Quick Hits: August 16, 2019
1) Without wading into the whole "controversy" over whether Kevin Hayes wanted or did not want to play for the Flyers barring a sweetheart contract offer to pre-empt UFA status come July 1 -- it's a moot point because 1) he's here and, of his own volition, signed a seven-year deal with an NMC and 2) prospective UFAs and their agents have a choice as to where the player wants to sign and how to weigh their priorities -- I do want to address a couple of things that got bandied back and forth:
* If the Flyers truly paid Hayes an estimated $600K to $700K in cap hit above what any other team likely would have offered, keep in mind that $700,000 is the NHL's minimum salary for the 2019-20 season and, by current (and likely next) CBA rule, increases slightly every two seasons. While it sounds like a huge difference, and it certainly is to 99+ percent of us in the working world, the disparity is the NHL salary cap equivalent of the cap space the Flyers will incur on Kurtis Gabriel if he were to spend the full season in the NHL.
* Entering last season, the Flyers carried a combined $7.05 million of cap space on the contracts of Jori Lehterä ($4.7 million) and Dale Weise ($2.35 million). Hayes' cap hit on his seven-year deal comes in at $7.14 million. Add in the $1 million cap hit on Tyler Pitlick (a UFA next summer), and the net upgrade 2019-20 cap cost from Lehterä and Weise to Hayes and Pitlick was $1.09 million of cap space.
* New head coach Alain Vigneault specifically identified Hayes, whom he coached for four years with the New York Rangers, as a player he felt could help his roster in a second-line center role and general manager Chuck Fletcher felt Hayes' two-way abilities matched up the best to the team's needs. If it wasn't going to be Hayes, who would it have been that was on the UFA market or readily available in trade? In terms of UFAs, Matt Duchene got an additional $1 million above Hayes (which was predictable because he's the more offensively explosive player) in a six-year deal with Nashville. Mats Zuccarello, who turns 32 on September 1, got $6 million on a five-year deal with Minnesota.
* The two primary, and interrelated, needs that Fletcher identified was to cut team GAA and to get stronger and deeper down the middle. In terms of GAA, the GM is banking on the cumulative effect of adding a two-way center, two vet right-shot defensemen who have regularly played 20-plus minutes on Cup contenders (and last year's Cup champion), a solid-skating checking winger (Pitlick), multiple new players with PK experience, the continued maturation of Carter Hart, plus an all-new coaching staff and system. Will it all come together and to what degree? That's tough to predict.
It is 100 percent fair to say that, until they walk the walk and prove otherwise during the season, the Flyers remain a bubble team. It's all about showing on-ice improvement, not just on-paper. What is NOT fair, and in fact, way off base, is to say that Fletcher flew by the seat of his pants and lacked a cohesive plan for this offseason. There absolutely WAS an interrelated checklist of items that he wanted to accomplish -- and to do so without trading any of the prospects in the farm system. Whether it was the right plan and the prospects for how well it will all work can be debated in circles until it is settled on the ice.
* Essentially, if one is going to question the Hayes deal, the term and the NTC would be the areas to look. He's 27 now and should provide decent value for the first few years of the deal. The latter portion is where it could get dicey. In terms of shorter-range focus, it would have been unlikely Flyers were going to expose Hayes to the Expansion Draft in 2021 even if he didn't have a no-movement clause.
* I have written in this blog space many times that I like what Ron Hextall did in stockpiling Draft pick assets, what he did in opening cap space. I've also tried to make clear that I think the truth about the tensions that arose from Ron's management style lies somewhere in the space between his perceptions he had and contrasting ones in various segments of the organization.
I've also said that I am pulling for Hexy to get another crack at an NHL GM job and that I always felt he treated me fairly in my dealings with him both before and after I started doing written content work for the organization. Others whom I know and trust in hockey and other areas had some different perceptions and experiences. It's painful when two sides you like and respect having a falling out.
However, one area where Hexy is deserving of criticism is that his NHL-level moves left something to be desired. The stopgap Valtteri Filppula acquisition in trade for end-of-career Mark Streit (who'd already been supplanted by Shayne Gostisbehere) worked out OK for awhile. A few reclamation projects (Michael Del Zotto, Michal Neuvirth's first season) and vet stopgaps (Nick Schultz) bought an extra season or so of junior development time for organizational draft picks.
Most of Hextall's better moves fell in the asset collection (two first-rounders for Brayden Schenn, first-rounder for Brayden Coburn and then a first-round move up to take Travis Konecny, etc) or cap space creation realms. The trade of Chris Pronger's contract and a declined Nicklas Grossmann to Arizona helped cap-wise even though Sam Gagner's one season in Philly was a mild disappointment. The LA deal that got rid of Vincent Lecavalier's contract was a decent one.
Overall, though, most of the multi-year NHL-level contracts that Hextall brought in via trade or free agency (Weise) did not work out very well. There were more than cap reasons behind the trade that sent Scott Hartnell to Columbus for R.J. Umberger but it did help a bit cap wise because of the somewhat shorter remaining term on the latter's deal. Hockey-wise, Unberger's second stint with the Flyers did not work out well at all while Hartnell at least had two additional 23-plus goal and one 60-point season left in him after his departure. The Weise signing didn't work out.
