that has benefitted both teams since the end of the last lockout.
Currently Poile has shown no inclination of talking about a trade for the restricted free agent and likely will not do so until he figures out what Suter, Weber’s defensive partner, is planning on doing once he hits the open market.
When you really get down to the realities of those kind of maneuvers, you do have to “give to get”, but when does it become too much? Does the deal make sense from both a short and long term perspective?
20 years ago, the Flyers made their boldest trade in franchise history, acquiring Eric Lindros from the Quebec Nordiques for Peter Forsberg, Steve Duchesne, Kerry Huffman, Mike Ricci, Ron Hextall, Chris Simon, first round picks in 1993 and 1994, along with $15 million. Around three years ago, they acquired Chris Pronger from the Anaheim Ducks for Joffrey Lupul, Luca Sbisa, first round picks in 2009 and 2010, along with a conditional third rounder.
So the Flyers are no strangers to taking a chance on a difference maker (Lindros and Pronger both were critical catalysts in the Flyers last two Stanley Cup Finals appearances) but there are only so many times and circumstances one can go to the well.
Making Moves While Minding Team Growth
I am a firm believer in team’s “growth” cycles. The Flyers underwent a drastic roster turnover this time last summer. There were many different parts put into place, but as the season progressed there was a measure of noticeable camaraderie to go with their moments of difficulties. In the first round versus the Pittsburgh Penguins, the team played at an astounding offensive clip that was specific to that series. However, in the second round against a New Jersey Devils team that wasn’t willing to play to the Flyers’ strengths, their shortcomings became readily apparent.
Compare their performance with the Los Angeles Kings and the New York Rangers, teams further along in their gestation if you will. Both teams were offensively challenged teams for the most part of last season and are the epitome of teams who were/are in that classic “one to two players away from a championship” part of the growth cycle.
For the Kings, they identified Mike Richards in the offseason and Jeff Carter at the trade deadline as players who could enhance their chances. The Rangers, already with a rock solid defense and world class goaltender in place, now need that additional high level scorer for their top two lines. Could Nash or (if available, Ryan) be the player that delivers the Cup to Manhattan next June? It’s certainly possible.
So in that light, as a general manager, you have to identify the proper course of action while examining the market. Are the Flyers that close to making a run? You can argue postseason matchups creating the path necessary to a title run. There is a certain measure of luck involved as well, but the proper personnel makes all the difference whether you’re at the top of your conference (Rangers) or just sneaking into the barn as the “wolf in sheep’s clothing” as this year’s Stanley Cup champions did.
The Flyers enter this offseason with a desire to improve the areas that showed their greatest shortcoming in the playoffs: a need to improve overall team defense in front of goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov. Their needs should be (in descending order): two defensemen, preferably at least one who can help with Flyers’ transitional play (which can be addressed with the possible return of UFA Matt Carle) and another who can bring an element of intimidation (with other bonus skills, if possible), checking line forwards with size and willingness to play head coach Peter Laviolette’s hard fore-checking system, and additional scoring threats.
Part 2 will look at the Flyers’ options beyond the names mentioned above.