Flyers Decision to Not Submit Offer Sheet to Stamkos Good Move

By David Strehle
NHL H
ot Stove Creative Editor

Philadelphia Flyers’ GM Paul Holmgren will not be putting together an offer sheet for Tampa Bay Lightning’s pending restricted free agent Steven Stamkos.

Justin K. Aller / Getty Images North America

The rumored offer the Flyers were contemplating was in the 10-12 year, $100-$115 million ranges.

While the prospect of adding Stamkos to a group of centers that includes Claude Giroux and Danny Briere had Flyers’ fans salivating, it would have been a long-shot that the 21-year-old superstar would be wearing Orange-and-Black when the 2011-12 season began.

After all, Stamkos has scored at an almost every-other-game pace in his three NHL seasons (119 goals in 243 games).  When you consider that he has 96 goals in 164 games in the last two years, it’s no wonder why there is so much interest in the Markham, Ontario-native.

Even if Holmgren had decided to tender an offer, there were a number of situations that would have thrown a monkey wrench into his plans:

  • There was a good chance that another team would offer more money than the Flyers for Stamkos’ services.  There are currently eight teams that are in excess of $10 million below the $48.3 million cap floor, meaning that they need to spend more to be cap-compliant.  That group includes the New York Rangers, who would love to add such a marquee name to their ranks and are usually big players when free agency begins; the Florida Panthers who, despite adding over $10 million in salary over the past week by acquiring Brian Campbell and Tomas Kopecky, are still the team with the least amount of money committed to their payroll for next year at just over $26 million; the New York Islanders, who are desperately attempting to restore a winning team to the Island; and the Winnipeg Jets, who would just love to make a big splash to further elevate the level of excitement that has been brewing since the official announcement that NHL hockey was finally returning to the Manitoba city.
  • If any team makes an offer, Bolts’ GM Steve Yzerman will have the final say on where his star player ends up.  Stevie Y has the right to match any offers for his young sniper, and any thought that he wouldn’t do just that doesn’t add up.  Stamkos has become the face of a franchise that just last season began the unenviable task of rebuilding its credibility after several years of incompetence in ownership.  Jeff Vinik bought the team a year and a half ago, and soon after hired Yzerman to bring the Lightning back to respectability.  Having lost a 1-0 Game 7 decision to the eventual-Cup champion Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Finals, it was justifiably nothing but rave reviews for Yzerman in his first year.  With 17 players already under contract for next season, Yzerman has more than $18 million in available cap space.  However, if Yzerman has to match an exorbitant offer, he could be looking at nearly 40% of his club’s salary tied up in just three forwards – Stamkos, Vincent Lecavalier ($7.727 million per year), and Martin St. Louis ($5.625 million).  Add in the issue of needing to re-sign RFA Teddy Purcell and UFA Sean Bergenheim - two forwards that proved to be incredibly valuable last year - and Yzerman could be looking at being right around the upper limit very quickly.

If Holmgren would have been successful in making an offer and somehow would have ended up with Stamkos, there would have been dire consequences to any such acquisition:

  • The GM would have had to start immediately lopping off salary from his existing roster.  While the best-case scenario would have been to start by shipping Scott Hartnell and his $4.2 million contract off to another destination, the fact remains that the 29-year-old winger possesses a no-trade clause in his existing deal.  While “Bird Dogg’s” 24 markers placed him fourth in team goal-scoring and 49 points was sixth among Flyers’ skaters, his salary is the second-highest among Philly forwards (to Briere’s $6.5 million).
  • Even if he could get him to waive his NTC and moved Hartnell, it still wouldn’t have been enough.  With the recent acquisition of RFA forwards Jakub Voracek and Wayne Simmonds in the Jeff Carter and Mike Richards deals, Holmgren will need even more room.  This would have possibly made other players like winger Kris Versteeg ($3.083 million), defenseman Matt Carle ($3.437 million), and maybe even defenseman Braydon Coburn ($3.2 million) vulnerable to being moved.
  • Along those same lines, UFA winger Ville Leino would have been another casualty if Stamkos was signed.  The popular Leino was a steal when picked up from the Detroit Red Wings for defender Ole-Kristian Tollefsen in February of 2010.  Since the 2010 playoffs, Leino has been one of the best bargains in the entire NHL at $800,000, while putting up excellent production on a line with Hartnell and Briere.  Leino is reportedly looking for somewhere in the vicinity of $4 million per year in a new deal.

