Whether you’re a fan of Jakub Voracek’s new contract or not, there’s one thing everyone can agree on: the Philadelphia Flyers are going to be in some serious cap trouble.
While this season’s cap situation looks like it could cause some difficulties, what with the Flyers having less than $600,000 in available cap space, it has nothing on what the outlook for the 2016-17 campaign will be if Flyers GM Ron Hextall is unable to make some savvy moves to free up room.
The biggest concern for the Flyers isn’t necessarily the money they’ve spent or the contracts for their top players — Voracek and Claude Giroux would be worth $8-plus million on the open market. What is worrisome, however, is that when 2016-17 begins, unless Hextall makes some moves before then, the Flyers will have only 15 players under contract. That could make the 2016-17 season an incredibly trying one in the City of Brotherly Love.
Operating under the assumption that the salary cap will rise as much as it did this past season, which was less than 3.5 percent, the limit for teams next season could be somewhere in the $73.4 million range. That would give Philadelphia only $12.2 million to lock up at least seven players. With raises due to a few key pieces in 2016-17, that spells trouble.
There are, of course, some easy options for the Flyers. For what has seemed like an eternity now, Philadelphia has reportedly been attempting to move out Vincent Lecavalier. The Flyers handed a five-year, $22.5 million contract to the former Tampa Bay Lightning captain in 2013-14 and the contract has been regrettable ever since. As of next season, Lecavalier will still have two years at a cap hit of $4.5 million remaining on his deal and the contract appears to be an anchor that the Flyers cannot move.
Even Hextall admitted that when it comes to Lecavalier it, "hasn't worked for him and it hasn’t worked for us.” Even still, Hextall refused to exercise the option for a buyout on the 35-year-old this past season. That’s not to mention the 16-year veteran collected a $2 million signing bonus on July 1.
Then there’s R.J. Umberger, who was acquired in a deal that shipped Scott Hartnell out of town. This past season, he scored nine goals and 15 points in 67 games (Lecavalier had eight goals and 20 points). Were Umberger paid a third- or fourth-line salary, that wouldn’t be terrible production, but the fact he makes more than Lecavalier — Umberger carries a cap hit of $4.6 million for the next two seasons — isn’t a good thing for the Flyers.
It would take a stroke of genius to offload both Umberger and Lecavalier in one season, and if Hextall could do it, he would almost immediately ease the pressure the Flyers front office will feel due to cap restraints. It’s unlikely Hextall’s able to achieve that, though — especially without retaining salary or taking salary back in return.
Other moves could include shipping out veteran defensemen Mark Streit or high-priced blueliner Andrew MacDonald, both of whom earn $5 million or more in 2016-17. However, doing so is to risk kneecapping a defense that already needs some serious work. That's not to mention the Flyers might want Streit around to help guide prospect Samuel Morin were he to make the jump to the NHL.
As such, what’s going to be important for the Flyers is locking up cheap, young talent that can slot into the lineup with something to prove on cap friendly deals. The problem, however, is that when it comes to cheap forward depth, a number of Philadelphia's NHL-ready prospects are due new deals in 2016-17.
Brayden Schenn, Michael Raffl, Scott Laughton, and Nick Cousins will all become restricted free agents next season. Luckily, that means Philadelphia controls their rights and can work on short-term contracts. For Laughton and Cousins raises could be coming simply in the form of qualifying offers, but even still those would be nearly $1 million contracts, which would leave Philadelphia with roughly $10 million for RFAs Schenn and Raffl. Still, the Flyers would have four roster players to add to the mix in some way and potentially less than $6 million to do so.
As always, there are going to be cheap options available for the Flyers on the free agent market, but they’re not going to be the top-flight forwards that can make a huge impact on the season for Philadelphia. Realistically, Hextall and Co. will have to raid the low-risk, high-reward bin and bring in some castoffs to build the bottom half of their roster, because the only other option is shipping out some of the core talent, and it’s hard to see the likes of Wayne Simmonds, Matt Read or Sean Couturier heading anywhere. The situation isn’t as dire as the one that faced the Chicago Blackhawks this off-season, but there’s no telling how it could end.
There are going to be some major hurdles for the Flyers to navigate in 2016-17, and if Hextall can’t free up additional salary space, the current cap situation in Philadelphia could mean some fan favorites are heading out of town.