Purge of Flyers Helps Team Shed Salary and Talent

Philadelphia Flyers forwards Jeff Carter (17) and Mike Richards (18) against the Minnesota Wild at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn. The Flyers beat the Wild, 6-1.

The thing that worries me about Philadelphia’s crazy purge of two of their best players, is that I can kind of understand what Flyers’ GM Paul Holmgren was trying to accomplish.

Holmgren wanted to sign goalie Ilya Bryzgalov but the Flyers were capped out. Mike Richards and Jeff Carter both had no-trade clauses that would have started in 2012. They also both had expensive, long-term contracts, Richards for a $5.75 million/year cap hit that went until 2020 and Carter with a $5.2 million/year cap hit that went until 2021.

Those contracts left Holmgren with no options or maneuverability. He couldn’t attract any splashy free agents. He wouldn’t be able to trade for much. And he wouldn’t even be able to sign the goalie he thought the team needed.

Holmgren was trying to give himself the ability to make deals.

What I don’t understand is why he traded one kind of cap drama for another. With Richards and Carter gone, Holmgren immediately signed Bryzgalov to a nine year deal with a cap hit of just under $5.7 million per year. At the end of the contract, Bryzgalov will be 40 years old.

Holmgren might have seen the danger of long-term contracts, recognized the danger, unloaded the danger, and then, in a final act of defiance, entered right back into an equally dangerous situation.

The Flyers still have a lot of cap space to play with, but the question becomes, what are they going to do with it? This year’s unrestricted free agent class doesn’t have any season-changing names (although it seems lots of teams believe Brad Richards to be one).

But ample cap space for free agency might not have been Holmgren’s only goal. I wonder if he was merely trying to keep his options open, hoping to be able to grab a top-line player from another capped out team.

The great risk in this scenario is that Holmgren can’t really know for sure if that player will ever be available. It also means that when the season starts, the Flyers could be down two of their best players.

The tradeoff is that right now, in this moment, the Flyers future cap is manageable, giving Holmgren space to pull off a big deal, should one ever become available.

I’m just shocked that Holmgren would fight for that kind of flexibility, severely weakening his team, and then go right into another long-term contract, with a goalie, of all positions (you can hide a weak skater, and aging skaters can evolve their game as their physical talents dissipate; old, broken goalies are pretty much a yoke around the collective neck of a team).

I’m very curious to see what kind of deal Brad Richards, the biggest name in the upcoming free agent class, gets. Holmgren seems to have hit upon the notion that long-term contracts are good for teams in terms of distributing massive salaries over time, but that long-term contracts, especially multiple long-term contracts, are bad in that they severely limit a team’s ability to improve itself via talent outside of their organization.

Trading away Richards and Carter does not make the Flyers a better team. In fact, right now, they’re a much worse team than they were just a few months ago.

But I suspect Holmgren wasn’t trying to improve the Flyers for this moment. I suspect he’s looking to improve from outside of the organization over the next season (and perhaps over an even longer stretch). I’m open to the likelihood Holmgren gutted a very good team, making it much worse. But I’m also open to the possibility this new cap space will eventually allow Holmgren to successfully replace Carter and Richards, perhaps for less salary over less time.

The Philadelphia purge is a bad move now, but it might actually prove to be a smart move later.