The NHL is a better place when Ed Snider and Paul Holmgren are active. Which is always.
Snider, owner of the Flyers, has reached into his wallet to give his general manager the money he needs. In turn, Holmgren has been equally busy burning those dollars as well as handing them out.
Snider will pay Ilya Bryzgalov and Daniel Briere $26,333,333 through 2027 to not play in Philadelphia. The bulk of the loot will go to Bryzgalov, the space-shot goalie the Flyers once projected to be the ace they’ve longed for.
On June 23, 2011, Holmgren re-signed Bryzgalov to a nine-year, $51 million blockbuster. One day short of a year later, Holmgren traded Sergei Bobrovsky to Columbus for three picks.
Bobrovsky is now the Vezina Trophy winner. Bryzgalov is unemployed.
And yet Snider keeps opening his checkbook. Snider’s latest commitments total $45,150,000, according to www.capgeek.com. This is not a gun-shy owner.
The difference is that this time, Holmgren is investing Snider’s cash wisely. The Flyers improved at goal, defense, and center by signing Ray Emery, Mark Streit, and Vincent Lecavalier. If the Flyers don’t return to the playoffs next season, it will not reflect well on coach Peter Laviolette.
The moves started with Streit. After the Islanders’ first-round exit against Pittsburgh, Streit declared his intention to test the market. The Islanders traded their former captain’s negotiating rights to Philadelphia June 12.
Five days later, Streit signed a four-year, $21 million contract. Long term, it is a risky signing. Streit is 35 years old. If he suffers a career-ending injury, the Flyers must apply his annual cap hit toward their number.
Holmgren believes the risk is worth the reward. The smooth-moving defenseman scored six goals and had 21 assists this past season while averaging 23:20 of ice time per game. Streit, who drew interest from the Bruins when he was available in 2008, is a JV version of Nicklas Lidstrom: a smart, left-shot defenseman with good puck-moving skills.
“He’s the type of defenseman we need,” Holmgren said during an introductory news conference on Tuesday. “He’s a guy who can play on the power play and provide offensive five on five. He’s a defenseman who gets up in the rush. He can join the rush and lead the rush. He can make plays coming out of our own end. We’ve needed that.”
Philadelphia did not expect to make its second signing. Some of its initial plans included starting the season with Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier as its top two centers. But when Tampa Bay bought out Lecavalier’s contract June 27, the Flyers changed directions.
On June 29, Holmgren, Laviolette, and team president Peter Luukko met Lecavalier, brother Phil Lecavalier, and agent Kent Hughes. The Philly bosses pitched the ex-Lightning captain on their identity: an up-tempo, hard-nosed group. Lecavalier was sold.
Lecavalier played most of the last two seasons under conservative ex-coach Guy Boucher. Ironically, on Nov. 9, 2011, it was the Flyers that played a stall game against Tampa to protest the Lightning’s 1-3-1 system.
“I want to be on my toes when I play the game, not on my heels,” said Lecavalier. “A smart defensive game is really important. [Laviolette] has that. He’s a very smart coach. But when I get that puck, I want to go. I want to skate. I want to play in their zone.”
Two days later, Lecavalier informed suitors, including the Bruins, they were out. He would sign a five-year, $22.5 million deal with the Flyers July 5.
Lecavalier will be 38 at the deal’s conclusion and his production is likely to drop by then. But that is not Holmgren’s concern. The GM is looking for instant results. If the Streit and Lecavalier signings fizzle, Holmgren will not be around to evaluate their contracts’ final years.
Lecavalier rounds out a top-six attack that can compete with any in the league. Giroux could center Scott Hartnell and Jakub Voracek. Lecavalier’s linemates could be Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds. It is a powerful mix of skill, speed, and bite. There are times Laviolette could pair Lecavalier and Giroux.
“We added one of the better players in the game in Vinny Lecavalier,” said Holmgren. “Having him play in the middle for us with Claude and Sean as a 1-2-3 punch, having Vinny there will make Claude and Sean better just by being there. Maybe Vinny plays right or left wing from time to time. It gives us more looks and more options up front as to what the coach can do with his lineup.”
