Flyers 2014 Offseason: What If Hextall Does...... Nothing? >

by Michael DeNicola

Thursday, May 22nd, 2014 --

"Brayden Schenn would be our first priority. But he's restricted, so there's not a timeline there where you say, 'It's going to be done by this time.'

"Brayden's a good young player, and we'd like to get him under contract as soon as possible. But again, there's timelines there. It might be training camp, it might be July. I really can't say. But obviously he's a priority. When you're looking at our cap space, we've got to save some room."

Those are quotes from newest appointed GM Ron Hextall from yesterday, reported by CSN Philly's Sarah Baicker. Granted, they're just words, and actions speak much louder -- especially among this organization. But up until yesterday, I had ignorantly assumed that Brayden couldn't possibly be this front office's top priority because he simply had not be re-signed yet. He's a pending restricted free agent, so all the leverage is in our court; if we wanted him locked up on payroll badly enough, it'd seem like an easy solution. 

Once again, I'm proven incorrect. Happens a lot. It's the nature of hanging my fandom in front of my nose and allowing it to pave my train of thought before sensible, unprejudiced deliberation gets a crack at it.

Now, of course, Hextall could be putting up a front for the masses. No one really knows what's strategized behind those closed oak doors except the men hired to be in there. And after all, the media & fans will always be fed on a 'need to know' basis. If Hextall truly has any plans to trade away existing assets for others and/or cap relief, why in God's name would he highlight that fact in front of the beat writers?

But for the sake of this being all we have straight from the horse's mouth, let's run with it. Let's assume that Ron Hextall & Co. plan on making no big splashes -- free agency or otherwise -- and have really bought into the direction our current core is going. Let's assume our front office fills out the remaining lineup with cap-friendly ELC's. Let's assume Kimmo Timonen hangs up the skates and ventures into retirement with his head held high. Let's assume management hangs on to Lecavalier because 1) He doesn't waive his no-movement clause, and/or 2) The front office doesn't feel like eating a percentage of his AAV (aka, dead space) in a trade tansaction. 

What then? What if Ron Hextall keeps the Status Quo somewhat in tact?

For starters, we have to take a look at the cap's upper limit for the 2014-15 League Year; I know currently has it set for $71.1-Million, which has been the speculated ceiling for quite awhile. However, back in March, NHL's Commissioner went on record saying it'll be closer to $69-Million --

"Our system corrects for fluctuations in the Canadian dollar, because all of our computations are done in U.S. dollars. So if the Canadian comes down, as it has a little bit, then HRR, Hockey-Related Revenue, will be down, and the cap will be down. I’m not talking sizeable amounts of money, maybe a million or two.

"Well we've said, and these are rough, rough projections because we don’t have enough data yet, the guesstimate was around $71 million. With the Canadian dollar down, maybe it could be 69 or 70, in that range. But those are just rough estimates, nothing more than that at this point."

Since then, I haven't seen an updated report. So, once again, worst case scenario, let's assume the ceiling is a hard $69-Million. 

To some, a little over 2-million cap dollars doesn't seem like much. When it's allocated to organizations that operate so closely to the limit, it's a roundhouse kick in the financial pants. 

Big contract extensions are kicking in next League Year; namely Claude Giroux and Andrew MacDonald who are making quantum leaps in average annual value. If Brayden Schenn's extension is something like $3.1mm leaning against the salary cap, then we're coming in a hair shy of the floodmark. 

I enjoy being the conducting Puppet Master as much as anyone. So when there are tools available to me like's Armchair GM Team Editor, I go ballistic. 

Keeping all the aforementioned assumptions in mind, here's how I picture forward combos hitting the ice in October, 2014 --

Let's not start going nuts over the reasons why players should or shouldn't be in the positions they're currently in, or on the lines they're currently on. That's the excitement of something like Armchair GM brings; ya just plug these bastards anywhere. Nevertheless, there is some sense in why I chose to stick these players where they are. 

Lecavalier jumps right out at you. I know, after last season, he has no business skating in the Top 6. Vincent's declining skillset had managed to drag his linemates' performances down; many speculate Brayden Schenn -- despite finishing with a career season -- would have generate more points on a more consistent basis had it not been for the negative influence from Lecavalier. 

Be that as it may, and I'll continue saying this until camp closes and we're gearing up for the 2014-15 season, I cannot fathom Vincent Lecavalier having another horrific season like Year 1 with the Philadelphia Flyers. Perhaps that's just the naive, hopeful fan in me talking. But even at the age of 33, injured, and skating out of position, Vinny still wound up being one of seven players in orange & black to score 20-goals. Besides, it'll be tough to drag down the performances of Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek -- easily our two best forward skaters on the roster. 

Which leads me to Voracek; why take him off Giroux's right flank? Doesn't that defeat the purpose of a left-handed (potential) sniper being fed passes by his right-handed, playmaking centerman?

Yes. I can take it or leave it; for the sake of the circumstance, if Lecavalier is better suited for the left-wing position on the front line, then go ahead and do so. But note: Voracek has played both center and left-wing on the international stage. So it's not all Doom & Gloom as you may think. And we're still replacing that position with another left-handed shot (Lecavalier). 

