Flyers Trade Rumors Complicated by Cap Implications

By David Strehle
NHL H
ot Stove Managing Editor

With the recent wave of injuries experienced by the Philadelphia Flyers, the rumors have begun that something will soon be on the horizon via the trade market.

Photo credit: Jim MacIsaac / Getty Images

In pre-salary cap days, there would be no issue whatsoever in going out and making a deal to get some much-needed help on the club’s ailing blueline.  Ed Snider always gave the go-ahead with a pre-approval – along with a blank check - for whatever his general managers believed would improve the team’s chances of succeeding.

But this is a much different climate and while Snider still has given his blessing to Paul Holmgren to do whatever is necessary to improve the Flyers, a trade at this point in time would be a knee-jerk reaction.

No pun intended.

Dr. Peter DeLuca will perform an arthroscopic procedure on Chris Pronger’s left knee today, to clean out and remove what Holmgren referred to ‘loose bodies’ from the defenseman’s knee in his conference call yesterday.

It was more bad news for the blueline corps, which is already without the services of Erik Gustafsson (wrist surgery) and Andreas Lilja (high ankle sprain).  Both are expected to be out until sometime around the New Year, and rear guards Marc-Andre Bourdon and Kevin Marshall have been filling in during their absences.  The defensemen were recalled on November 21 when it was learned that Pronger (virus) and Coburn (upper body injury) would not be ready to play.

This presents a tremendous quandry for Philadelphia, as they are left with just four regular NHL-caliber defenders – Kimmo Timonen, Braydon Coburn, Andrej Meszaros, and Matt Carle – to go along with the AHL recalls. 

Bourdon has actually played pretty well since his recall.  Although he has not scored a point in the four games, he has a +1 rating and four PIMs while providing a physical presence.

Marshall - who was sent back to Adirondack after the November 21 game when Coburn was proclaimed good to go, then recalled again when Lilja suffered his ankle injury - hasn’t fared as well thus far.  In limited ice time in the two games in which he has seen action, Marshall has been a -1 in each.

Oskars Bartulis, or possibly even Matt Walker would be worthy recalls from the Phantoms, but both would have to first have to pass through re-entry waivers. 

If either were to be recalled it is likely they would be claimed by another team, and that scenario would not be a good one for the Flyers.  Another by-product of the mess is if they were to be claimed, half of their respective salaries would count against Philly’s salary cap totals.  Walker being taken off the Flyers’ hands would cost the club an additional pro-rated $875,000, and Bartulis $300,000. 

Just for not playing in Philadelphia.

Another problem the injuries are creating is the amount of ice time the big four are seeing.  In Saturday’s 2-0 shutout loss at Madison Square Garden, Coburn was on for in excess of 28 minutes, Timonen 24:28, Meszaros 23:38, and Carle 22:14. 

Those are postseason-type numbers, where players wear down quickly in the all out pursuit of Lord Stanley’s hardware.  But this is only late-November, and Philly’s defenders are looking battle-weary already.

36-year-old Timonen has especially been banged up over the past two seasons.  Many times as he’s leaving the ice in obvious distress, team management and fans alike must be holding their collective breath.  It’s been said here before in these pages, but any sort of long-term injury to Timonen – especially in combination with the devastation the ranks have experienced this year – would spell an almost certain catasrophic end for the Orange-and-Black.

Holmgren has already had to be ultra-creative just to make his squad cap compliant this season.  He left forward Brayden Schenn off the opening night roster to save a rather large bonus that would have kicked in and pushed the team over the upper limit.

And that is why any kind of band aid moves are likely not to happen. 

Sure, this is a critical stretch with the Flyers in the midst of a four-game road trip, and they can ill-afford to go into a tailspin.  With Sidney Crosby’s healthy return to the Pittsburgh Penguins – and the likelihood of a big run by the Pens – and vastly improved play by the New York Rangers this season, Philadelphia could quickly find themselves losing sight of the teams in front of them in the Atlantic Division, as well as many others in the Eastern Conference race.

Presently, Philadelphia sits two points behind Pittsburgh, and two points ahead of the Rangers.

Yes, when Pronger and Lilja are placed on LTIR the Flyers will have in excess of $5 million in cap room.  And with the Carolina Hurricanes claiming Andreas Nodl off waivers at noon, that’s another $845,000 in wiggle room.  

But any kind of a stop gap measure taken for ‘the now’ will almost definitely come back to haunt the Flyers later when the injured players return.  There is only so much limbo space available for Holmgren to maneuver within cap limits, and having any extra bodies around when everyone is healthy won’t work.

Expect nothing to happen for at least the next week or so, as Philadelphia has some time with which to see how things play out.  For now.  If the team begins to spiral into a freefall, all bets are off.

And if some kind of move is going to be undertaken by Holmgren, you can bet it will involve players with more substantial contract numbers leaving the City of Brotherly Love – in other words, a move that will leave the club in good standing with regards to the upper salary cap limit when the entire core of the team is healthy once again - if that will even be a possibility in this season of seemingly never-ending injuries.


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