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July 14, 2005 - Flyers buck pundits' wisdom

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Flyers buck pundits' wisdom
When analyzing who won and who lost on the new collective bargaining agreement in the NHL, a lot of pundits have asserted the big-money franchises - namely Toronto, the New York Rangers, Detroit, Dallas and the Flyers - will be the big losers because of the salary cap.

The conventional wisdom they are spouting is that with a new cap of $39 million, the free-spending teams of the past are going to have a hard time trimming their salaries to get under the cap, and once they do will have very little room left to sign free agents.

This concept would, supposedly, allow the smaller-market teams to be on a level playing field with the big boys, thus making the entire league more competitive.

A cursory glance at the rosters of most NHL teams in the infancy of this new era makes those pundits seem clairvoyant.

However, a look at the Flyers situation makes them seem as if they look at the hockey world with blinders on.

While some teams need to sign a couple handfuls of players just to fill out a roster - the Boston Bruins only have four players under contract heading into the whirling dervish of fantasy-league style free-agency the league will have come August 1 - the Flyers may need only one or two players to place a Stanley Cup contending product onto the ice.

That's because the Flyers, maybe more than any other team, were better prepared for the lockout and had a sort of philosophical shift over the past couple seasons.

Known for years as a team that will spend money to bring in the needed talent to win a championship, the Flyers spent much of the past four years cultivating it on the minor league level.

No less than seven players who spent the lockout year playing in the AHL are expected to be on the Flyers roster come opening night in October.

Nine Flyers draft picks should make the squad as well as three young players whom the Flyers picked up in trades in recent seasons.

"I don't believe it was by chance, fluke, or luck that it turned out this way," said Flyers captain Keith Primeau. "It took a real concerted effort on the part of the organization to see what was going to happen with the new CBA and they did a tremendous job of selling their plan and recruiting young, talented players.

"They have a track record over the last several years of doing a great job in the draft. In years past they would use those young players to acquire what they thought would be a final piece of the puzzle.
However, over the last couple years, they retained the young players, developed them - maybe even quicker than expected - and now they'll be ready to make significant contributions to the Flyers when we return in the Fall."

While the Flyers will definitely be younger, they also will still have their share of wily veterans who will be looked upon not only for productive play on the ice, but for leadership in the locker room as well.

"We were thinking about the way the league would be after the lockout to some degree when we added (Mike) Knuble and (Turner) Stevenson last summer and signed Primeau and (Michal) Handzus to long-term contracts," said Flyers assistant general manager Paul Holmgren. "We're pleased with the way we look right now. We have a good mix of size and speed, veterans and youth and a mobile and gritty defense."

The one area of need for the Flyers is on the blue line. Although there are plenty of young players in the system, the team would like to add at least one more veteran defenseman to play along with Kim Johnsson, Eric Desjardins, Danny Markov, Joni Pitkanen and Dennis Seidenberg.

Some of the names that have been mentioned are unrestricted free agents like Scott Niedermayer, Adam Foote and Brian Leetch.
Which is where the Flyers financial situation comes in. Apparently, the league will allow teams to have amnesty on any buyouts of old contracts at 75 percent of their worth for the upcoming season only.
This means, if the Flyers buy out the sizeable contracts of John LeClair and Tony Amonte, the money will not count against the cap. In future years, buyots will count against the cap.

That means the Flyers have approximately $23.3 million committed to 13 players for the 2005-06 season.

There are seven restricted free agents (Robert Esche, Simon Gagne, Johnsson, Branko Radivojevic, Seidenberg, Radovan Somik and Patrick Sharp), whom the Flyers need to re-sign. Combined, with the 24 percent salary rollback included, those seven would have made a combined $6.8 million in 2004-05.

This means the Flyers, assuming the buyouts of LeClair and Amonte, will have about $9 million to play with.

Some of that will go toward signing the restricted free agents, and then there's Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, the two 2003 wunderkinds who will make somewhere in the neighborhood of $850,000 each.

But that should still leave the Flyers with a few million to play with to be active in a wild and wooly free agent market.

"There's definitely going to be a new wave of player in the NHL this season," said Primeau. "The Flyers are going to be an exciting group. One the fans should get excited about. We won't be a new look, but we'll be a really good team, and I'm excited to undertake that challenge with the group we have in place."