Tom Petty was right. The waiting is indeed the hardest part. I take that back. In the song Learning to Fly, he sings that coming down is the hardest thing. You know what? I think the latter will actually prove to be more apropos to the current standstill atop the NHL's free agent market.
Zach Parise and Ryan Suter are both excellent players at their respective positions. Parise, in fact, has been a full-fledged franchise player at times in his career and showed this past season that he is fully recovered from the knee injury that cut the heart out of his 2010-11 season. Suter, an All-Star selection in 2011-12 for the first time, is one of the best passing and puck-moving defensemen in the game. Every year, he can be penciled in for about 38 to 45 points.
But is either player, especially Suter, worth the reported 10-year to 12-year, $80 million to $100 million commitment they will get from whichever team whose offer they ultimately decide to accept?
For that matter, is Flyers' UFA defenseman Matt Carle really worth paying a salary that is likely to carry a cap hit that will, at minimum, at least temporarily place him among the 15 highest-paid players
at his position in the NHL? While Carle has been much more valuable player to the Flyers than some realize, he is more of a quintessential number three defenseman (or a number two with the right partner) than an All-Star.
But here we are early in the morning of July 3, and the Flyers are in queue waiting for Parise and Suter to decide -- as is still expected in most corners -- to play elsewhere, despite the Philadelphia offer reportedly trumping all the rest in sheer dollars.
If and when the answer comes that the Flyers are out of the running for both players, they will turn their attention to re-signing Carle (who has allegedly received a substantial offer from St. Louis among other suitors) and signing or trading for a winger to play on Claude Giroux's line.
It is believed that the Flyers remain interested in talking further to Anaheim about a Bobby Ryan trade. Meanwhile, Shane Doan is still mulling over his own offers on the UFA market and deciding if he wants to leave Phoenix after spending his entire career in the organization. Yesterday, former Coyotes assistant coach Rick Tocchet lobbied on Twitter for Philadelphia to forget about Parise and the highest-priced Dmen on the market and focus instead on luring Doan and adding additional defensive depth.
Wrote Tocchet, "If I were Flyers, I would have my attention on Doan and a couple of second tier d-man ...stay with the young core and grab Weber next year."
The biggest risk in signing Doan (assuming he is willing to come east) is contract length. The winger, who will turn 36 in October, reportedly wants a four-deal deal and will not consider offers of less than three seasons. Unless the NHL's rules on over-35 contracts are changed whenever the next CBA gets ratified, such a contract would become a hassle if Doan were to sustain a career-threatening injury or his production dropped dramatically prior to the final year of the deal.
Bringing back 40-year-old Jaromir Jagr on another one-year deal is also still a possibility for the Flyers. Originally said to be leaning toward the Montreal Canadiens, it was reported yesterday that the Habs are not among the teams that have presented an offer to Jagr's agent, ex-Flyers defenseman Petr Svoboda.
All of these decisions, however, are still in temporary limbo until Parise and Suter make up their mind. The craziest part of the whole thing is that the Flyers and the other teams involved know that, after the initial euphoria has subsided, there is a very real risk of experiencing buyer's remorse on making such an expensive purchase (or a high-stakes trade) with such long-term commitments involved.
Every one of the aforementioned players is of high caliber. Nevertheless, coming down may indeed prove harder in the end than the agony of waiting on decisions to be made.
With the second of their two fourth round picks in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, the Flyers selected Portland Winter Hawks left winter Taylor Leier. A 5-foot-10, 174-pound product of Saskatoon, Leier dressed in all 72 of his team's regular-season games as a 17-year-old rookie, producing 37 points (13 goals with 24 assists) and 36 penalty minutes. In the playoffs, he chipped in 5 goals and a pair of assists in 22 playoff games, helping Portland reach the WHL Finals.
Central Scouting ranked Leier 117th in their midterm rankings and 130th in their final rankings. As it turned out, he was taken by the Flyers with the 117th pick of the 2012 Draft. Over the latter part of the season, Leier was a teammate of Flyers' prospect Marcel Noebels (who is slated to join the Phantoms next season). He also played with Pittsburgh Penguins' first-round pick Derrick Pouliot and numerous other high-end prospects.
While Leier is on the small side and his stats do not jump at anyone, it should also be remembered that he was a rookie played on a team loaded with scoring. The trio of top Calgary Flames prospect Sven Bartschi (33 goals, 94 points), St. Louis Blues 2011 second-round pick Ty Rattie (57 goals, 121 points) and Toronto Maple Leafs power forward prospect Brad Ross (42 goals, 86 points, 163 penalty minutes) led the way.
Overall, the 2011-12 Winter Hawks boasted 14 players who scored double-digit goals, with five players -- six if Noebels' combined totals from Seattle and Portland are considered -- who tallied 20 more goals last season. There is only so much power play time and offensive zone starts at even strength to go around.
As such, Leier spent most of the season playing on a checking-oriented line with a 20-year-old center, Taylor Peters (12 goals, 38 points) and an overage winger, Oliver Gabriel (20 goals, 42 points). Leier's production was still good enough to rank 14th among WHL rookies this season. He was also a plus-11 on the season.
Taking on a defensive role was something new to Leier. A 2nd-round pick by Portland, Leier was used to playing on the top line at the bantam and midget hockey levels. He was a dominating offensive for the Saskatoon Contacts of the SMJHL, tallying 74 points in 44 games in his final season before moving up to the WHL in 2011-12.
Over the next two seasons, Leier figures to see increased offensive responsibility as the nucleus of the Winter Hawks team graduates to the professional level and other veteran teammates simply age out of junior hockey eligibility. It remains to be seen if the offensive game will fully emerge at the WHL level, but the potential is there.
The scouting report on Leier is that he brings a package of grit and above-average hockey sense for a player of his age. He doesn't give up on plays and is not afraid to mix it up when he has to. Already a promising young penalty killer, he is also good in transition with deceptive quickness.
I asked an Ontario-based scout for a Western Conference NHL team how much emphasis clubs place on selecting players who come from winning hockey programs and whether the modest ice time that the younger players on such teams often see could actually figure into their assessments in a negative way.
"As a primary issue? No, it doesn't matter if he comes from the best or worst team in a league. But it can figure in a bit in terms of intangibles. When a player is surrounded by talent and you know he receives good coaching, there's a push to work and improve all the time or he's not going to play. Competitiveness kicks in a little more sometimes .... Yes, ice time comes into when in getting a read on these kids but with some players you can watch for even a few games and see that their skills and approach to the game are either there are or they're not there. We don't go by stats."
Apart from adapting to a bigger offensive role in subsequent seasons, Leier will have to make all the usual adjustments that most potential pro hockey prospects face. He will need to add muscle and continue to improve the pacing of his game to a pro-caliber level.
Incidentally, while Leier is a fine young ice hockey player, he is also regarded as one of the top teenaged ball hockey (floorball) players in Canada. He recently represented his home country in the recent U18 Ball Hockey World Championships in the Czech Republic, bringing home a gold medal from the tournament. Leier posted four assists in five games.
The Flyers signed 23-year-old minor league defenseman Cullen Eddy to a two-way contract yesterday. A native of Hidden Valley, PA, the Mercyhurst College alumnus split the last two seasons between the Phantoms and the ECHL. He had been with the Flyers' AHL affiliate on a straight minor-league deal.
The addition of Eddy after the buyout of Oskars Bartulis brings the Flyers' current reserve list back to 47 players, with two contracted players (Nick Cousins and Derek Mathers) falling under the slide-rule that allows the players to be re-assigned to their junior hockey teams next season without counting against the 50-contract maximum.
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