UNDER NORMAL circumstances, Ron Hextall would likely have a pit in his stomach if he saw division rival Washington had acquired two top-four defensemen from the Penguins.
Tuesday, Hextall likely had to keep from laughing when he saw the terms of their deals.
Matt Niskanen, who had one tremendous season in Pittsburgh, signed a 7-year deal for $40.25 million. Brooks Orpik, already 33, cashed in for $27.5 million over 5 seasons.
"There's 2 days of the year where hockey people get crazy: July 1 and the trade deadline," Hextall said. "You've got to keep things intact, and it's not easy to do.
"July 1 is one of those days where we all can get carried away. Sometimes, this day, you make some of the poorest decisions you make."
In all, $503 million was doled out to free agents in the first 6 hours of free agency yesterday. It was a day that saw offensive dynamo Christian Ehrhoff sign in Pittsburgh ($4 million) for less money than oft-scratched Andrej Meszaros in Buffalo ($4.125 million).
The cap-strapped Flyers simply re-signed backup goaltender Ray Emery after a few of their other targeted backups for Steve Mason moved quickly. They also made two depth moves, signing forward Blair Jones and goaltender Rob Zepp, who will both report to the Phantoms.
Other than that, it was an unusually quiet day for the Flyers - one full of salary-cap sanity.
"Quite honestly, we didn't have to think it through that hard," Hextall said.
Even though many of those decisions were made for Hextall by the Flyers' cap complications, he brought levelheadedness to the team's front office that hasn't been felt for a while.
He believed that the wild money being handed out vastly exceeded the talent in the free-agent pool. With Vinny Lecavalier as a prime example, the Flyers used to be in the mix for every high-profile name, regardless of whether or not they made sense or fit the team's identity.
Hextall said the Flyers are still pursuing one player in particular, but only if he is in the "right range." That player could very well be winger Peter Mueller, a former first-round pick who spent last season in Switzerland. He would also like to add a "veteran defenseman" if possible.
The Flyers are actually relatively well positioned in the Metropolitan, which has quickly become the worst division in the NHL.
Pittsburgh lost James Neal, Niskanen, Orpik, Jussi Jokinen, and Calgary wildly overpaid for Deryk Engelland. The Rangers added Dan Boyle, but he'll be 38, next week, and lost Anton Stralman, Brian Boyle and Brad Richards - and they still have a ton of restricted free agents to sign.
Washington bulked up on defense, but waved goodbye to Mikhail Grabovski, Dustin Penner and Martin Erat. Alex Ovechkin remains
The Devils bought more scoring power in Mike Cammalleri and Martin Havlat, but severely overspent to get them. The non-playoff Hurricanes and Islanders made changes on the periphery, but don't appear ready to make that big leap.
Aside from the pesky Blue Jackets, who got better with Scott Hartnell, the Flyers are right in the mix in the wide-open Metropolitan. That's hard to believe for a division that features four out of the last five Hart Trophy finalists in the NHL.
Conversely, it became abundantly clear yesterday that the imbalance in power between the Eastern and Western Conferences has never been greater.
That conversation, though, is reserved for another day - when the NHL comes off its annual high. With the Flyers observing from afar for once, Hextall was able to chuckle.
"This is a day where a lot of times, you do something and you have buyer's remorse," Hextall said. "But it's hard, you have a lot of holes to fill. It's hard to fill all your holes in a cap world in free agency."
As this summer's deep goaltending pool got shallower and shallower by the minute, Ray Emery became more and more attractive to the Flyers. Capable backups Anders Lindback (Stars), Justin Peters (Capitals), Chad Johnson (Islanders), Devan Dubnyk (Coyotes), Thomas Greiss (Penguins) and Al Montoya (Panthers) were all scooped up in the first couple hours of free agency.
Despite having a "couple other guys in mind," Hextall said the Flyers stuck with Emery as Steve Mason's backup because of the comfort factor. Emery, 31, took a $650,000 pay cut to sign a 1-year deal for $1 million.
"You always want to earn as much as you can, but I'm happy to be staying in the same spot," Emery said. "I'm glad I just get to stay in a comfortable situation."