It wouldn’t have been the first time a Flyers’ GM had made a run at an up-and-coming Lightning forward if Holmgren had gone after Stamkos.  In the late-90′s, then-GM Bob Clarke signed Chris Gratton to an offer sheet.  The entire affair blew up into a total disaster as Bolt’s GM Phil Esposito attempted to deal Gratton to the Chicago Blackhawks, but an arbitrator ruled that Clarke had submitted a legitimate, signed offer sheet prior to the completion of the trade.  The signing eventually fell into the “be careful what you wish for” file, as Gratton fizzled in his year and a half stint in Philadelphia.  The burgeoning power forward was sent back to Tampa Bay after posting just 23 goals and 70 points in 108 games with the Flyers.

While Stamkos is obviously a much different story than Gratton and is one of the most dynamic players in the league, the risks would have been similar.  Philadelphia got burned with Gratton because he never really developed into the power forward that was predicted, and he didn’t really fit into the chemistry of the club.  Stamkos will still be one of the most dominant offensive stars in the NHL.  But with how many pieces Holmgren would have had to part with to fit his salary into the cap structure, the Flyers could have ended up taking a huge step backwards.

Finally having addressed the goaltending position by trading for and signing Ilya Bryzgalov to a 9-year, $51.5 million pact, the team seems to be prepared to make a run at the Cup next season.  And with Chris Pronger and Kimmo Timonen another year older, the time appears to be now.

With the Stamkos situation so volatile and not being able to control his own destiny, it is a better option for Holmgren to instead sign Leino and go after a couple of other available UFAs.

Holmgren has just under $8.3 million to work with as of right now.  Under the assumption that he can likely get Leino, Voracek, and Simmonds signed for a combined amount of $7 million, that would give the Flyers 21 players under contract and less than $1.3 million left.

The probability of UFA Sean O’Donnell not returning leaves a hole at defense, and Erik Gustafsson and his $900,000 cap hit would be a good addition to the blue line next year.  That would leave Gustafsson or Oskars Bartulis open to take over the #6 spot, with the other filling the seventh.

As you can see, that would leave somewhere around $400,000 to add depth up front.  With Bill Masterton Trophy winner Ian Laperriere set to go onto Long-Term Injured Reserve, that will add nearly $1.667 million to the number with which Holmgren can work.

Erik Cole is a winger that the Flyers had interest at the trade deadline in March, and there is talk that he would love to come to Philadelphia and reunite with head coach Peter Laviolette.  Cole played for Laviolette in Carolina when he guided the Hurricanes to the 2006 Stanley Cup, and he would add more muscle to a growing position for the team.

Other players of interest could include Jamie Langenbrunner (Philly had attempted to acquire him last year when the Devils traded him), (ex-Pittsburgh Penguin and perpetual Flyer-killer) Tyler Kennedy, Anthony Stewart, John Madden.

A couple of Ex-Flyers may be of interest:

  • Michal Handzus would be a good third line center, and would provide the club with a much-needed late-game guy to take the important faceoffs.  Holmgren should be concerned about Handzus’ slow foot speed as the 34-year-old may be nearing the end of the line.  He had just 12 goals and 30 points in 82 games with the Los Angeles Kings last year.
  • Feisty 27-year-old winger Scottie Upshall would be a good energy guy.  He posted 22 goals and 34 points in 82 games split between the Phoenix Coyotes and Columbus Blue Jackets.  He still plays on the edge, as his hit on Bartulis in Philly late in the season last year can attest.
  • Nik Zherdev sometimes seemed a bad fit for the Flyers last year, but he also played pretty well down the stretch.  He was one of Philadelphia’s better forwards in that time and into the postseason.  It would depend on if Laviolette felt it would have a chance of working this time around.
  • Simon Gagne, Arron Asham.

 

If you have any comments or questions, you can email the author at dstrehle@nhlhotstove.com.  You can also follow him on Twitter – @David_Strehle