By Mark Zimmaro
In a time when things are so uncertain around the National Hockey League, one thing is becoming abundantly clear: The Flyers will be facing a lot of salary cap problems in the very near future.
It wasn’t that long ago — mere weeks, to be exact — that the NHL was projecting a rise of anywhere between $2.5 million and $6.7 million from the $81.5 million cap ceiling in the 2019-20 season, which would have given the Flyers some breathing room.
But now, with a very real threat that the rest of the season is canceled, and a projected $1 billion loss of revenue across the league, it would appear there will be no increase at all. Some might even ponder if the salary cap would decrease during these unforeseen circumstances to help relieve some of the escrow pain players will feel due to the current collective bargaining agreement.
The Flyers, under General Manager Chuck Fletcher, made some really good upgrades this season that helped the team rise in the standings and become a contender in the Eastern Conference. But those moves of signing free agents Kevin Hayes, Matt Niskanen and Justin Braun came at a cost. And any cap relief former GM Ron Hextall created disappeared in quick fashion.
The Flyers scratched the cap ceiling this season, and there’s not much relief coming. Currently, according to Cap Friendly, the Flyers have $69.5 million already tied up in next year’s roster. If the cap remains flat at $81.5 million, that leaves only $12 million to resign or replace unrestricted free agents Braun, Nicolas Aube-Kubel, Derek Grant, Tyler Pitlick, Nate Thompson and Brian Elliott. The Flyers would also need to account for new contracts to restricted free agents Robert Hagg, Philippe Myers, Nolan Patrick and Oskar Lindblom.
You can pencil in roughly $2 million for a backup goaltender, whether or not the Flyers decide to keep Elliott, who has performed well in his new mentor role. That leaves only $10 million for everyone else. If the Flyers don’t plan on shaking up the roster and losing a highly-paid player, they’d obviously phase out a few veterans for players on entry-level contracts such as Morgan Frost, Carsen Twarynski, Connor Bunnaman and perhaps German Rubstov.
You can crunch the numbers and try to squeeze a few pennies here and there, but the Flyers have very little wiggle room to keep the current core intact.
Unloading a big contract could be very difficult this season, as many other teams are in the same situation. Also, Claude Giroux and Kevin Hayes have no-movement clauses, so they’re likely here for the long haul.
Jakob Voracek ($8.25 million cap hit) and James van Riemsdyk ($7 million) would be the next guys to look at if the Flyers wanted to make a splash. Both are valuable, offensively productive players who are well liked in the locker room, which certainly makes these decisions harder for Fletcher. But both are 30 and will likely see some type of a decline in production moving forward.
Voracek is under contract for four more years while JVR has three more after this season officially ends. Voracek’s best season came two years ago when he recorded 85 points. Last season, he slipped to 66 and he had 56 this season, which was on pace to again finish with 66.
Van Riemsdyk’s best goal-scoring season also came two years ago when he potted 36 goals for the Toronto Maple Leafs. The last two seasons in Philly, he finished with 27 and 19 goals, while missing 16 games in both seasons, which is a 33- and 24-goal pace, respectively.
If neither is traded, both could be exposed during the 2021 Seattle Expansion Draft, as the Flyers will have many tough decisions to make regarding their protected list.
Niskanen’s $5.75 million contract with one year remaining could certainly be another area to ponder, although the Flyers really liked his play this season and his positive effect on Ivan Provorov.
Shayne Gostisbehere’s remaining three years at $4.5 million are another avenue Fletcher will likely explore, although young, experienced defensemen at a fair price are tough to find.
With the great year the Flyers had, every cost-cutting decision will be a tough one, and that is abundantly clear.