Tuesday, July 29, 2014
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Flyers need to move a defenseman

They say you can never have enough defenseman, not in an 82-game NHL season which is more like a war of attrition than anything else.

Flyers need to move a defenseman

Flyers defenseman Braydon Coburn. (Yong Kim/Staff file photo)
Flyers defenseman Braydon Coburn. (Yong Kim/Staff file photo)

They say you can never have enough defenseman, not in an 82-game NHL season which is more like a war of attrition than anything else.

Is the same true for the Flyers?

When the Flyers officially announce defenseman Mark Streit’s 4-year, $21 million pact - which is expected to come on Thursday or Friday - they will suddenly have eight NHL defensemen on their roster.

In other words, if the Flyers are going to be making major trade news at some point prior to Sunday’s draft in New Jersey, expect a defenseman to be involved.

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“Do we have too many defensemen? I don’t know,” Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren said when asked on Thursday. “I don’t know if you can ever have enough. But I do know that we have a lot of money tied up there.”

The Flyers currently have $27,675,000 committed to seven defensemen for next season:

Kimmo Timonen - $6 million
Mark Streit - $5.25 million
Braydon Coburn - $4.5 million
Andrej Meszaros - $4 million
Luke Schenn - $3.6 million
Nick Grossmann - $3.5 million
Bruno Gervais - $825,000

That is north 43 percent of the Flyers’ overall $64.3 million limit, yet defense only normally accounts for 30 percent of the 23-man roster limit in terms of bodies.

It’s a number that needs to come down.

It’s also a number that has a potential to rise. Defenseman Erik Gustafsson is coming off his entry-level contract and needs to be re-signed. Holmgren said Thursday negotiations had not yet begun, but added that Gustafsson’s is likely to be the most tenuous out of the team's restricted free agents, even though he anticipated it wouldn't be a problem.

Gustafsson, 24, earned $900,000 last season. He’s played 60 NHL games and represented Sweden in the World Hockey Championships. It’s fair to suggest he’s earned a raise to somewhere in the $1.2 million neighborhood.

Gustafsson’s agent is Ritch Winter, who also represents Ilya Bryzgalov.

So, let’s peg Gustafsson at $1.2 million. That brings us to $28,875,000 for eight defensemen - or 45 percent of the cap.

Those cap numbers also do not include Chris Pronger, who will once again be added to the long-term injury list once the season starts, thus removing his $4.91 million cap hit.

The Flyers have a problem in the sense that they’re paying No. 5 and No. 6 defensemen money that second-pair defensemen should be earning. That isn’t going to work in the salary cap world, where each position should be budgeted out accordingly.

So, what can the Flyers do?

Believe it or not, the best-case scenario would be that Andrej Meszaros is not healthy enough to play this season and he can be added to the long-term injury list. It probably wouldn’t be that hard to convince Meszaros, 27, that he isn’t healthy enough to play, since he admitted that all of his injuries have been mentally draining.

One Flyers front office member said it’s “hard to count on Meszaros” after all of his injuries (Achilles, back surgery, shoulder surgery).

He still won’t be fully cleared to play until late July for a surgery that was performed on April 2 to repair a torn left rotator cuff. He also missed the bulk of the 2008-09 season with the Lightning because of an injury in the same shoulder. 

Meszaros is in the final year of his 6-year, $24 million pact (signed in Tampa Bay) anyway. The Flyers would LOVE to move him to another team, but that will be hard to do given his injury history - he’s played just 72 out of the last 141 Flyers games (52 percent).

Let’s pretend, though, that adding Meszaros to the LTIR list is not possible. And that he’s 100 percent healthy for the start of the season.

The Flyers still need to shed salary.

Who’s next most likely to go?

Braydon Coburn will draw a lot of interest this summer. Coburn, 28, does have a modified no-trade clause, and I believe that he can submit a list of teams to which he will accept a move.

There are rumblings that Calgary has been pursuing the Alberta-born Coburn, who also spends the bulk of his time in the summer there. Such a deal could include Calgary's No. 6 overall pick.

Coburn, the longest-tenured Flyer and one of only four remaining from the 2010 Stanley Cup final, seems like the wrong guy to trade. For a team that lacks speed, he is probably the Flyers’ best skating defenseman (other than maybe Streit) and he isn’t old.

Fans may gripe about his salary cap hit ($4.5 million) or his inconsistency on the ice, something that rankles the Flyers, but he might be one of those players that you regret trading in the long run.

Understandably, Coburn is the Flyers’ easiest defenseman to move. Luke Schenn follows next in that category, but I don’t get the sense the Flyers have much interest in moving Schenn, who played quite well toward the end of his first season in Philadelphia and has a manageable salary cap number.

A defenseman the Flyers should consider moving to make cap space is Nick Grossmann. Yes, Grossmann was the Flyers’ best shot-blocker when he was in the lineup, but he has also missed a lot of games because of injury.

Grossmann missed the final 18 games of last season with a concussion. Holmgren said Grossmann is now cleared, but it was serious enough that Grossmann did visit Pittsburgh concussion specialist Dr. Micky Collins twice for consultation. He also missed time with a knee injury during his first run with the Flyers.

Grossmann, 28, is not old. But he isn’t fleet of foot, either. And a premium should be placed on speed, something the Flyers were clearly lacking.

The Flyers probably jumped the gun a bit on signing Grossmann to a 4-year, $14 million extension just weeks after acquiring him in 2012, one that included a modified no-trade clause.

So, to recap, here are the Flyers’ options to trade:

Andrej Meszaros - often injured.
Braydon Coburn - modified no-trade clause.
Nick Grossmann - often injured, modified no-trade clause.

It doesn't look all that promising. If I had to bet, I’d say Coburn is the most likely to be changing addresses.

It’s just one thing to keep on an eye on this weekend at the NHL draft.

For the latest updates, follow Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @DNFlyers

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