Inside the Flyers: Window of opportunity may be short

Jeff Carter and Nik Zherdev celebrate a goal against the Hurricanes. IfCarter re-signs, the salary cap may force the team to trade a key player.
Jeff Carter and Nik Zherdev celebrate a goal against the Hurricanes. IfCarter re-signs, the salary cap may force the team to trade a key player.
Posted: November 14, 2010

The Flyers' defense is stacked, their offense is explosive, and their goalie situation - thanks to the stunningly quick rise of rookie Sergei Bobrovsky - is the best it's been in a long time.

But in the NHL salary-cap world, a team's makeup can change dramatically from year to year. (See the Chicago Blackhawks from 2009-10 to this season.)

That's why the Flyers need to take advantage of their current roster, because an unfavorable salary-cap situation could force them to bid adieu to some key players next season.

This season looks like the Flyers' best chance to bring home the Stanley Cup for the next few years.

The Flyers smartly signed rising star Claude Giroux last week to a three-year deal for $11.25 million - a cap hit of $3.75 million per year. On Saturday, the Flyers inked Jeff Carter to an 11-year, $58 million deal, an annual cap hit of $5.27 million.

The signing puts the 2011-12 payroll at $57.5 million for just 18 signed players, according to capgeek.com.

That's dangerously close to the current maximum of $59.4 million.

That leaves the Flyers just $1.8 million - and it could be less, if performance bonuses from 2010-11 are met - to sign four or five players, including blossoming winger Ville Leino.

The Flyers, according to capgeek.com, have the NHL's highest 2011-12 payroll of players that are signed.

Pittsburgh, the Flyers' Atlantic Division rival, has the third-highest 2011-12 payroll, with $51.2 million. But because the Penguins' money is committed to just 13 players, they are arguably in worse cap shape than the Flyers next season.

That's Penguins general manager Ray Shero's problem. Flyers GM Paul Holmgren's quandary is this: Will he be able to afford prospective free agent Leino?

The answer: Probably, but only if a key player - most likely a defenseman - is traded after the season.

What about the Flyers' other potential free agents - Nik Zherdev, Dan Carcillo, Darroll Powe, Andreas Nodl, Sean O'Donnell, and Brian Boucher?

The guess here is that, after the season, the Flyers probably will cut ties with Zherdev, Carcillo, O'Donnell, and Boucher.

Leino's agent, Bill Zito, said Friday that he has had "good conversations" with Holmgren and that he was "pretty confident we can work something out."

Signing Leino figures to put the Flyers near or above the cap - and that's for just 19 players on their 22- or 23-player roster for 2011-12.

All of which might force the Flyers to deal one of their high-priced defensemen after this season. The Flyers' defense is probably the best in the NHL, but to get Leino in the fold, some unwanted moves will have to be made.

It should be noted that cap-strapped teams could get relief if a new cap limit is announced after this season. Also, if ESPN successfully bids for NHL games, the cap could grow significantly.

That's the best-case scenario for teams such as the Flyers.

Worst-case: The cap stays the same, and Holmgren has to load his lineup with young, inexpensive players from AHL Adirondack, and, unable to re-sign some important players, is forced to deal a valuable defenseman.

Entering Saturday, Leino had scored just 14 career goals, but the Flyers should not underestimate his value. He needs to be re-signed. He plays a vital role on arguably the Flyers' premier line, one that includes Danny Briere and Scott Hartnell.

Leino wants to stay with the Flyers, but is downplaying contract talks.

Said Leino: "I like being here; it's a good fit and I play with good players, so hopefully we get something done."

Right now, though, his concern is away from the contract talks between Holmgren and his agent. "I'm just working on my game right now," Leino said. "That's the important thing."

Leino is a big part of a team that has the chemistry to match its talent. In the salary-cap world, that chemistry will be threatened next season.

When it is, the Flyers hope to be called the defending Stanley Cup champions.


Inside the Flyers:

Read Sam Carchidi's Flyers blog, "Broad Street Bull,"

at www.philly.com/flyers.

Blog response of the week

Subject: Surging Flyers.

Posted 08:19 AM, 11/12/2010

mrkmcc

Well, now we know how good these guys are when they're on their A game. Hope it continues. Their record was almost identical this time last year and we all know what happened next. They look totally in sync right now, though. I'm still trying not to get overly excited about Bob, but he is an absolute pleasure to watch.


Contact staff writer Sam Carchidi

at 215-854-5181 or scarchidi@phillynews.com.

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