IT WAS A decision that inherently goes against the aggressive nature of an NHL franchise that has continually pulled off trades and numbers for some of the biggest names the game has ever seen.

Taking a deep breath; the Flyers decided to sit out the Steven Stamkos sweepstakes yesterday after spending nearly 3 full days internally discussing an option to submit an offer sheet for one of the top three forwards in the league.

It wasn't that the deal - said to be worth up to $115 million - was too rich for chairman Ed Snider's blood, as Snider was very much involved in the discussions.

Rather, the Flyers didn't want to take the risk of not being able to fill out their roster with second-tier free agents when the market opens today at noon if Stamkos' current team, the Tampa Bay Lightning, chose to match the offer.

"We decided that we liked what we had," Flyers president Peter Luukko said.

Tampa Bay would have had 7 days to sit on the offer without making a decision, which would have left the Flyers' free-agency money tied up until July 8.

Since the tunes start blaring today at noon in the magical, musical chairs game of free agency, surely most of those seats would have been filled by July 8.

Plus, the Flyers weren't sure their number would have been enough to dissuade the Lightning from matching it. According to sources, Tampa Bay general manager Steve Yzerman relayed a message to Paul Holmgren last week at the draft in Minnesota that he had the green light to match any offer.

Whether that was posturing by Yzerman remains to be seen. For now, as the Lightning and Stamkos have yet to come to an agreement on an extension, the lip service seems to have worked.

Among the internal discussions, some members of the Flyers' brass were seemingly afraid about how the franchise would be perceived in town if they had taken a run at Stamkos and came back empty-handed. Somehow, I get the idea that fans would have been OK with the fact that they had the cojones to make an offer.

It's a harder sell to the fan base, though, to not take a shot. Not for a city that has been clamoring for a star goaltender for 15 years that finally has one, only to suddenly be missing 31 goals from last season's lineup already. Especially not when ticket prices have been jacked up by 20 percent.

Still, the discussion - asking whether the Flyers are a better team now than when they featured Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, and how the Flyers will look if another team can pry Stamkos out of "Hockey Paradise" - is for another day.

The bottom line is that the Flyers aren't done yet.

Sure, the names out there on the market today are less than attractive. And after watching the dollars being thrown around this week at lesser talents, by teams that need to spend $30 million this offseason just to get to the minimum team salary, the proposed numbers for Stamkos seem like a bargain.

But the Flyers felt that adding key pieces to their team at different positions was a much better bet than coming back empty-handed and filling out their roster with Phantoms players who might not be ready to make the jump to the NHL.

The good news for the Flyers is that Ville Leino hasn't yet closed the door on returning.

Despite not being a top priority for the Flyers over the past week after Richards and Carter's departures finally opened up salary-cap space, Leino's agent resumed talks with Holmgren yesterday afternoon for the first time.

The two sides were expected to speak again later last night to try to hammer out a deal before all 29 other teams can pounce on Leino at noon today.

"I think we could easily wait until 12 noon, or Ville could very easily be a Flyer again next year," Leino's agent, Bill Zito, told the Daily News.

Still, Zito had to be jumping for joy watching Tomas Kopecky sign a 4-year, $12 million deal with Florida after collecting 15 goals and 27 assists for Chicago last season. Leino, 2 years younger, with a flashy playoff performance on his resumé, posted 19 goals and 34 assists last season for the Flyers.

At some point, Leino could receive an offer that the Flyers might not be able to match.

In addition to another winger, the Flyers need two centers and a sixth defenseman to round out their roster - all while fitting in under the $64.3 million salary cap. The Flyers head into today's action with a little more than $10 million in salary-cap space, but they also need to sign restricted free agents Wayne Simmonds and Jakub Voracek. Those two players alone could command up to $4.5 million.

Last July 1, Holmgren went off the board and traded for Andrej Meszaros. He ended up winning the Barry Ashbee Trophy as the team's top defenseman.

Since moving Richards and Carter, everyone has been waiting for the team's trademark splash. It's not Stamkos. But you never know what name might pop up.


The free-agency signing period begins today at noon across the NHL, when unrestricted free agents will have the ability to speak with all 29 other teams for the first time.

Without Steven Stamkos, here's who the Flyers could target today:


Position: Right Wing

Age: 31

Team: Boston

Key stat: 17 points in 25 playoff games

Last contract: 3 years, $12 million

Scoop: Ryder was overpaid, collecting just 127 points over three seasons with the Bruins, but exploded in the playoffs to make an interesting case for himself.


Position: Left Wing

Age: 31

Team: Tampa Bay

Key stat: 10 years with Flyers

Last contract: 5 years, $26.25 million

Scoop: The Lightning will not re-sign Gagne, opening up the possibility that the former Flyer, who still maintains a residence here, could take a hometown discount to come back.


Position: Right Wing

Age: 32

Team: Carolina

Key stat: 26 goals, 26 assists in 82 games

Last contract: 2 years, $5.8 million

Scoop: Peter Laviolette, who coached Cole to a Stanley Cup in 2006, is salivating at the thought of adding Cole to his lineup. Has had injury concerns throughout his career.


Position: Center

Age: 34

Team: Los Angeles

Key stat: 30 points in 82 games

Last contract: 4 years, $16 million

Scoop: In need of a center who wins faceoffs and is responsible defensively, the Flyers could decide to bring back Handzus, who played in Philly from 2002-06.


Position: Right Wing

Age: 35

Team: Dallas

Key stat: 32 points in 72 games

Last contract: 5 years, $14 million

Scoop: The Flyers were in the hunt for Langenbrunner last season until New Jersey sent him to Dallas just before the trade deadline. Solid veteran presence.


Position: Center

Age: 38

Team: Minnesota

Key stat: 3 Stanley Cups

Last contract: 1 year, $1.25 million

Scoop: Madden originally gave Minnesota a "re-sign or retire" ultimatum but reportedly withdrew that this week and said he would be willing to move his family anywhere to take one more shot at a Cup.

FLYERS FREE AGENTS: Dan Carcillo, Ville Leino, Nik Zherdev, Danny Syvret, Sean O'Donnell and Brian Boucher all become unrestricted free agents at noon.