Inside the Flyers: Hextall's hands are tied as free agency begins

Thomas Vanek is considered one of the league's most gifted goal scorers.
Thomas Vanek is considered one of the league's most gifted goal scorers. (FRANCOIS LAPLANTE / Getty Images)
Posted: July 02, 2014

With the free-agency period starting Tuesday, new Flyers general manager Ron Hextall will not be able to make a big splash unless he unloads some salary.

Hextall is caught between a rock and a hard cap. As a result, do not expect the Flyers to be big players in free agency.

For the time being, the Flyers are about $236,000 over the salary-cap maximum of $69 million - and they still need to sign another defenseman or forward, and a backup goalie.

So unless they are able to deal Vinny Lecavalier - who is expected to land elsewhere after he picks up a $2 million bonus on Tuesday - or another high-priced veteran such as Braydon Coburn, the Flyers have no cap flexibility.

Winnipeg likes Coburn ($4.5 million cap hit) and the Flyers like speedy Jets left winger Evander Kane ($5.25 million cap hit). The Flyers would have to include another player or a draft pick in that deal.

Thanks to some questionable contracts handed out by the previous regime, the Flyers have less financial maneuverability than many of the 29 other NHL teams.

Teams can go 10 percent over the cap during the summer, so Hextall figures to have room to sign a less-sexy free-agent left winger such as Mason Raymond or Benoit Pouliot.

Both gave good speed and would improve the Flyers. But again, fitting them under the cap would be tricky.

And they have virtually no chance at high-scoring free-agent left wingers such as Thomas Vanek or Matt Moulson. Too expensive. Ditto for left winger Mike Cammalleri and defensemen Matt Niskanen and Christian Ehrhoff, all of whom will become unrestricted free agents on Tuesday.

Hextall is going into free agency trying to land a backup goalie and a seventh defenseman.

Sexy, no. Necessary, yes.

"I'd feel more comfortable if we can add a [veteran] defenseman," said Hextall, who, if he had his druthers, would have an up-and-coming player such as Mark Alt remain with the Phantoms for another year rather than be a healthy scratch with the Flyers.

The Flyers must decide whether to re-sign unrestricted free agent Ray Emery, who is serviceable and had a good working relationship with starter Steve Mason, or pursue another free-agent goalie such as Tomas Vokoun, Jonas Hiller, Jean-Sebastien Giguere, or Justin Peters.

"It'll be where the dollars and cents fall out," Hextall said on Monday night, adding that Emery was still under consideration. "It's a juggling act."

Mason recovered from a late-season concussion and was superb in four playoff starts against the Rangers. He is more susceptible to future concussions, a fact that may weigh on whom the Flyers sign as a backup.

The Flyers' No. 1 priority should be adding a young, speedy winger such as Kane, but cap problems make that transaction ultra-difficult. The defense needs help, too, but at least there are several promising blue liners in the farm system.

The Flyers' pipeline, however, does not include many eye-opening forwards, and they surprisingly bypassed adding some offensive help in the first round of the draft. Instead of taking a highly touted forward such as Alex Tuch or Kasperi Kapanen, wingers who could help them in a few years, the Flyers opted for promising defenseman Travis Sanheim.

No one questions Sanheim's potential, but most scouts had him rated much lower, and it's fair to wonder whether he would have been available in the second round.

But that's in the past. The focus now is on freeing up cap space and trying to add a player or two who can improve the Flyers in 2014-15.

Hextall inherited a financial mess. The quicker he gets out of it, the quicker he can start putting his fingerprints on the team.


Inside the Flyers: Help on the Wing

Here are some of the intriguing free agents at left wing, one of the Flyers' weakest positions:

Player             Age    Last cap hit    Goals last season

Thomas Vanek       30       $7.1 million          27

Mike Cammalleri    32       $6 million          26

David Booth       29       $4.25 million       9

Matt Moulson       30       $3.1 million          23

Jussi Jokinen       31       $3 million          21

Benoit Pouliot       27       $1.3 million         15

Mason Raymond    28       $1 million          19


scarchidi@phillynews.com

@BroadStBull

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