The second-line combo is what I'm most excited about; finally, Couturier gets a stab at higher offensive opportunities. Here he's given a chance to skate with two 20-goal scorers, one of which being a potential 30-goal scorer. Seeing as how neither of the three are lightning fast, speed won't be hindered on any level. Instead, there's a medley of power-forwards with two-way responsibility, net presence and positive neutral zone performances. Much of the defensive responsibility from the center position is lifted off of Brayden Schenn and absorbed by one of the game's better Selke-type players (Couturier). 

The bottom six are pretty self-explanatory. For salary cap reasoning, we see ELC's filling out positions. These belong to the obvious Scott Laughton and Petr Straka. 

Laughton has certainly made a case for himself for being NHL-ready this past year in the OHL. His two-way style has always been his strength, which awards him the opportunity to takeover as our third-line centerman. And his offensive production skyrocketed in 2013-14, which breathes a load of scoring potential around the likes of Matt Read and Scott Hartnell -- two more 20-goal scorers from this past 2013-14 NHL season. 

Why Petr Straka over a RFA like Jason Akeson? 

Petr is bigger, he's faster, and has a much higher ceiling than Jason Akeson. Although Straka seemed to struggle with points production in his first tour with the Adirondack Phantoms, he's not two-years removed from potting 41-goals and totaling 82-points in 55-games with the QMJHL Baie-Comeau Drakkar. Of course, there's always the question of how well that'd translate to the NHL stage. With that in mind, I also point to Akeson's inept defensive skill; Jason is often out of position defensively, and especially while the play is transitioning from offense to defense. That has been Akeson's largest weakness, and the primary reason why he was overlooked in all the Entry Drafts he was eligible for. 

With all of that said, if management wanted to re-sign Jason Akeson as well as promote Petr Straka to the Flyers roster, and roll with a Straka-Raffl-Akeson #4 combination, I couldn't possibly argue against it. I am all for the idea of skating four complete skill lines. That means, of course, Rinaldo is either moved or grabbing a seat in the press box; which, to many, wouldn't be much of an issue at all. 

Getting back to Kimmo Timonen; if our veteran defenseman were to call it quits on a borderline Hall of Fame career, there's no question our blueline takes a big blow. Despite his obvious decline over the last couple years, Timonen was a staple on our bench, in our dressing room, and on our roster. 

But because of the preceding salary cap issues and our GM's assumed gameplans, re-signing Timonen doesn't seem likely; not even at a discounted price, which I've emphasized being improbable. 

How does this team fill his role?

It doesn't, because it can't. We'd hang our hats on hope; we hope veterans like Mark Streit, Braydon Coburn and Andrew MacDonald pick up the slack. Meanwhile, freshmen blueliners on their ELC's round off what's left --

You're shuddering. Understandable. It's like peering down the barrel of a loaded firearm, and it'd be enough to make your ass pucker every time even the most impotent offense goes on the rush against us. In all honesty, these pairings would ultimately be the Make-or-Break facet of our season. But once again, Hextall's vision does not come without a lean budget. 

Two names catch your attention; Mark Alt and Robert Hägg. I'll repeat what I wrote about these two in an earlier offseason article I wrote just this month --

Robert Hägg (D): our 2nd round choice in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, Robert was a steal and he'll prove that fact throughout a very successful NHL career. I don't have many sources from within, but one friend of mine with some pull has told me that the Flyers consider Robert our best defensive prospect; not Gostisbehere, not Morin, not Alt. I've been touting this kid's name ever since Holmgren called it from the podium. The 19-year old comes on top, and I fully expect this kid to compete and win a spot on our blueline in camp. His skating ability and two-way game make him a dangerous weapon, and would quench that need among our defensive core. Hägg is more than capable of eating a lot of minutes, which seems to be a plus for this front office (re: MacDonald, Timonen, Coburn). 

Mark Alt (D): a right-handed defenseman with big size (6'5"), Mark Alt is coming off a season with the Phantoms scoring 26-points in 75-games. I've heard nothing but great things about this kid, and the feeling is... he's ready to make the NHL leap. If there are two NHL-ready defensemen within our system, they're Robert Hägg & Mark Alt. To go along with his size, Alt's skating agility and speed are strengths of his, and weaknesses of ours. And best yet, he comes at a cap-friendly $781,667 AAV for the next two League Years. 

Why would either of these two gain a starting spot over Nicklas Grossmann? 

If our front office wants to invest in its future right away, you won't find two better blueline prospects than Hägg and Alt. And by "better", I mean the most NHL-ready at this moment. So all you Gostisbehere fanboys out there take a chill pill. 

Don't look too much into Hal Gill being a part of the roster. That 23rd roster spot is the Joker in the deck. I simply placed Gill back into the picture at another economical cost. 

Filling out the backstop positions are --

Another cringing sight for Flyers eyes. But, once more, you figure the budget calls for a backup tender costing this Club less than $1-million. Either our management has serious considerations for Heeter in the Big Show, or he's exiled this summer. Anthony Stolarz will be guarding the Phantoms' twine in 2014-15, and there isn't a chance in hell Heeter will stand in his way. 

As it stands, that's a 23-man roster fitting under a $69M cap ceiling; with Pronger's LTI Relief kicking in, that leaves our organization a whopping $1,505,000 in space. 

I won't go out on a limb and say this is a Cup contending team. If anything, this entire article has been nothing but an argument against what Hextall has said and what actually will come to fruition. Whether you agree with any of those Armchair GM decisions of mine or not, given the assumption that Hextall keeps the status quo in tact, what else does our budget allow that makes this team look significantly different?

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