Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Extreme Makeover: NHL Edition

In today's Around the League report, we will look at two teams who have made drastic changes to their NHL rosters over the last 3 weeks: the Philadelphia Flyers and the Florida Panthers. Through a series of trades and signings, both have gone about overhauls of their clubs for very different reasons, but ultimately, both have made significant improvements.

The Philadelphia Flyers

Roster THEN (May 6, 2011, Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals):

Kris Versteeg - Mike Richards - Jeff Carter
James van Riemsdyk - Claude Giroux - Daniel Briere
Scott Hartnell - Darrell Powe - Ville Leino
Jody Shelley - Blair Betts - Daniel Carcillo

Kimmo Timonen - Braydon Coburn
Andrej Meszaros - Matt Carle
Danny Syvret - Sean O'Donnell

Sergei Bobrovsky
Brian Boucher

Injuries & Scratches: Chris Pronger, Nikolai Zherdev, Andreas Nodl, Ian Laperriere, Michael Leighton, Oskars Bartulis

Roster NOW (July 6, 2011, projecting for opening night 2011-12):

James Van Riemsdyk ($1.654m) / Claude Giroux ($3.750m) / Daniel Briere ($6.500m)
Wayne Simmonds ($2.500m) / Brayden Schenn ($3.110m) / Jakub Voracek ($2.250m)
Scott Hartnell ($4.200m) / Maxime Talbot ($1.800m) / Jaromir Jagr ($3.300m)
Andreas Nodl ($0.845m) / Blair Betts ($0.700m) / Jody Shelley ($1.100m)

Kimmo Timonen ($6.333m) / Chris Pronger ($4.921m)
Andrej Meszaros ($4.000m) / Braydon Coburn ($3.200m)
Andreas Lilja ($0.737m) / Matt Carle ($3.437m)

Ilya Bryzgalov ($5.666m) / Sergei Bobrovsky ($1.750m)

Injuries & Scratches: Oskars Bartulis ($0.600m) / Ian Laperriere ($1.166m)

SALARY CAP: $64,300,000; CAP PAYROLL: $63,522,262; BONUSES: $3,815,000
CAP SPACE (22-man roster): $777,738

Evidently satisfied on the blueline once they would be bolstered by a healthy Chris Pronger, the Flyers identified goaltending as their main need this off-season and traded for the rights of pending UFA Ilya Bryzgalov. The problem, however, was a lack of cap room to fit in Bryzgalov's exorbitant salary demands. Amidst rumours of divides and cancers in the locker room, GM Paul Holmgren underwent a process very similar to that which Bob Gainey followed during the 2009 off-season. Both teams had a strong year one year prior, but were then unceremoniously swept from the playoffs by the Boston Bruins the following season, and proceeded to blow their core apart.

First came the Jeff Carter trade. Sent to Columbus for Jakub Voracek and a 1st round pick (Sean Couturier). "Ok," Flyers fans thought, "we got a great return AND now we have the cap room we need! Awesome!" But Holmgren wasn't done there.When rumours were floated in the moments following the Carter deal that Mike Richards was also on the market, people thought it was preposterous. But only a few hours later... BAM! Mike Richards was a Los Angeles King in return for Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds. And just like that, two offensive catalysts that had led the Flyers all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals just a year ago had been cast off.

Trading both Carter and Richards let the Flyers sign Bryzgalov to a HUGE 9 year, $51M deal, giving them credible netminding (or - they had better hope it will) for the first time in ages. The team also had suddenly created a new youth movement, boasting a top-notch young core including the following all at age 23 or younger:
Brayden Schenn
James van Riemsdyk
Wayne Simmonds
Jakub Voracek
Sean Couturier

Given that the club is looking to contend immediately, they were active on July 1st, supplementing their offense with the surprising acquisition of Jaromir Jagr, and stealing depth roleplayer Maxim Talbot from state rivals the Pittsbugh Penguins.

How much better is this team than last year's? Well they lost the entirety of what was considered their "1st line" for their final game of 2010-11, and it is no sure thing they will be able to immediately replace the offensive contribution. Certainly Bryzgalov makes them a cup contender if he can reproduce his regular season performances and step up his playoff game with his new team. The East looks a lot tougher now with contenders in Washington and Philadelphia both addressing their Achilles' heel between the pipes. But will Jagr be a productive NHL'er at age 39? Will van Rimesdyk step up his game and put up big numbers at the NHL level? Will Jakub Voracek continue progressing in a new environment? And will Brayden Schenn be ready for a significant role in his rookie pro season? Many questions remain for this team that will have very little wiggle room against the cap should the answer to any of these questions be "no." They should be able to compete for a division or even conference title, but then we could have said that about the Flyers last year and the year prior. It remains to be seen if this group can get over the next hump.

