For the record, Philadelphia Flyers GM Paul Holmgren has categorically denied having any interest in entering the Roberto Luongo Sweepstakes. Well, OK. That’s not what we’re hearing.
Like some others in the hockey industry, this corner believes the Flyers are indeed interested in pursuing Luongo. And if that’s the case, then the question is, why not? Holmgren is one GM in the league who has never, ever been afraid to swing for the fences and he has the opportunity to do so again. He has the chance to once again address the Flyers black hole by providing an upgrade. The betting here is that when all is said and done, he’ll take a shot.
Why? Because once again, the Flyers need goaltending. Ilya Bryzgalov proved to be a very expensive disaster in Year 1 and a tandem of him and Michael Leighton will put the fear of god in, oh, none of their opponents this season. Perhaps Bryzgalov could go somewhere else if he plays the way he did in Anaheim and Phoenix and the Flyers use an amnesty buyout on him this summer, but is there anyone out there who believes he’s actually going to play that way in Philadelphia? Anyone?
More importantly, this is the last time a team such as the Flyers will get a mulligan like this and they should take advantage of it. After all, it’s not about money for them. Since the last lockout, the Flyers have saved somewhere near half a billion dollars in salaries because of the salary cap. And they will have the added advantage in the Bryzgalov case of having paid him $16.5 million of the $51 million they owe him on a nine-year deal after this season. That means the balance of his deal is worth $34.5 million and that they’d be able to buy him out for $23 million.
An expensive mistake? Absolutely, but it’s one the revenue-rich Flyers can absorb and one they’ll never get the opportunity to correct again. Luongo has final say over his destination and Philadelphia is a lot closer to Florida than Toronto is. And the Flyers have a much better chance of being competitive over the next couple of seasons.
So, let’s say the Flyers take on Luongo’s contract, which has a cap hit of $5.33 million attached to it for the next 10 years and a real-dollar payout of $47.3 million. Because the salary cap is effectively at $70.2 million this season, absorbing Luongo’s cap hit will not be a factor. In fact, for the next five years, it will effectively be a wash, assuming all-world defenseman Chris Pronger will be sidelined with concussion problems for the rest of his career. That means the Flyers will be able to put him on the long-term injury list and his $4.9 million cap hit comes off the books. And if they were to buy Bryzgalov out after this season, another $5.7 million cap hit would be removed from their payroll.
To suggest the Flyers would put themselves in cap peril by acquiring Luongo is a ridiculous notion. Just a couple of months ago, they were willing to absorb a $7.9 million cap charge for the next 14 seasons in order to sign defenseman Shea Weber, and conceivably keep Bryzgalov. They obviously failed in that attempt when the Nashville Predators elected to match the Flyers’ ridiculous offer, so why would Holmgren now be gun-shy about making another bold move if it could improve his team’s fortunes?
And Luongo, with all his warts, would represent an upgrade on Bryzgalov. The Flyers are a good, not great, team. But you don’t need a great team to win a Stanley Cup anymore. With a content and confident Luongo in their net, the Flyers would have as good a chance as anyone to seriously compete for the Cup in the next couple of seasons. Could the same thing be said if they had Bryzgalov?
There are a number of things big-revenue teams won’t be able to do in the new collective bargaining agreement to gain an advantage over their weaker competitors. No more burying bad contracts in the minors and no more back-sliding contracts. But the compliance buyouts were the one lifesaver onto which they could grasp before having to deal with a more level playing field.
This is going to be a short, frantic season and GMs and teams are going to have to be even bolder if they want to succeed. This would be a bold move, the kind that Holmgren has never been hesitant to make. But it’s not the only one that might make sense.
If I’m a GM in the NHL and I’m looking for a young No. 1 center with a bright future, I take a serious look at Jamie Benn of the Dallas Stars. Despite new ownership, the Stars are bleeding and it will take some time before they’re in a good financial position. They are vulnerable and would probably not be able to match a rich offer sheet to their best young player. So, as a GM, you call Joe Nieuwendyk and tell him you’d like to work out a deal for Benn, who’s still a restricted free agent. (As a side note, if the owners weren’t so afraid of arbitration and made it open to everyone, the Stars wouldn’t have to worry as much about signing Benn. P.K. Subban, Michael Del Zotto and Ryan O’Reilly would all be back with their teams, too.)
If Nieuwendyk is not amenable to that, you threaten him with an offer sheet that the Stars couldn’t possibly match. And if they do, they risk putting themselves in even further financial peril.
It’s those kinds of deals in the short term that might give a team the edge. And despite the NHL’s attempts to make things equal for everyone, there are still rich teams that can go for it.
Ken Campbell is the senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com with his column. To read more from Ken and THN's other stable of experts, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Ken on Twitter at @THNKenCampbell.