Are the Philadelphia Flyers holding on to their veterans for too long and is it stopping the team from long-term success?
Until yesterday’s loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Philadelphia Flyers were the hottest team in hockey, going 8-1-1 in their last 10 games. They had even leapfroged the Detroit Red Wings for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Playoff fever had gripped the city of Philadelphia. Even after the loss to the Penguins and Detroit’s win over Florida put the Flyers three points back of the Red Wings, a playoff spot is well within reach with the Flyers having two games in hand on Detroit.
At the trade deadline, the Flyers were in the same spot they are in now, three points out of a playoff spot. It was sort of a tough spot for Flyers GM Ron Hextall to be in. Philadelphia had a realistic shot at making the playoffs but, at the same time, weren’t a sure fire bet to get in. Should Hextall add a piece thus helping the Flyers over the hump into that last playoff spot? Should Hextall keep an eye towards the future and move some of the team’s veterans, or should he stand pat? Hextall chose to stand pat and with the Flyers now in playoff contention, has been lauded for that decision. But was that decision the right one?
No one has been a bigger Hextall fan than me. I have praised him time and again for his shrewd moves like getting two second round picks for Kimmo Timonen, getting Radko Gudas, a first and a third round pick for Braydon Coburn, unloading the contracts of Vinny Lecavalier and Luke Schenn in a trade with the Kings. I praised his choice of head coach Dave Hakstol. And I still believe that Hextall will one day bring a Stanley Cup to Philadelphia. With all of that being said though, did Hextall really make the right decision by standing pat at the trade deadline? And to go a step further, is Hextall making the right decision by resigning veterans such as Matt Read, Nick Schultz and Michael Raffl over the last few years?
With everyone being caught up in the Flyers playoff run, it’s something that a lot of people don’t want to be bothered with, but it needs to be looked at when it comes to prognosticating this team’s chances of winning a Stanley Cup in the next two or three years. Even the most optimistic Flyer fan will agree that this team, as it is constructed right now, is not a Stanley Cup contender. So with that being said, we need to look two or three years down the road and project what it is the Flyers need to do in order to be a contender. Is holding on to Mark Streit and resigning Schultz, Read and Raffl going to get Philadelphia closer to the ultimate goal of winning a Stanley Cup?
Read signed a four-year contract extension worth $14.5 million that kicked in at the start of the 2014-15 season. He will make an annual salary of roughly $3.6 million. Nick Schultz signed a two-year contract extension worth $4.5 million that started at the beginning of this past season. Michael Raffl signed a three-year, $2.35 million contract extension just before this year’s trade deadline. On the positive side, none of these contracts are the expensive multi-year deals that ex GM Paul Holmgren gave out to guys like Ilya Bryzgalov, Lecavalier and Streit that wound up crippling the franchise. But, at the same time, were these the right moves for the overall health of the franchise? It’s debatable.
Before the Flyers can truly become contenders for the Cup, they need to finish the process of turning their roster over. They need to rid themselves of higher priced veteran players like R.J. Umberger and Sam Gagner just to name two and replace them with younger, cheaper talent. Does holding on to Streit and resigning Read, Raffl and Schultz get the Flyers closer to that goal? In my opinion it doesn’t.
There are those who will try and make the argument that there was probably no market for Streit. When you look at the fact that the Carolina Hurricanes were able to unload John-Michael Liles, a player not as productive as Streit and someone who had been sent down to the minors, that probably wasn’t the case.
So lets say we target the 2017-18 season as the season the Flyers are finally ready to contend. They should be in great shape then as Philadelphia will be completely free of Umberger and Streit’s contracts. That will give them close to an extra $10 million in cap money to spend. One could make the argument that Streit and his contract will be gone come 2017-18 so why make the point of getting ridding of him? But, if 2017-18 is the year the Flyers will finally be a contender, wouldn’t it make more sense to have traded Streit and gotten some assets for him in return?
Schultz’s contract will still have one more year to go when the 2017-18 season rolls around and he will be 35 years old. By this time, most of the team’s young defensive prospects like Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim, and Samuel Morin will be ready for the NHL. Also, when the Flyers signed Schultz, they already had eight defensmen signed to NHL contracts. That’s one of the reasons that rookie phenom Shayne Gostisbehere started the year with the Phantoms. Was it really necessary to sign Schultz? Wouldn’t the Flyers have been better served to let Schultz walk thus freeing up more playing time for young defensmen like Gostisbehere and Brandon Manning?
Matt Read and Michael Raffl will still have time left on their contracts and will both be either approaching or over the age of 30. Wouldn’t the Flyers have been better served to allow both of these men to walk and give some young players in their system like Martin Straka and Taylor Leier, both of whom are now in their early twenties, some time in the NHL? Wouldn’t the Flyers be better served in 2017-18 with two guys in their early to mid 20s on their roster entering the prime of their careers as opposed to two guys in their 30s? I don’t think Straka or Leier are top end NHL prospects, but they could probably fill the same third line roles that Raffl and Read fill. And they are younger, cheaper and a little more skilled. Even if it turns out that Straka and Leier aren’t NHL players, at least you have found that out and you can move in a different direction. With Raffl and Read, you will have two marginal NHL players who will be starting towards the downside of their careers.
Will holding on to veterans such as Matt Read, Nick Schultz, and Michael Raffl cripple the Flyers franchise like the Ilya Bryzgalov, Vinny Lecavalier and Mark Streit signings did? No. Would the Flyers rebuild have been moved further along by either trading or allowing the aformentioned players to walk? In my opinion, yes.