Bargain buys for Flyers in free agency

ASSOCIATED PRESS Peter Mueller has had concussion issues but might be a good fit on the line with Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Peter Mueller has had concussion issues but might be a good fit on the line with Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek.
Posted: July 02, 2014

TRY AS HE might, Ron Hextall could not rid the Flyers of any of the numerous onerous contracts bogging down their salary cap.

Hextall could not find a taker for center Vinny Lecavalier, despite the fact he gave agent Kent Hughes more than 2 weeks to work out a landing spot. He will be paid a $2 million signing bonus today, which hampered negotiations.

Hextall did not budge in buying out winger R.J. Umberger, despite the fact he is the Flyers' second-highest paid forward after Claude Giroux.

The Flyers are already over the NHL's $69 million salary cap by more than $234,000.

For that reason, the Flyers are not expected to make a huge splash when the annual free-agency frenzy opens at noon today. They may, however, temporarily exceed the salary cap by 10 percent (up to $75.9 million) for the summer.

They must be under $69 million by Oct. 7 at 5 o'clock.

In the past, the Flyers have temporarily taken off players with two-way contracts (Sean Couturier, Brayden Schenn, etc.) for the first day of the season to get under the cap and restored them by game time on the day of the first game - when Chris Pronger's $4.94 million injury exception is removed.

This year, with Schenn and Couturier graduated to one-way deals, the Flyers will not have that option.

The Flyers currently only have 11 forwards on the roster - and that number includes seldom-used Jay Rosehill. They normally carry 13. Even if Scott Laughton is to make the cut, they'd still want at least one or two other players to battle with newcomer Pierre-Edouard Bellemare.

The Flyers also need at least one NHL-ready defenseman and a backup to goalie Steve Mason.

With those needs in mind, here are a few under-the-radar free agents who could contribute to the Flyers at prices that would fit the budget:

PETER MUELLER (Winger): Mueller, 26, is a former eighth overall pick by Phoenix in 2006. He burst onto the NHL scene with 54 points in 81 games for the Coyotes in 2007-08, numbers that he hasn't been able to replicate since. He then spent two seasons in Colorado, where he was decimated by concussions - playing in only 47 of a possible 164 games. During the 2012-13 lockout shortened season, Mueller collected only 17 points on a brutal Florida team. He spent last season in Switzerland, where he led the league in goals with 24 in 49 games.

Mueller is still a young, Minnesota-born guy who would bring a ton of speed and craftiness to the Flyers' lineup. He might be the Flyers' best fit to try on the wing with Giroux and Jake Voracek right now. His reward could be well worth any risk.

T.J. BRENNAN (Defense): Ron Hextall has said he does not want any of his young prospects languishing in the NHL as a healthy scratch. So, the Flyers need a seventh defenseman, preferably one who can challenge the six ahead of him for playing time. Willingboro, N.J., native T.J. Brennan is the perfect candidate.

Brennan, 25, would be a significant upgrade over the departed Erik Gustafsson. He has 40 games' worth of NHL experience with Buffalo and Florida. He's likely simply looking for a one-way deal - and the former Little Flyer might even be willing to forgo better offers to return home.

Brennan was the AHL's Defenseman of the Year last year, when he collected a ridiculous 72 points in 76 games for Toronto. He added another 14 points in 14 playoff games. Both figures led the team. Coach Steve Spott also praised Brennan's defensive game and said "someone just needs to open the door for him" in the NHL. Could it be the Flyers?

ANDERS LINDBACK (Goalie): Look at Lindback's numbers last season (8-12-2, .891 SV%, 2.90 GAA) as a backup in Tampa Bay and it's easy to see why the 6-6 behemoth is on the market. He is probably the best available backup to Mason - and it's a favorable year to be a buyer on the goalie market.

Ryan Miller, Martin Brodeur, Jonas Hiller, Ilya Bryzgalov, Evgeni Nabokov and Ray Emery are all looking for homes. Only Vancouver (and perhaps Minnesota) are looking for a No. 1 goaltender. Miller is likely to end up in Vancouver. Brodeur wants to go to a contender. Hiller wants to start. Bryzgalov is nuts. Nabokov is aging. And the Flyers are wary of Emery's health, or else they would have re-signed him.

Plus, there is something to like about the idea of goaltending coach Jeff Reese working with Lindback. Reese is a proponent of playing back in the crease, something that could only help Lindback's huge frame.

Honorable mention: Defenseman Mark Fayne, left winger Milan Michalek and left winger Jussi Jokinen.

Slap shots

The salary-cap minimum is $51 million. Teams like Buffalo ($20.5 million), Florida ($14.5 million) and Calgary ($10.8 million) have significant amounts to spend just to reach the floor . . . The Flyers officially extended qualifying offers to Tye McGinn,Jason Akeson and Brandon Manning, to preserve retaining their rights as restricted free agents. The club also did the same for Erik Gustafsson, who has signed to play in Russia, but they will hold his rights should he attempt an NHL comeback . . . Goaltender Cal Heeter was not qualified and therefore will become an unrestricted free agent today at noon.

Why the cap is not the Flyers' friend, including the latest salary numbers.

On Twitter: @DNFlyers

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