The final signing was the Flyers’ cheapest but most important. They were not prepared to start the season with Steve Mason as the No. 1 goalie. So, they signed Emery to a one-year, $1.65 million bargain. For those relative nickels and dimes, the Flyers landed a ring winner who went 17-1-0 with a 1.94 goals-against average and a .922 save percentage this past season for Chicago. Emery didn’t play in the postseason but was a good teammate for Blackhawks starter Corey Crawford.
Razor Redux is experienced, more mature, and healthier than during his first Philly stint. On Feb. 1, 2010, Emery posted an 18-save shutout for the Flyers over Calgary. The following morning, Emery complained of pain in his hip. He was diagnosed with avascular necrosis. The bone atop his femur was dead. In April, Emery underwent surgery at Duke University. Meanwhile, Philadelphia ran through Michael Leighton, Brian Boucher, Johan Backlund, and Jeremy Duchesne in goal. The last sight of the season was Leighton, deep in his crease, being beaten by a bad-angle Patrick Kane shot that gave the Blackhawks the Stanley Cup.
“I remember his last game, we shut out Calgary, 3-0,” Holmgren recalled. “The next morning, I got a phone call that his hip was bad. Everyone remembers our goaltending situation after that. Who didn’t we have playing net after that? And we went to the Final. If we had Ray Emery that year, who knows.”
Now, three years later, Emery wants to repay the organization that found Dr. David Ruch, who performed the procedure.
“For them to put that much effort — they flew me all over the place to look for doctors,” Emery said. “Coming back, especially after how things went, it’s real special to get the chance to play for them. I hope to do well in this situation with the effort they put into saving my hip and allowing me to play.”
At the start of the season, the Flyers will most likely place defenseman Chris Pronger on long-term injured reserve. They are, after all, over the cap. Surprise, surprise.
Jets playing at disadvantage
Anybody with spare coffee beans, please ship to MTS Centre, c/o Kevin Cheveldayoff. The Winnipeg GM might be the busiest executive in the business this summer as the Jets enter their third season of post-Thrasherdom.
Cheveldayoff will have to figure out what to do with five significant restricted free agents: ex-Bruin Blake Wheeler, Bryan Little, Zach Bogosian, Paul Postma, and Eric Tangradi. All filed for arbitration on Wednesday. It is the highest number from one team in the NHL.
This is the third time Wheeler has filed for arbitration. The first was with the Bruins, when he was awarded a one-year, $2.2 million contract. Wheeler and the Jets agreed on a two-year, $5.1 million extension prior to his second hearing.
Wheeler and Little, his center, will score big raises via arbitration or negotiation. Wheeler scored 19 goals and had 22 assists last season. Little scored seven goals and had 25 assists. Little is coming off a three-year, $7.15 million contract.
Bogosian is also due a bump. He trailed only Dustin Byfuglien in average ice time on the team last season. The 22-year-old, picked third overall behind Steven Stamkos and Drew Doughty in 2008, projects to be a first-pairing defenseman.
The Jets have space to accommodate all their RFAs. They will not be cheap. Cheveldayoff may have no choice but to open up the checkbook. The Jets must build from within or via trade. Players do not have Winnipeg atop their preferred destinations because of the weather and yet-to-develop winning culture. If they’re competing against teams in more temperate locations, the Jets must pay a premium, which is unwise from a cap perspective.
Consider Cheveldayoff’s unrestricted free agent signings: Adam Pardy, John Albert, Andrew Gordon, and Boyd Samson — not exactly first-line names. The Jets had no other choice. For all teams, signing UFAs is an overpayment in salary and term. It is even more so in Winnipeg.
Cheveldayoff will have to execute his team-building in other ways. On July 5, the Jets acquired Devin Setoguchi from Minnesota for a 2014 second-round pick. On June 30, Cheveldayoff landed fourth-line wing Michael Frolik from Chicago for third- and fifth-round selections in 2013. Prospects they’re waiting on are Mark Scheifele (No. 7 overall in 2011) and Jacob Trouba (ninth in 2012).
The organization has been professional since moving from Atlanta. The people of Winnipeg are friendly. Real estate is relatively inexpensive. Still, it will not be an easy rebuild.