I may discuss Andrew MacDonald at some other time, because it's hard to have a rational discussion about him with people who are not around the team. In terms of his contract, suffice it to say that there was misculation by many parties, which included Hexy during the behind-the-scenes transitional phase from assistant GM to formally being announced as the new GM. Hexy was every bit as on board with the pre-emptive extension that MacDonald signed (and, in fact, was the one who negotiated it with the MacDonald camp) as Paul Holmgren was. The oft-made gripe that Hextall simply "inherited" that contract from his predecessor is untrue. Both believed it would provide stability during Hextall's planned partial rebuild, which otherwise entailed typically staying out of the free agent market until he felt the team was ready to contend.
How did the Flyers at least manage to remain on the playoff bubble -- and get in twice, including a 98-point season, -- during Hextall's years as GM? It was via the very nucleus that was already in place (Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Sean Couturier and Wayne Simmonds) when Hextall returned from LA to become Flyers AGM and then GM. The very same nucleus that gets so widely blamed for the lack of a playoff series win since 2012, yet for which there were no significant attempts to supplement until the summer of 2018.
Coming off the 98-point season of 2017-18, Hextall believed the team was ready to take the next steps. Entering the off-season, he wanted to add a two-way center, a scoring winger and a goaltending upgrade because those were all glaring needs. He succeeded on one front -- signing James van Riemsdyk -- and narrowly missed out on veteran center Paul Stastny (who signed instead with Las Vegas). Hextall was not enamored of the trade cost for an alternative center or of the quality of most of the remaining UFA centers. He was also not happy with the goalie market.
As a result, the center spot and the goaltending were left status quo. Those two factors had major negative consequences last season. In the short-term that was especially true in goal; what with the slew of injuries and failed stopgaps that led to the team using eight different goalies but also produced the ray of hope that resulted from Carter Hart's earlier-than-planned promotion and overall success as a 20-year-old rookie. In the longer term, the slower-than-hoped NHL progression of Nolan Patrick in his second season and the lack of even a Filppula-level alternative, created the set of circumstances that made Patrick a must-sign.
So, if one is genuinely puzzled why the Flyers traded a fifth-round pick for an early negotiating window on Hayes and then offered a deal he couldn't refuse, now you've got the full context and the cap-related adjustments to add pieces to the vet forward roster from the one that entered last season.
* Last but certainly not least, even though the Flyers still have enough open cap space to get both Travis Konecny and Ivan Provorov eventually signed when will that happen? Missing training camp time would not beneficial on either side. This, to me, is the bigger topic worth discussing at this point than how much someone said that Kevin Hayes was or was not excited about the prospects of coming to Philly before he actually signed here. He's signed. Move on.
As for Provorov and Konecny, the same range of money was earmarked for the two of the them whether or not the Flyers signed Hayes and acquired Matt Niskanen and Justin Braun. None of those acquisitions are the hold up. The hold up is what other still-unsigned RFAs will eventually sign for, and which deal(s) will set the market first. There's a multi-team stalemate on both the winger and defenseman RFA markets. At some point, the pros and cons of playing the waiting game have to weighed. This year's Flyers team absolutely cannot afford distractions or a slow start as they implement new systems. You can't have key pieces missing from camp, and the players themselves can't put their seasons behind the eight ball by having to play catch up.
It's a dangerous game of chicken on both sides. But in terms of compelling, high-stakes drama, it's far more packed with importance than the topic that's the "controversy" of the week.
2) Having lots of cap space flexibility is great. But having the cap space to try to dangle a contract at Artemi Panarin (who will be paid a share of the Rangers' cap ceiling roughly equivalent to the one Patrick Kane represented when he signed his big extension is Chicago, but is a full notch down the star ladder from Kane) wasn't going to convince the player to come here. He had his heart set on the New York market. Likewise, a year ago, John Tavares had his heart set on Toronto.
The reason why the New York Rangers got Jacob Trouba and a relatively moderate trade cost was that Winnipeg would not permit any potential trade partners to talk contract extension with Trouba's agent until the arbitration-eligible defenseman, one year away from UFA status was actually dealt. The Rangers ended up paying Trouba $8 million a year for seven years and are banking on him being a true No. 1 defenseman on a roster that doesn't have great blueline depth and had to buy out Kevin Shattenkirk.
Meanwhile, yes, they added a star winger in Panarin and second overall Draft pick Kaapo Kakko has future star written all over him (although he, like most young players, could have growing pains and streakiness in his early years). But how much depth they have the middle? Is Alexandar Georgiev, the more he's played, going to be anywhere close to what Henrik Lundqvist (now 37 years old) was as the team's workhorse starter in his career?
