Monday, Jan 07, 2013 -
This past Saturday around 4:00am, the League made its official announcement that the NHL and Players' Union had come to a tentative agreement. The lockout has been lifted, and a 48-game season is speculated to begin on January 19 (no schedule has been officially disclosed).
As for the schedule -- expect all contests to be inner-Conference matchups, and heavily divisional. Unlike a full 82-game schedule, the 2013 season has been deemed a "sprint" rather than its traditional "marathon" description. Some fans may believe this year will need an asterisk next to the Cup winner, and although that may be true, it should not take anything away from the amount of achievement that follows.
All Clubs will endure the fast-paced hockey agenda ahead. There's still the customary length of post-season rounds and energy, but to get to the Playoffs, each Club will have to adopt a new strategy through the season. There's little-to-no time to go through cold streaks. Despite the frustration of losing almost half the season, there is no doubt all Players will have to return to the ice ready to endure the quick transition of 'shaking off the cobwebs' to full fledged form.
We'll get into our soldiers returning for war in a moment, but for now let's get into what's changed in the newest NHL collective bargaining agreement.
For starters, the CBA is a 10-year agreement with a Year 8 opt out option. The Owners received the length that they wanted. A decade of no labor disputes is not only great news for the fans, but it adds a tremendous amount of economic stability to the Clubs' ownership.
The Players' share in HRR (hockey-related revenue) has decreased from 57 per cent in the prior CBA to a cool 50 per cent. A total of $300-million will be paid to the Players in the proposed "Make Whole" agreement.
In Year 2 of the CBA, the cap ceiling will drop from today's $70.2-Million to $64.3-Million. Originally the Owners had proposed a $60-Million ceiling, but with a tremendous effort from federal mediator Scot Beckenbaugh, the NHL moved off that figure and were wooed to agree to a small chunk more on top. The cap basement will be $44-Million which each Club is presently abiding by.
Here's where it gets interesting -- under the new CBA, each Club has been awarded a quantity of (2) compliance buyouts. These buyouts grant a team to eliminate two *contracts off their books without the penalty of a hit leaning against their cap. However, the buyouts will count against the Player(s) share in HRR.
*No Club can buyout a Player should his status be on LTIR (long-term injured reserve). For example, the Philadelphia Flyers are incapable of buying out Chris Pronger due to him floating on LTIR. Unless Chris retires prematurely and the Flyers are stuck with his full cap hit under the 35-and-Older Rule, there's no reason to waste an amnesty on the Captain. Our Bullies are currently earning long-term injured relief while Pronger is sidelined.
Obviously the primary candidate to the compliance buyout is netminder Ilya Bryzgalov.
Bryz is locked up with the Flyers until the end of the 2019-20 League Year. His average annual salary is a mega $5,666,667 against the team's cap per season. Not only that, but if you remember, Ilya is anchored in Philadelphia with a no-movement clause (NMC). The Flyers are incapable of trading him unless he were to waive that NMC.
Speaking strictly from a business standpoint, should Bryzgalov fail to live up to expectation in Year 2 of his existing contract, I could see Flyers' management using a compliance buyout on him. Regardless of Timonen's enormous $6.3+ million contract ending after this 2012-13 season and freeing up space, there's still the question of whether the Flyers will be able to afford re-signing rising star Claude Giroux by the end of the 2013-14 League Year. This, in my opinion, should pose as their number-1 priority above all matters pertaining to extensions.
The Philadelphia Flyers already suffocate themselves at the cap ceiling, year in and year out, like Jennifer Lopez slipping in to a pair of skinny jeans. Any dip in the max poses a major project for our Club's capologists. That kind of money spent on an underperforming goaltender is not a wise long-term investment when the team constantly operates at the fiscal apex.
Once again, I'm not knocking Bryzgalov. I am simply comparing apples to apples. If the Flyers are financially forced to cut & run, it'll be Bryz's head on the chopping block.
Speaking of contracts -- under the bylaws of the new CBA, free agents may sign to a maximum of 7-years, where players re-signing with their Club may extend to a maximum of 8-years. Their salary variance from year to year may not exceed 35 per cent, and the final year on the contract may not vary greater than 50 per cent of the highest year's term.
