Let’s call a spade a spade- The NHL and its hard salary cap is dumb. Gary Bettman needs all the money possible diverted into his love child the Arizona Coyotes to keep that franchise afloat, and the rest of the league is literally paying for it. After the pandemic forced fans out of arenas, the NHL’s cap has stayed flat for the last few years, and it’s put many teams in some sticky situations. But the flat cap era may be coming to an end sooner rather than later.
The salary cap was originally expected to rise only $1 million this summer and not see a significant increase until 2025, but thanks to the $1.1 billion debt the players owed to the owners coming to an end much sooner than originally anticipated, the cap could rise by as much as $4 million as soon as the summer of 2023. For most teams these days, a bit of breathing room in the salary cap comes as a huge relief as the flat cap has kept many franchises in a strangle hold ever since the pandemic, and the Flyers are no exception.
After an offseason when Chuck Fletcher failed to bring in hometown hero Johnny Gaudreau thanks in part to the lack of available cash, if the salary cap does increase this summer, can he actually take advantage of it this time around?
The issue is, $4 million isn’t that big a bonus yet considering the stalled rise for the last three years. The cap hasn’t made a significant jump since the summer of 2019, and has only seen one $1 million bump since. So $4 million isn’t as much of a luxury as it is just enough space for many teams to get their own house in order. We could be a few years away from the cap rising far enough where teams start spending freely again.
For the Flyers, who have very little cash available heading into the 2023 season naturally, especially after they re-signed defenseman Travis Sanheim, $4 million is just enough money to do nothing.
Between Justin Braun, Travis Sanheim and James Van Riemsdyk, the only three notable contracts coming off the books during the 2023 offseason, that equates to $12.6 million. Now, take away $6.2 of that for Sanheim’s extension and they’re left with $6.4 million. Now disperse that amongst Egor Zamula, Noah Cates and Morgan Frost, the three most notable players that need extensions, and even if each gets an even $1 million, that still takes them down to just $3.4 million. Add in a couple random depth players expiring and new ones added, it still evens out to around three and a half million.
Now, add $4 million to that $3.4 million and the Flyers project to sit around $7.5 million. It’s not nothing, especially for a team as thin on talent as the Flyers, but it’s not really enough on its own to make a serious splash.
The 2023 free agency pool is shaping up to be strong, which as of this writing is highlighted by forwards Dylan Larkin and David Pastrnak. If Dylan Larkin, a legitimate bonafide top center, does hit the open market it would be just what the doctor ordered for the Flyers. But given Chuck Fletcher’s horrific handling of the salary cap over the last few years, the Flyers can’t even entertain the idea of sending him a legitimate offer.
Now, they can always try and clear some cap to gather enough funds to make a legitimate pursuit at Larkin, but can they? Theoretically, Kevin Hayes should be expandable if they are looking to add a top center. They could roll with a Larkin-Couturier-Gauthier/Desnoyers trio down the middle next season.
Though if Fletcher balked at the idea of moving James Van Riemsdyk last summer, it doesn’t exactly build a ton of confidence that he would be willing to do whatever it takes to move Hayes, who, at 31 years old is going to have three years left at a $7.1 million cap hit and whose play is hit or miss on a night-to-night basis already.
Does Fletcher pay the price, say, Arizona would ask to eat his contract? Or could he do enough diligence to scope out a team in need of center depth that has a few extra bucks of cap space to play with?
It’s the kind of thing that’s within his job description as GM, but he has an almost nonexistent track record of doing it, and got gun shy especially when it seems to matter most.
Guess it all comes down to how the season ends up turning out for the Flyers. The Torts Effect has worked wonders early on. But considering they’re less than 10 games into the season, there will be plenty of time for things to work themselves out in the wash before the 2023 offseason and that sweet, sweet $4 million bump rolls around.
By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)
photo credit: inquirer.com