Flyers lose free-agent defenseman Matt Carle to Tampa Bay Lightning

Posted: July 06, 2012

AT LONG LAST, U.S. Olympic teammates Zach Parise and Ryan Suter are together, after signing equal 13-year, $98 million deals in Minnesota within an hour of each other on the Fourth of July.

Cashing a fat, $12 million bonus check for signing on the dotted line just seems so ... American.

Another American, Matt Carle, added his own fireworks on Wednesday night by signing a mammoth 6-year, $33 million deal to return to Tampa Bay as the first dominoes began to fall.

In Minnesota, both Parise and Suter left behind the only teams they have ever known in New Jersey and Nashville. They may have even left money on the table in Philadelphia. We hinted on Monday that these two players may be more interested in playing together as a package deal than collecting every last dollar.

Truth be told, the Flyers are actually better off. Parise and Suter are nice pieces to add to any team, for sure, but only a small handful of players in the NHL are worth nearly $100 million — and those two aren't among that elite group.

Rather than commit a big portion of their available salary cap to two players for more than the next decade, the Flyers have at least $14 million left to spend this summer (for a change), and they will have even more next season after Scott Hartnell and Kimmo Timonen come off the books. They still need to re-sign restricted free agent Jake Voracek to a new deal.

Gasp! The Flyers might actually go into next season with salary-cap space.

The only problem is that they will need to scramble a bit now to plug their holes on the blue line and at right wing. But they don't need to fill them with the top names on the market. There is an economical way to do it, subtle ways to improve a young, 103-point team before really making a run in 2013-14.

The Flyers are in the same position on Thursday as many of the NHL's highest-spending teams — such as Pittsburgh, Detroit, Nashville and even New Jersey — after losing out on the sweepstakes. They are all in the unfamiliar position of not getting the players they want on the open market, checkbook be damned.

The truth, for all of these teams, is that the remainder of the free-agent market is ridiculously meager — especially with Carle gone. They will all be competing against one another again for the remaining handful of players worth signing. Unfortunately, the Flyers are looking for a sexy prom date a night before the big dance, when all of the pretty girls are already taken.

Parise and Suter are gone. Jaromir Jagr signed for $4.55 million in Dallas on Tuesday.

For the Flyers, the easiest fix would have been to bring back Carle. The question is: At what price? That $5.5 million price was apparently too rich for the Flyers' blood. Detroit, Nashville, and St. Louis were just a few of the teams in the hunt for Carle, who many thought could have pulled in up to $6 million as teams bid for his services.

Any hometown discount that may have existed to bring Carle back to Philadelphia may have gone out the window during Suter's 4-day waiting game. Carle, 27, played 12 games in Tampa in 2008 before being dealt to the Flyers.

Now, the Flyers' biggest priority should remain on replacing Carle, instead of James van Riemsdyk's lost 11 goals. Carle was questioned often for his turnovers but the Flyers' blue line took a big hit on Wednesday.

Up front, Alexander Semin and Shane Doan are sexy names, but each presents specific risks. And Doan doesn't appear to be leaving the desert after 17 years with the Coyotes/Jets franchise, despite the ownership issues.

The Flyers' top offensive improvement options continue to be via trade, either for Columbus star Rick Nash or Anaheim winger Bobby Ryan. Blue Jackets general manager Scott Howson wants a package of Holmgren's young studs for a franchise-type player who will be 34 by the time his $7.8 million-per-year deal runs out.

Ryan, 25, is a much more viable option as a four-time 30-goal scorer over the last 4 years. His cap hit is a much more manageable $5.1 million per year.

Both Nash and Ryan will require players the Flyers haven't yet been willing to part with — names such as Sean Couturier, Brayden Schenn and Matt Read. Right now, those rumors are nothing more than just that.

For now, we sit and wait. The same thing we've been doing since free agency opened Sunday. In a crazy, reactionary league, maybe patience isn't such a bad thing.  

Contact Frank Seravalli at seravaf@phillynews.com. Follow him on Twitter @DNFlyers. For more Flyers coverage and opinion, read his blog at www.philly.com/FrequentFlyers.

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