For all the doomsaying about how bad the Philadelphia Flyers’ week was — and believe me, no one is saying it was good — the fact is that this is a roster in an unenviable spot.
Like the Jets, who made their own trade missteps this week (and might have more in the hopper), they have some really good talent in the 30-plus range, some really good talent in the under-25 range and relatively little in the middle.
Their best player is Sean Couturier, and at 26 on an incredible hometown discount, there are few better values in the sport. Claude Giroux still has a lot to give as well. They’re hoping for bigger years from Jakub Voracek and James van Riemsdyk (who were both fine production-wise but really only showed up on the power play). Travis Konecny looks like a player. Maybe Nolan Patrick becomes one too.
Their corps of young defenders looks rather promising. Carter Hart might finally be the answer to the organization’s long-standing goaltending problem.
But if you’re a Hockey Man, you see two rather obvious problems with the Flyers’ roster entering the offseason. One is that, with Giroux very clearly excelling on Couturier’s wing, the team would have entered the season without a legitimate No. 2 center. The other is that while that defensive group looks pretty good, they’re not the kind of good a Hockey Man wants.
Hence Chuck Fletcher going into his old bag of tricks this week and acquiring three players of varying value at too rich a cost. The argument would be that the Flyers had a lot of cap space to burn and Fletcher went out and got some veterans. But it’s that old thing I feel like I say too often: Just because you have cap space doesn’t mean you should use it.
The Flyers just used up $14.34M in next year’s cap space on Kevin Hayes, Justin Braun and turning Radko Gudas into Matt Niskanen and we’re still two weeks away from free agency. These are the Philadelphia Flyers we know and love.
— Dimitri Filipovic (@DimFilipovic) June 19, 2019
Kevin Hayes is a player I like quite a bit as a No. 2 or 3 center, insofar as his being your 3 means you’re in really good shape and if he’s your 2, you can probably be pretty competitive. The contract Fletcher gave him, however, was universally panned because it’s too much money (by about a million and a half bucks), too many years (by two), and includes a full no-move while Hayes is still in his 20s, then becomes a 12-team no-trade.
Can Hayes play? Yes. Can he deliver the kind of value he did for the Rangers and Jets last year between, say, Voracek and van Riemsdyk? Yes. Did he acquire the player for little more than money and avoid a bidding war? Well…
This is the kind of price you pay for a guy who hits the open market and Hayes, y’know, didn’t. And if the old song about Fletcher overpaying for good but not great free agents sounds familiar, you certainly can’t say he isn’t playing the hits. The money and commitment aren’t the same as what he once gave Zach Parise and Ryan Suter — and in doing so mired the Minnesota Wild in mediocrity-at-best for more than a decade — but the principle certainly is. This is Fletcher doing exactly what it says on the tin, and it’s not like it’s a new label.
As was the acquisition by trade of Matt Niskanen and Justin Braun, just days after the team did the very smart thing and finally bought out Andrew MacDonald’s awful-the-day-it-was-signed contract. Niskanen and Braun will fill the role MacDonald vacated: Being overpaid, overrated “shutdown” defenders who don’t shut anything down. You can’t say they didn’t draw hard matchups, but they also didn’t prevent those matchups from scoring basically at will against them.
Niskanen: "Chuck said they were looking at me for awhile. He thinks the team is ready to pop, as do I."
— Bill Meltzer (@billmeltzer) June 14, 2019
You can feel however you like about WAR stats, but Braun had the sixth-worst WAR in the league last season, fourth-worst among defenders. He was ahead of only Jay Bouwmeester, Brent Seabrook, and Robert Hagg (who you know for sure will end up being his pairing partner). Braun also had the 15th-worst goals-for percentage of all defenders with at least 400 minutes at 5-on-5. A lot of guys on the Oilers, Senators, Canucks, Red Wings, Kings, etc. were below him. And this is a years-long trend as he slid into his early 30s. He didn’t cost a roster player but the fact that Fletcher gave up two picks for him doesn’t speak well to his decision-making.
As for Niskanen, the problem is that he gave up a better, younger, cheaper defender in Radko Gudas to acquire him. Fletcher said later that he believed Niskanen’s second half was better than his first (it wasn’t) and is clearly betting on a recovery of his old form, which happens all the time to defenders with more than 1,000 games in the tank as they enter their age-33 seasons.
The reason why he acquired those two is easy enough to understand, though: They add a sense of Responsibility and Leadership on a blue line where 26-year-old Shayne Gostisbehere is the old guy. And of course, because the problem last season couldn’t possibly have just been that the non-Hart goalies on the roster were predictably poor.
And while the idea of tightening up the defense is a fine one, in reality it’s going to be the team tying one of two brand-new boat anchors around Gostisbehere’s neck (and that’s only assuming Alain Vigneault keeps the Sanheim/Provorov pair together).
Flyers after acquiring two D have gotten calls from a few teams on LHD Shayne Gostisbehere. I think they would rather keep him but are listening. I believe Montreal is among those teams who have inquired.
— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) June 20, 2019
Point is, even if you think the Hayes signing helps the team improve, as does the continued maturation of younger players and a full season of Hart — and you’d be right on all fronts — the fact is Braun and Niskanen have a very real potential to wipe out most or all of that improvement. And they do it at a combined cost against the cap of $11.67 million once you include the fact that, oh yeah, they retained salary on Gudas and bought out MacDonald to make space for these guys.
Add in Hayes’s too-much-money deal and we’re pushing $19 million in added cap obligations. By June 21. For three guys whose contributions seem like they could be close to a net zero.
To be fair, if that’s not straight out of the Chuck Fletcher School of Management, I don’t know what is.
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