The Florida Panthers

Roster THEN (April 8, 2011, Florida Panthers vs. Tampa Bay Lightning):

David Booth - Marty Reasoner - Jack Skille
Sergei Samsonov - Mike Santorelli - Steve Bernier
Evgeny Dadonov - Ryan Carter - Shawn Matthias
Michael Repik - Tim Kennedy - Niclas Bergfors

Jason Garrison - Mike Weaver
Dmitry Kulikov - Keaton Ellerby
Clay Wilson - Joe Callahan

Tomas Vokoun
Scott Clemmensen

Injuries & Scratches: Stephen Weiss, Rostislav Olesz

That's a little scary. Other than a strong goaltending duo, it is almost hard to believe this is an NHL roster. It isn't hard to understand, then, why the main motivation for the Panthers rebuild was a need to spend about $30M just to reach the salary cap FLOOR!

Roster NOW (July 6, 2011, projecting for opening night 2011-12):

David Booth ($4.250m) / Stephen Weiss ($3.100m) / Kris Versteeg ($3.083m)
Tomas Fleischmann ($4.500m) / Sean Bergenheim ($2.750m) / Tomas Kopecky ($3.000m)
Evgeni Dadonov ($0.875m) / Scottie Upshall ($3.500m) / Matt Bradley ($0.950m)
Shawn Matthias ($0.850m) / Marcel Goc ($1.700m) / Mike Santorelli ($0.600m)

Brian Campbell ($7.142m) / Mike Weaver ($0.900m)
Dmitri Kulikov ($1.325m) / Ed Jovanovski ($4.125m)
Jason Garrison ($0.675m) / Keaton Ellerby ($0.787m)

Jose Theodore ($1.500m) / Scott Clemmensen ($1.200m)

BUYOUTS: Ville Koistinen ($0.466m)
Injuries & Scratches: Jack Skille ($0.825m) / Michal Repik ($0.816m) / Steven Reinprecht ($2.050m)

SALARY CAP: $64,300,000; CAP PAYROLL: $50,972,042; BONUSES: $800,000
CAP SPACE (23-man roster): $13,327,958

Whereas the Flyers had a strong team and rebuilt to fill a need, the Panthers had needs all across the board and changed their composition at every position. Clearly the most notable upgrade comes in the group of forwards. While the team still lacks true top-end talent (particularly down the middle), they now have offensive depth to at least compete with most other clubs around the league.

On the back end, adding Brian Campbell and Ed Jovanovski - despite their large and long contracts - will be a major boon to the development of youngsters like Kulikov and Ellerby.

The main problem with Florida's situation isn't the moves they have made. Rather, it's a problem with the National Hockey League in Florida and the terms of the present collective bargaining agreement. If there is going to be another NHL lockout next year, you can take the Panthers as a prime explanation for its necessity. As a team that practically gives away more tickets than it sells, even with the present revenue sharing plan, Florida cannot afford an annual salary of $48M. Certainly they can't afford to commit to the long-term deals of players like Campbell and Jovanovski. The NHL needs to understand that for future sustainability, the growing salary cap won't allow for the maintenance of competitive parity around the league. The only way to ensure that is finding owners with deep pockets and doing the best to grow the game in ALL 30 markets. There is no room for obvious gaffs in wasted marketing dollars like Stan Lee's Guardian Project. That money - undoubtedly a significant sum - could have been invested in market development instead.

And there needs to be a shorter leash on these markets. If it's been tried and failed for many years running, it's time to give another market a try. The health of the league and growth of the game will be stronger feeding off interested markets (even if only short term) than sticking around in places where hockey is an after-though at best.

Is this Florida team better? No doubt, they are miles ahead of any team the Panthers have iced in years. But it's going to take more than that to build a fanbase. Is this a playoff team? Certainly no guarantee there, though they may find themselves competing for the 8th spot. And given the disinterest in the marketplace, it's going to take a lot more than a bubble club to start gaining the momentum to sustain a franchise.

1 comment:

blackshap9 said...

I really like the moves Philly made this summer. It says they want to win. No matter where in the standings they end up this coming season I believe next summer will be just as important for the Philly brass to follow up on their ambitious plans. We shall see.