Just as a reminder, there's a difference between a player's AAV (annual-average value, aka "Cap Hit") and their actual salary terms. The 'variance' specified is in reference to the player's actual salary terms, which are negotiated and agreed on between the Player, the General Manager and Player's agent.
For those asking, the proposed trade deadline for this abbreviated season is set on April 5. Last year's deadline was February 27.
Also, all Players signed overseas during the lockout must return to their NHL Clubs. This includes Danny Briere who just signed an extension with the Eisbären Berlin in Germany's Deutsche Eishockey Liga (DEL).
Now that we have some of that covered, let's dive into this 2013 season.
I don't have to tell any of you that the Flyers missed out on acquiring the blue line monster, Shea Weber, prior to the lockout. Despite Paul Holmgren's best efforts, the Nashville Predators ill-advisedly matched Philadelphia's offer sheet to the All-Star defenseman.
Though the attempt was admirable, we're still left with some gaping holes on the blue line. For one, we've lost our puck-moving d-man in Matt Carle. Frankly, I couldn't care less about how you feel about Carle because I'm sure you're blindly misguided.
I don't often come off snobbish, but I have gone into great detail as to why Matt Carle would have been a perfect linemate with newcomer Luke Schenn. I argued that taking Carle (a left-handed defenseman) and moving him to his strongside while pairing him with Luke Schenn (a right-handed defenseman) would have created a potent formula of taking bodies off the puck, swooping in for the possession, and quarterbacking the breakout pass up ice.
Instead, we watched our best puck-moving blue liner sign in Tampa.
Left in the Shea Weber/Matt Carle fallout is a defense lacking its true #1 defenseman, or any one shutdown defensive pairing. Let's face it, Chris Pronger will not return from LTIR. Not for this abbreviated season, anyway. Kimmo Timonen is another year older. Our blue line is rounded out by the likes of Andreas Lilja and Bruno Gervais. Andrej Meszaros is not 100%, nor is Erik Gustafsson. Marc-Andre Bourdon suffered a heavy concussion while playing up in Glens Falls, and he's nowhere near returning soon.
All of these defensive headaches swirl around and bottleneck towards one player; Ilya Bryzgalov. The anchor of our defense.
Through the deep-seeded nightmares of Bryzgalov's first year in Philadelphia, one which stood out was the lack of help from his defensive skaters. Paul Holmgren trading for Niklas Grossmann was a genius move, but it never turned the blue line completely around. Grossmann is a stay-at-home d-man, but the Flyers were ousted in the Playoffs due to New Jersey's unbelievable ability to cycle the puck in our zone.
Adding right-handed defensemen like Luke Schenn and Bruno Gervais will help neutralize an effective cycling game, but the Flyers are without that puck-moving, possessive d-man that we had with Matt Carle.
So, unless Ilya Bryzgalov is able to harness his outstanding "March 2012" performance and launch it through the next handful of months on a consistent basis, then we're looking at more 'coming from behind' games and relying on goal-totals reaching the atmosphere of five or more. Becoming dependent on your forward attack and forechecking will only get you so far before it's annihilated. I'm not saying it can't be done -- especially with the youthful depth the Flyers carry up front. If there's one thing our Bullies have going for them.....it's depth.
The wide spectrum of talents that pepper our roster's front lines is unique and coveted by the League's masses. We have scorers, veterans, grinders, trashmen, goons and a partridge in a pear tree.
With a season under their belts, the returning Sean Couturier, Brayden Schenn, Matt Read and Eric Wellwood will add a wave of offensive domination that tip the scales from a universal level. There's just the right mixture of craft between our sophomores to build worlds of promise, and what's most exciting is their full potentials haven't even been tapped yet.
This season will prove to be compelling, to say the least. Will the shortened schedule be an advantage to the Flyers? Well, time will tell. There's not a lot of it, but we can be certain that it will be an enormous test to our chemistry.
The departure of Jaromir Jagr, and Jakub Voracek graduating to the preeminent combo (Hartnell/Giroux/Voracek) could be the most appealing factor kicking off the 2013 season.
But, here we are. We have our hockey back. That is what's most important. I'm writing about hockey again. I'm getting ready to watch our Flyers skate, score and win. No more litigation. No more negotiations or the over-usage of the term "cautiously optimistic."
Ladies and gentlemen.....welcome back to Philadelphia Flyers hockey.
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