Bergeron pact wise spending
Patrice Bergeron had one season remaining on his deal. Had Bergeron hit the open market after 2013-14, the Bruins center could have hit the lottery. Consider fellow 2003 draft picks Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf. Perry signed an eight-year deal worth an annual $8,625,000. Getzlaf also scored an eight-year contract with an annual average value of $8.25 million. Bergeron is equally as important to his team, if not more so. On the market, he could easily have reached $8 million per season for seven years. Instead, Bergeron accepted an eight-year, $52 million deal that will keep him in Boston. “There wasn’t any question he’d get more on the open market,” GM Peter Chiarelli said. “He really helped us with the team-building aspect, too. A lot of credit to him, because he sees what we’re trying to do. The [average annual value] is nice for team-building. It’s something that helps us in future years.”
Everybody won on Thursday when Ilya Kovalchuk retired from the NHL. Kovalchuk will return to play in his native Russia. SKA St. Petersburg, the team he played for during the lockout, will not make Kovalchuk miss any of the $77 million he leaves behind in Newark. The KHL lands a 30-year-old superstar. Team Russia will have an acclimatized Kovalchuk when the Olympics start in Sochi. The Devils, not exactly stable in their finances, can allocate their savings more wisely than when they dropped a 15-year, $100 million contract on Kovalchuk’s desk. In hindsight, it was far too much to invest on one player. “If there’s something we can do, we can do it,” GM Lou Lamoriello said during a conference call. “Obviously, there’s more room right now.”
Among Daniel Alfredsson’s considerations when choosing Detroit over Boston was the opportunity to play with international teammates. Alfredsson will join the Red Wings’ Swedish stable, which includes Olympic teammates Henrik Zetterberg, Niklas Kronwall, and Johan Franzen. Team Sweden’s culture is tighter than those of other federations. Most stars rise through the Swedish Elite League’s junior clubs, play on the men’s teams, seek their fortunes in the NHL, and reconvene for international play in the Olympics and World Championships. “It’s always nice to come home and play with all the Swedish guys,” said new Bruin Loui Eriksson, a Team Sweden regular. “It’s fun to go and play, especially in the World Championships. They’re really smart players. The Swedish style is to play with a lot of smartness and really good skating ability.”
The Bruins spent part of their first full day of development camp counseling their prospects on the use of social media. As foolish as it sounds, such seminars should be standard operating procedure around the league. Tyler Seguin proved that young athletes and Twitter can be a toxic coupling. The easiest solution would be for teams to strike Twitter access from their charges’ privileges. The rewards are hardly worth the risk. “We as adults now have to change and adapt to it,” said assistant GM Don Sweeney. “The kids are so far advanced in these areas than what we’re accustomed to that we have to understand it better. We have to hopefully get them to understand and appreciate the impact of some of their statements, and how quickly those statements get from Point A to Point B.”
Best wishes to good guy and ex-Bruin Nathan Horton. Horton is taking heat for choosing Columbus over Boston, but as a first-time unrestricted free agent, he had the right to select his destination. Cannot criticize anybody, pro athlete or otherwise, for picking a spot best suited for his or her lifestyle. You couldn’t get me to live in the suburbs . . . In a three-day span, the Bruins committed $108 million to Bergeron and Tuukka Rask. Those are good checks to write. There’s a bunch of other clubs that would spend even more to land the NHL’s best two-way center and a top-five goalie . . . The Bruins will participate in a four-team rookie tournament in Orlando in September. In 2009, they took part in a similar tournament in Kitchener, Ontario. Expect plenty of scraps . . . David Booth announced via his Twitter account that he is taking theology classes at Oxford. Checking on rumors that one of the seminars investigates why God insists on keeping Roberto Luongo in Vancouver . . . Exhibit 36 of the collective bargaining agreement outlines the items that every organization must provide to visiting teams. The strangest requirement: four lacrosse balls . . . Also part of the CBA: Any player who is transferred (trade, waivers, recall) can be reimbursed, for up to 21 days, for the rental of a midsize car. The CBA does not specifically cite rules for the Canadiens. Montreal’s preferred players (Daniel Briere, Brendan Gallagher, David Desharnais) do just fine with the subcompact category.
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.