As we put the 2015-16 season to bed, let's look forward to next year. There isn't a whole lot of work to do for Ron Hextall, as he already cleared out some of the dead money and there is surprisingly little left for him to dump.
RJ Umberger should get his last year bought out, and we are probably stuck with Mark Streit (in Philadelphia) and Andrew MacDonald (in Lehigh Valley) for the remainder of their contracts. I use the word "stuck" for those two because they're overpaid and noticeably not as good as a pair of $5 million defensemen should be. I will never use the word "stuck" for Nick Schultz and Brandon Manning. They are cheap, they can kill penalties, and they fill roles that every hockey team needs. If you weren't impressed with Schultz's play against Alex Ovechkin this postseason, I don't really know what to tell you.
Matt Read is a name that gets tossed around on Flyers Twitter quite a bit, but he is almost 30 and has 2 years/$7 million remaining. Given the lack of NHL-ready talent in our prospect pool, I think it would be foolish to shop Reader for picks. We'd be selling low and opening up a hole that doesn't currently even exist, and we aren't currently in a position to need to shed salary.
As it stands, we have about $7 million worth of cap space going into next year. That will increase to about $9 million when Vinny Lecavalier announces his retirement, and to about $12 million when Hextall buys out Umberger.
That $12 million can be used to build around this core:
- Forwards (9): Giroux, Voracek, Couturier, Raffl, Simmonds, Read, Laughton, Vandevelde, Bellemare
- Defensemen (5): Streit, Schultz, MacDonald, Gostisbehere, Del Zotto
- Goalies (2): Mason, Neuvirth
I did not include The Prospects because I don't feel confident enough that any of them will start next season in the NHL. I also did not include players that we need to re-sign:
- Brayden Schenn (RFA) is due somewhere in the $4-5 million range
- Nick Cousins (RFA) is due about $2 million, and I'd use the 2 year/$3.5 million deal that Sean Couturier signed after his entry-level deal as a comparable
- I don't care if we re-sign Jordan Weal (RFA) because he's getting stashed in the minors
- I would like to see Brandon Manning (RFA) and Radko Gudas (RFA) both return. I think Manning can be had for less than $1 million, and I'd love to get Gudas for the Nick Schultz 2 year/$4.5 million deal
- There are a handful of AHL guys that are expiring RFAs, but the only two that might impact the Flyers next year are winger Petr Straka and defenseman Mark Alt, and we won't count them toward the Flyers' cap just yet
Taking care of the RFAs above leaves us with 11 forwards, 7 defensemen, and 2 goalies. We are obviously set at the goalie position, and the only reason to shake anything up on defense is to clear a spot for Ivan Provorov, if he deserves it. The easiest way to do that would be to send MacDonald to Lehigh Valley again, and I think that benefited everyone involved last year.
We're good on the back end. But you want 13 forwards on your roster, and this scenario leaves Ron Hextall with (opens calculator) $3-4 million if the cap is at the low estimate and $5-7 million if it's at the high estimate. Of course, those numbers depend on the deals given to the RFAs and whether or not MacDonald starts the season in Allentown.
The cheap way to go about things would be to re-sign Ryan White for something south of $1 million and call up Straka, Taylor Leier, Travis Konecny, or Colin McDonald. That would leave some breathing room for the season, and you can certainly make the argument that the team just needs to bide its time until reinforcements arrive (those reinforcements, primarily, are Provorov and Travis Sanheim).
There are, however, some more expensive ways to fill the hole(s) at forward, and I'm going to be looking into some options as the offseason progresses.