IF THERE ARE any fireworks left over, hockey fans may want to save them for noon today: the official beginning of hockey's annual free-agent frenzy. For the first time in its history, the NHL allowed free agents a 48-hour negotiating period before today's kickoff, so the number of early signings should be at an all-time high.
Here are answers to five burning questions facing the Flyers:
1. Will the Flyers make another splash in free agency?
Probably not, given the fact that the Flyers are the NHL's only team currently over next season's $64.3 million salary cap. This is one of the thinnest free-agent classes in recent memory - perhaps ever. Few wanted to become free agents after a lockout season, choosing long-term deals ahead of time.
Plus, the Flyers already got two of their guys, signing center Vincent Lecavalier (5 years, $22.5 million) and defenseman Mark Streit (4 years, $21 million) to new deals before free agency even began. Also, some of the other big names on the market, including Chicago forward Bryan Bickell, already re-signed. If the Flyers are to make waves today, it will likely be via trade.
2. What are the Flyers' biggest needs?
In order of priority: a goaltender to play in tandem with Steve Mason, a first-line winger, and less-expensive defense.
The Flyers made a thorough pitch to goalie Ray Emery yesterday to try to lure him out of Chicago. As late as Wednesday, the Flyers were operating under the assumption that Emery would be staying in Chicago as Corey Crawford's backup. Emery, 30, has been the Flyers' No. 1 target in goal after they fell short in a bid to acquire Jonathan Bernier from Los Angeles. He was 17-1-0 last season with Chicago, plus he's already familiar with Philadelphia (2009-10) and his salary would likely meet the Flyers' needs.
Unless Lecavalier or Brayden Schenn is willing to slide to the wing to play alongside Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek - or Scott Hartnell returns to the Hartnell of 2 years ago - the Flyers still need help on their top line.
3. Will the Flyers trade a defenseman?
When asked if the Flyers had too many defenseman last week, Paul Holmgren acknowledged that they have probably budgeted too much money on defense. With Streit, the Flyers have $27.65 million committed to seven defensemen. That doesn't include the modest raise that will be coming to Erik Gustafsson as a restricted free agent.
That number needs to shrink.
Clearly, Holmgren was working the phones to try to move Braydon Coburn last weekend at the draft, particularly to Edmonton. That didn't pan out, though the deal might not be dead yet. The teams spoke again yesterday.
Coburn is likely the defender the Flyers would least like to trade. Yet, given the injury concerns of Andrej Meszaros and Nick Grossmann, Coburn is probably the only tradeable piece with any value at this point. Coburn, the Flyers' longest-tenured player at just 28, has a limited no-trade clause.
4. Could the Flyers possibly go after Jaromir Jagr?
After initially saying that the Bruins would cut ties with Jaromir Jagr, suddenly Boston GM Peter Chiarelli has interest again. Everyone made a big deal out of the fact that Jagr went through the entire postseason without a single goal.
If you watched Jagr play closely in the Stanley Cup final, there is still magic in those 41-year-old hands. His lack of goal scoring was more fluke than anything.
Clearly, the Flyers missed Jagr's presence, both on Giroux's line and in the locker room last season. He never really fit in Boston or Dallas this year. Somehow, though, I just don't get the sense Jagr would be willing to take less money to return to Philadelphia. The man's mission, right or wrong, has been to make the most money possible. That's what leans me to say his ship has sailed with the Flyers, who won't have enough cap room for another $4 million forward.
5. Will the Flyers target any restricted free agents?
Last summer, the Flyers shocked the hockey world by signing Nashville defenseman Shea Weber to a poisonous, 14-year, $110 million offer sheet. Nashville matched. The Predators are now in the process of sucking up $62 million in signing bonuses alone.
Could the Flyers try to poach the market again? General managers have been very quick to say that they'll match any offer that comes along for their high-priced players.
Three players should pique the Flyers' interest: St. Louis defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, Islanders defenseman Travis Hamonic and Toronto goaltender Jonathan Bernier.
Pietrangelo, 23, is already one of the best blue-liners in the game. He's coming off a $3.25 million deal and looking to be paid quite handsomely. The Blues already locked up Kevin Shattenkirk with a $4.25 million cap hit, but Pietrangelo has been tougher to nail down.
Hamonic, 22, might seem a bit off the wall but he's a solid, second-pair defenseman who is only getting better. He's looking for a long-term deal and sources say Hamonic and the Islanders aren't that close. Hamonic is coming off his entry-level contract at $875,000. Hamonic played 25 minutes per game in the playoffs for New York. As you can see in the compensation chart, signing Hamonic to an offer sheet below $3.36 million per season would be of hardly any risk at all.
Perhaps the Maple Leafs are beginning to sweat after acquiring the rights to Bernier, 24, from Los Angeles on June 23 for Ben Scrivens, Matt Frattin, a second-round pick and salary-cap space. As of last night, Bernier was still unsigned, leaving him vulnerable to an offer sheet. He was easily the Flyers' No. 1 choice, yet they didn't have all the assets to land him in a trade. Bernier has just 62 NHL games under his belt, but many consider him a bona fide starter. The longer he lingers unsigned, the more it will make teams wonder.
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