My view of the Metro Division has not changed. The Capitals are still the team to beat. The Penguins window for pushing for one additional Cup is not entirely shut but nearly closed. The Hurricanes have a lot of talent but meh goaltending and a miserly nutjob of an owner. The Islanders have to sustain what they did last year in their massive GAA cut and in being greater than the sum of their parts. The Flyers are improved on paper (and, on paper, better than the 2017-18 team) but need a lot of areas to come together to get off their excessively streaky benders and slow starts. The Blue Jackets added some good players but lost more (Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky, Duchene) than they brought in.
The Devils and Rangers could be significantly improved this season, but also had the furthest to go entering the summer to be in the playoff mix. Thus, there are many different ways this division could shape up. While the Flyers do not yet deserve to be installed above "bubble team" status this summer, it's silly to just write them off in August. There's a whole of parity and every team, including even the Caps, has its significant question marks.
Season-to-season predictions are tricky. Raise your hand if, last August 16 after losing Tavares as a UFA and coming off having the NHL's bottom-ranked GAA the previous year, you had Barry Trotz making such a big impact on the New York Islanders that the GAA would go from 31st to 1st in a single year and the team would sweep Pittsburgh in the first round of the playoffs. I know my hand certainly would not be raised.
3) The "Battle for 3W" series on the Flyers official website is complete: Part one looks at rookie candidates
. Part two looks at veteran incumbents
. The final part looks at newcomer vets
acquired this offseason.
4) The 2019 edition of the annual Flyers Alumni Fantasy Camp gets underway today in Atlantic City. In case you are going -- or may be interested in attending in the future -- this is the how the game and schedule of events are arranged each day for this year's camp.
Flyers Alumni Fantasy Cup tourney game info: All games have three, 15-minute periods. Ties result in 3-on-3 sudden death OT for five mins and then a 3-round shootout. Three points awarded for a team win in regulation, two for OT/SO, one for an OT/SO loss, zero for a regulation loss. In the event of a points tie, goal differential is the first tiebreaker and total goals scored the second.
FRI, AUG 16
4 p.m.: Check-in at the Tropicana Atlantic City
6 p.m. to 9 p.m.: Private welcome party at the Top of the Trop, featuring extensive catered menu, three-hour open bar, introduction of all the coaches (Danny Briere, Martin Biron, Mark Howe, Joe Watson, Keith Jones, Ian Laperriere, Bill Barber, Bill Clement and Brad Marsh) and players by Lou Nolan.
SAT, AUG 17
8 a.m. to 6:15 p.m.: Charter round trip mini-bus transportation from Tropicana to Atlantic City Flyers Skate Zone and back.
8:15 a.m.: Continental breakfast begins at Skate Zone for players and coaches (fresh fruit, yogurt, bagels, danish, muffins, juices and coffee).
9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.: Team Tito's practice (black jersey) with coaches Bill Barber, Bill Clement and Brad Marsh.
10:45 a.m. to 11:45 a.m.: Team CDW practice (grey jersey) with coaches Ian Laperriere and Keith Jones.
Noon to 1 p.m.: Team Toyota (white practice jersey, camo game jersey) practice with coaches Danny Briere and Martin Biron.
1;15 p.m. to 2:15 p.m: Team River Rock Academy (orange jerseys) practice with coaches Mark Howe and Joe Watson.
2:30 p.m.: Game between Team Tito's and Team CDW
4:15 p.m.: Game between Team Toyota vs. Team River Rock
7:00 p.m. to 9 p.m.: Complimentary happy hour and appetizers for spouses/ significant others of players to be held at Havana Tower Summit Suite at the Tropicana. Flyers Charities executive director Denise Sullivan is the host.
7:15 p.m.: Transport for campers and coaches from Tropicana to Ducktown Tavern.
7:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.: Tented outdoor pig roast (roast pig, bbq chicken, burgers, hot dogs, potato salad, pasta salad) and full open bar at Ducktown Tavern, axe-throwing cases, performance by a magician/mentalist.
10:30 p.m.: Return transport from Ducktown Tavern to Tropicana.
SUN, AUG 18
7:15 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.: Round-trip transport from Tropicana to Skate Zone and back.
7:30 a.m.: Continental breakfast begins at Skate Zone.
9:00 a.m.: Game featuring Team River Rock vs. Team Tito's
10:45 a.m.: Game featuring Team CDW vs. Team Toyota
2:30 p.m.: Game featuring Team River Rock vs. Team CDW
4:15 p.m.: Game featuring Team Toyota vs. Team Tito's
7:00 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.: Farewell event celebration at Tropicana ballroom: sit-down menu with entree choice of surf and turf or chicken parm and pasta, full open bar, Lou Nolan hosting an attendee Q&A session with all participating Flyers Alumni, silent auction for autographed and framed Flyers and Flyers Alumni prints. Event is open to camp participants, Alumni coaches and invited Flyers Alumni Association and event sponsors.
MON, AUG. 19
8:45 a.m.: Transport to Flyers Skate zone begins after hotel check-outs, continental breakfast (8:45 to 11) and lunch (11:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.) available at Skate Zone.
10 a.m.: Consolation Game between round-robin 3rd place vs. 4th place teams.
11:45 a.m.: Flyers Alumni Fantasy Cup Championship game: 1st place vs 2nd place.