We are just over three weeks away from the start of free agency, when all of the teams that were unsuccessful in their bid to capture the Stanley Cup try to improve their team for the following season, and the team that was successful tries to keep it’s group intact.
Yesterday, the Philadelphia Flyers tried to get a head start on their summer shopping, and get a leg up on their competition. The Achilles heel of the Flyers since the 90s has been their inability to keep the puck out of their own net. This past season, they had on paper one of the best lineups in the National Hockey League. Yet, they were at home watching the playoffs far earlier than they would have liked, swept out of the second round by the Bruins. In the process, they used three different starting goaltenders in their 11 game playoff run, none with any real measure of success.
Brian Boucher is an unrestricted free agent, and will likely have to seek employment elsewhere.
Michael Leighton and Sergei Bobrovsky are still under contract for another year, but Philly GM Paul Holmgren decided he had to try to upgrade the one position of weakness on his team if they were going to be taken seriously next year.
He sent a 3rd round pick, a prospect, and future considerations to Phoenix for the negotiating rights to free-agent-to-be goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov. Despite playing on a team with little-to-no star power, Bryzgalov has been able to guide them into the playoffs each of the last two seasons. He is widely regarded as one of the NHL’s top goalies, and is an enormous upgrade over either Bobrovsky or Leighton.
The problem is that Philadelphia already has almost $59M committed to next season, with only 18 players signed, and not including Bryzgalov. The reason that Phoenix had to move Bryzgalov in the first place is that he wanted to be paid like a top player in the NHL, and the cash-strapped Coyotes couldn’t afford his services any longer.
With the cap expected to go up to about $63M, the Flyers have about four million dollars with which to sign at least 2 more skaters (to get to a bare minimum of 18), and Bryzgalov, who will be commanding somewhere in the $6-7M range. Clearly, the math doesn’t add up.
What that means is the Flyers need to find a trading partner to unload some salary on.
This is where the Red Wings come in to play. With the retirement of Brian Rafalski, the Red Wings are in need of a top four defenseman. Coach Mike Babcock has also said that he would like it if management added a top 6 forward. The Wings and Flyers aren’t strangers to the trading game, as they came together to make the Ville Leino deal happen.
Any and all trade talks I’ve seen where Detroit is a team involved have included Jiri Hudler as the player being shipped out. He has a lot to like about him, and his contract. At just under $2.9M, his contract is an affordable one for just about every team in the league. He put up 57 points two years ago playing primarily on Detroit’s third line. He only put up 37 this year, but the talent is obviously still there and he played much better in the second half of the year. Finally, his contract expires on July 1st, 2012, so if a team didn’t like what they got out of him they could just cut ties then.
The Wings could address either of their needs by making a trade with the Flyers. Let’s look at their need for a top 6 forward first.
Jeff Carter is about as pure a goal scorer as there is in the NHL. Despite the fact that he is just 26 years old, he has a proven that he can be counted on to score goals consistently. Over the last four seasons he has averaged 36 goals, including 46 in 2008-2009.
The last three years, the goal totals posted by Carter would have been first by a mile on the Wings and you would have to think his production would only increase playing alongside the likes of Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg.
As an added bonus, Carter is a rarity in the NHL, and especially on the Wings: a right-handed shot.
The only real downside here is his contract. He is signed through 2022, with a cap hit of over $5M. He’s well worth the money he gets, but with Franzen, Zetterberg and Datsyuk already locked up long term, would Ken Holland make a move to acquire another forward with a lengthy deal?
Maybe, maybe not, but looking at a top four forward group that includes that trio and Carter is making me salivate.
I doubt the Flyers would do a deal straight up, Carter for Hudler no matter how desperate to shed salary they are. The Wings might have to kick them a propsect or a couple of picks to sweeten the pot, but this is a deal I would do almost anything to make happen.
On the other side of the puck, the Flyers have a group of three defensemen the Wings could kick the tires on to help fill the void Brian Rafalski’s absence creates.
Kimmo Timonen is the highest paid defenseman on the Flyers, even though when healthy Chris Pronger is their best d-man.
Timonen’s contract is almost identical in terms of salary to Rafalski’s, but his contract runs through 2013. He is a little over paid in terms of the numbers he puts up, but he is capable of providing offense. Downside is that his contract running through 2013 means the Wings won’t have as much flexibility as they’d probably like to re-sign Kronwall and Stuart next year when their contracts expire. Also, he has a no-movement clause, which means he’d have to approve a trade to Detroit, or anywhere else.
The other two defensemen are Matt Carle and Braydon Coburn. Each makes less than $3.5M ($3,437,500 and $3.2M respectively), and are signed through 2012.
Each has shown capable of putting up some offense in their young careers (Coburn hit 36 points in 2007-2008, and Carle put up 40 this past year). Coburn is huge, at 6’5″ and 226, and Carle is no slouch either at 6′, 205. Both are only 26 years old, so there is plenty of tread left of their tires.
If the Wings were to target Carle or Coburn, instead of Timonen or Carter, Hudler probably would not be the piece going back, as that would save the Flyers less than a million dollars in cap space, which hardly makes the deal worth it.
Either way, it will be interesting to see how the Flyers go about ridding themselves of enough salary to sign Bryzgalov. I’m just hoping the Wings will be the lucky beneficiaries.