This summer was supposed to be a bad one for free agency. The lockout caused some funny things to go on last season resulting in a lot of high-end talent signing long-term deals before the expiry of the former CBA. And yet – here we are a few days from the ‘official’ start of NHL Free Agency and the hockey world has been set into a frenzy as a result of some unexpected high-price talent being bought out by teams looking to improve their cap-situation. Teams will not be allowed to make new signings official until July 5th, but they are now allowed to negotiate with UFAs.
Prime among these UFA talents is Vincent Lecavalier. It was 2008 when Lecavalier signed an 11 year, $85M deal that should have seen him play out the rest of his days in sunny Tampa. Not half-way through the deal the Lightning finally realized how crazy they and other NHL clubs had been in tying up players in contracts spanning more than a decade. That decision cost the small-market Lightning big time. In the mere 4 seasons that “Vinny” played under his front loaded contract, Lecavalier earned $43M in salary and bonuses (minus wages lost to the lockout). The Bolts will continue to stuff money into Lecavalier’s bank account until the year 2026-27, the details of which can be found here. It will cost the Lightning $32M over 14 years for their former Captain to finish his career elsewhere. For the next two seasons he will earn almost $5M from the Lightning alone. The following season he will earn almost $4M, before settling into an 11 year period where he will earn $1.7M each season until his 46th birthday.
The availability of such a high-profile player was a tantalizing thought to many teams hoping to capitalize on the opportunity afforded by the league’s creation of cap compliance buy-outs. Until now, most players who had been “bought-out” of their contracts had been the type of player that would settle for a low-value contract to try to re-build their career. Last season Scott Gomez singed a $700,000 contract with the San Jose Sharks hoping to re-gain some of the skill that had once made him so valuable to the New York Rangers. Lecavalier’s case is much different.
Lecavalier is certainly not the player he was in 2006-07 when he scored 108 points on his way to a “Rocket Richard” trophy netting 52 goals, but his 32 points in 39 games last season would be a welcome upgrade for a lot of teams. Enter the Philadelphia Flyers.
The Flyers seem to be perpetually over the salary cap. They have no fear in signing players to long-term deals. Danny Brier had 4 seasons left on his contract heading into this season. A buy-out of his contract allowed the Flyers to sign defenseman Mark Streit to a 35+ contract paying him $5.25M per season until he is 40 years old. The Flyers then decided that they would no longer like to pay Ilya Bryzgalov. “Bryz” had only made his way 2 years into a 9 year $51M contract that would pay him until he was 40 himself. The Flyers chose to buy out Bryzgalov which will cost them $23M over the next 14 years.
This buy-out opened the door for the Flyers to sign Lecavalier to a comparatively “modest” 5 year deal valued at $22.5M. By the end of this deal Lecavalier will be 38 years old. Certainly, the addition of Lecavalier improves the club in the near-future, but there are major question marks ahead for the Flyers as they navigate past the 2013-14 season.
Prime among those concerns is the fact that Claude Giroux becomes an RFA at the end of this season. If the Flyers are sane they will lock up the 25 year old for more than a few seasons. The problem is, Giroux already makes $5M this season, although his cap hit is a mere $3.25M. The Flyers are already close to the cap once they account for the fact that Chris Pronger’s salary will not count against their cap due to his career being cut-short by injury. The money will need to come from somewhere. It doesn’t stop there though.
Brayden Schenn will also be looking for a raise from the $3.1M he already makes as he enters an RFA contract year. Sean Couturier will doubtless earn more than the $1.375M he is set to earn this season. Steve Mason may not have the best shot at a high-dollar contract, but as the Flyers only signed goalie, he is likely to have an opportunity to win his way into one in the 2014-15 season.
That is not good news for either of Kimmo Timonen or Andrej Meszaros. Timonen is in the final year of his current deal and will make $6M this season. The fact that he is 38 could signal that the Flyers will want to part ways with him, though they will miss the potent offense that he brought from the back end. Meszaros is another story. The big Czech defender was hurt for most of last season, but has been an incredibly effective defenseman for all of his 8 seasons. He’ll be a tough loss for the Flyers who simply cannot afford to keep all of their young talent around, as well as their veteran free agents.
The Flyers signing of Vincent Lecavalier was simply so Flyers. It compounded all of their financial issues, while swinging for the fences at the same time. This much is for certain – if they can get ANY goaltending in 2013-14, they will be an incredible team in the Eastern Conference. Still, their bi-polar approach to player signings has many in the hockey-world confused as to exactly what their long-term plan might be.