Emery was 9-12-2 with a .903 save percentage and 2.96 goals-against average. He was excellent for the Flyers leading up to the playoffs and was serviceable in the first round against the Rangers, despite his slow movement.
"I wasn't happy with my year personally last year," Emery said. "Sometimes, it's not about personal success as much as it is having team success. I thought I fit in well with the new team. I thought it was a good relationship. I thought that the whole team was a good situation chemistry-wise. I want to help the team."
Brennan to Isles
Ron Hextall acknowledged the Flyers had interest in Moorestown, N.J., native and defenseman T.J. Brennan. He was signed by the Islanders just 37 minutes after the signing period opened for 1-year at $600,000. Hextall said the Flyers just prioritized other players above Brennan.
In hindsight, the Flyers’ recent spending sprees haven’t always turned out for the best. Here’s a look at their summer signings over the past few years:
*June 28: Mark Streit — $21 million
July 2: Vinny Lecavalier — $22.5 million
July 4: Adam Hall — $600,000
July 5: Ray Emery — $1.65 million
*July 5: Claude Giroux — $66.2 million
Total: $111.95 million
July 1: Michael Leighton — $900,000
July 5: Ruslan Fedotenko — $1.65 million
July 5: Bruno Gervais — $1.65 million
*July 25: Jakub Voracek — $17 million
*Aug. 15: Wayne Simmonds — $23.85 million
*Aug. 20: Scott Hartnell — $28.5 million
Total: $73.55 million
*June 23: Ilya Bryzgalov — $51 million
July 1: Jaromir Jagr — $3.3 million
July 1:— Andreas Lilja — $1.475 million
July 1: Max Talbot — $8.75 million
*July 1: Jakub Voracek — $2.25 million
*July 7: Wayne Simmonds — $3.5 million
*Aug. 30: James van Riemsdyk — $25.5 million
Total: $95.78 million
*June 30: Michael Leighton — $3.1 million
+July 1: Andrej Meszaros — $18.25 million
*July 1: Braydon Coburn — $6.4 million
July 1: Sean O’Donnell — $1.3 million
July 1: Jody Shelley — $3.3 million
July 9: Nikolay Zherdev — $2 million
*July 13: Dan Carcillo — $1.075 million
Total: $35.425 million
* denotes extension signed
+ denotes acquired in a trade
Other notable deals: Danny Briere $58 million (July 1, 2007); Scott Hartnell $25.2 million (June 18, 2007); Kimmo Timonen $37.8 million (June 18, 2007).
Here's how the Metropolitan Division has fared so far in the offseason (in order of last season’s standings):
Add: D Christian Ehrhoff, G Thomas Greiss, F Blake Comeau, F Patric Hornqvist, F Nick Spaling.
Subtract: LW James Neal, D Matt Niskanen, D Brooks Orpik, D Deryk Engelland, C Jussi Jokinen, C Joe Vitale, F Tanner Glass.
Add: D Dan Boyle, D Mike Kostka, F Tanner Glass, D Matt Hunwick.
Subtract: C Brian Boyle, C Brad Richards, D Anton Stralman, LW Benoit Pouliot.
Add: LW R.J. Umberger, LW Pierre-Edouard Bellemare.
Subtract: LW Scott Hartnell, LW Steve Downie, C Adam Hall.
Add: LW Scott Hartnell, F Jerry D'Amigo.
Subtract: F Derek MacKenzie, D Nikita Nikitin, F Blake Comeau, F Jack Skille.
Add: D Matt Niskanen, D Brooks Orpik, G Justin Peters.
Subtract: C Mikhail Grabovski, RW Martin Erat, LW Dustin Penner, G Michal Neuvirth.
Add: LW Mike Cammalleri, RW Martin Havlat, G Scott Clemmensen.
Subtract: G Martin Brodeur (pending free agent), D Anton Volchenkov (pending free agent).
Add: F Drew MacIntyre.
Subtract: D Mike Komisarek, F Manny Malhotra.
Add: D T.J. Brennan, G Jaroslav Halak, G Chad Johnson, RW Harry Zolnierczyk, F Cory Conacher.
Subtract: G Evgeni Nabokov.
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