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July 14, 2005 - Chuck Gormley: New deal means changes for Flyers

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Chuck Gormley: New deal means changes for Flyers

Thursday, July 14, 2005

When the NHL's owners and players ratify their new six-year Collective Bargaining Agreement next week, a summer signing frenzy like no other will ensue.

The Boston Bruins and Washington Capitals, for example, have just four players under contract and will need to sign 18 more players before training camps open in eight weeks. The Vancouver Canucks will need to sign 17 players.

The Flyers may need to do just as much subtracting as they do adding.

Even with salaries rolled back 24 percent under the new agreement, the Flyers have 15 players under contract totaling $35.4 million. The maximum payroll permitted under the NHL's new economic system will be $39 million.

That's why you'll see an entirely different Flyers lineup than you saw in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup semifinals.

Mark Recchi, the Flyers' leading scorer in 2003-04, already has signedwith the Pittsburgh Penguins. Defensemen Vladimir Malakhov and Marcus Ragnarsson and forward Alexei Zhamnov have elected to play out their careers in Europe.

Still, the Flyers will need to trim their payroll and can free $11.3 million in cap space by buying out the contracts of John LeClair and Tony Amonte. At two-thirds of their current contracts, it would cost the Flyers $4.5 million to buy out LeClair and $2.96 million to buy out Amonte.

It would mean an unceremonious end to LeClair's mostly productive 10-year career with the Flyers.

"I haven't put a whole lot of thought into it, but I know it's a realistic possibility," said LeClair, whose 333 goals with the Flyers place him fifth on the club's all-time list. "I'm not ignorant to it, but I'm not dwelling too much on it. My time here has been fantastic. The Flyers organization has been terrific to me "

The Flyers' number crunching may not end with LeClair and Amonte. Center Jeremy Roenick has one year remaining on a contract that will pay him $4.94 million. He has expressed a desire to play in Philadelphia, but if the Flyers intend to shore up a sparse defense by adding a high-profile unrestricted free agent, they may need to buy out Roenick to fit that salary under the cap.

In other words, the Flyers will need to be far more judicious with their money than they've been in the past.

"We took advantage because we could," Flyers chairman Ed Snider said. "But if we can't, we're going to have to make very smart decisions. Now we're going to be much more dependent on management making good decisions and our scouts doing a great job. I think we're prepared to do that as well as anyone in the league."

During the Calder Cup playoffs, Flyers general manager Bob Clarke said that as many as seven or eight Phantoms could be promoted to the Flyers this season. Clarke's first order of business will be to sign top prospects Jeff Carter and Mike Richards.

But there also are six restricted free agents - goaltender Robert Esche, forwards Simon Gagne, Radovan Somik, Branko Radivojevic and Patrick Sharp, and defensemen Kim Johnsson and Dennis Seidenberg - who will need to come to terms before the free-agent period begins sometime in August.

Some of those players will fit nicely under a $39 million cap, but some will not. Either way, the Flyers will be a much younger team than the veteran club that lost to the Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning 14 months ago.

"We know some salaries will be left off our team," Flyers captain Keith Primeau said. "We could have 10 new players in a 12-month span. I'm sure we'll see a lot of new players, but we'll still have our seven or eight veteran guys."

With the age of unrestricted free agency dropping from 31 this summer to 27 in 2008, the Flyers will also find themselves on a more even playing field than ever before when the free-agent market opens.

"If a player's worth is deemed to be $1 million and eight or nine teams know that," said player agent Rick Curran, "then a team can say, `I can give you the $1 million, but I can also surround you with these players. Or, I can give you this training facility. Or, you can live in this neighborhood.' Instead of players just taking as much as they can get, I think there's going to be a lot more salesmanship going on."