Six inches and 35 pounds. That may be the biggest difference between the newest member of the Philadelphia Flyers, Vinny Lecavalier, and one of the latest casualties, Danny Briere.
Known as Vincent and Daniel when they first broke into the league, the pair of skilled forwards will now be linked by the buyouts foisted upon them by the Lightning and Flyers, the latter of whom doubled down by signing Lecavalier to a new deal soon after.
But what is Philadelphia getting in Lecavalier, besides a headache of a salary cap situation?
Lecavalier is two and a half years younger than Briere, but went straight from the 1998 draft to the NHL and has played 1,100 games between the regular season and the playoffs, 145 more than Briere. Both players have battled injuries, with Lecavalier last putting in a full slate of work in 2009-10 and Briere seeing 82 games of action in 2003-04. They may not be top-line players anymore, but on a decent team they can still be top-six. The competitive flame still burns. Lecavalier had a much better offensive campaign this year with 32 points in 39 contests, while Briere struggled to 16 points in 34 matches, hampered by a concussion and a wrist injury.
Briere had the bigger cap hit at $6.5 million through 2014-15 and this might be the other major difference between the gifted French-Canadians. Next season’s $64.3 million ceiling will crush a number of teams, particularly the Flyers. It is widely expected that this artificially low cap will jump up for 2014-15 and continue to rise thanks to growing revenue (especially since there will be a number of cash-cow outdoor games in the future), but that doesn’t help the present problem.
Lecavalier’s new deal with Philly isn’t horrible in the short-term, it’s just that the Flyers don’t have the room to take it on right now.
This is a team with one NHL goalie on its payroll right now and that’s Steve Mason. The former Calder Trophy winner from Columbus has been put through the ringer since that outstanding rookie performance and has never been able to achieve that level of success since. As it is now, the Flyers have about $4.6 million of cap space once Chris Pronger’s $4.9 million hit is taken off thanks to the long-term injury clause. We’ve already established that a goalie needs to be signed and if it’s a stop-gap such as Brian Boucher, you’ve got some cap wiggle room, but are weakened at the position. If the Flyers wanted someone to challenge Mason, such as Ray Emery, you lose a much bigger chunk: Emery is coming off a 17-1-0 regular season and has a Stanley Cup ring with Chicago, lest we forget.
The cap situation also leaves the Flyers exposed when it comes to injury. The defense looks decent with Mark Streit, Braydon Coburn, Kimmo Timonen, Andrej Meszaros, Luke Schenn and Nicklas Grossmann up top, but half those players are prone to injury and last year’s non-playoff edition of the squad can attest to what happens next.
The Flyers cannot be done dealing. There must be at least one move left to make and if it’s a big one – trading for netminder Ryan Miller from Buffalo, for example – they’ll have to give up something substantial in return. And then you have to ask when the game of roster musical chairs ends. After all, what’s the point in bringing in Lecavalier if it ultimately leads to parting with a Sean Couturier or Jakub Voracek? Philly is turning into an icy version of Jenga and the Flyers are adding pieces they can’t afford to balance.
Ryan Kennedy, the co-author of Young Guns II, is THN's associate senior writer and a regular contributor to THN.com. His column appears Wednesdays and The Hot List appears Tuesdays. Follow him on Twitter at @THNRyanKennedy.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.