The Flyers are on a hot streak going 9-1-1 in their last eleven games. They’re also locking up their stars for next season, and they’ve been riding a young rookie goaltender to a fast start. Meanwhile, this season’s slated number one netminder, Michael Leighton, is showing signs of returning to the ice. What’s on the horizon for the orange and black?
Rising star, Claude Giroux, 22, leads his team with 10 goals and 21 points in only 19 games. That ranks him seventh in the NHL, and he leads the league in the shortie department with three.
Paul Holmgren made it his primary concern to lock up the youngster to a three-year deal worth $11.25 million. That’s a cap hit of $3.75 million per season.
Giroux was a first round draft pick of the Flyers in 2006, who showed flashes of elite play, but topped off at 16 goals and 47 points last season. His star began to rise in last season’s Stanley Cup playoff run that netted him 21 points in 23 games.
After signing Giroux, Holmgren went after Jeff Carter. Carter, 25, has been on a high scoring pace since his rookie year potted him 23 goals.
In 2008-2009 he scored 46 goals, winning him a spot on the All-Star team, and followed that up with 33 in the next. This season, he’s on pace to score 35 goals. Holmgren took the goal-scorer off of the market for eleven years for a total of $58 million. That’s a cap hit of $5.27 million.
The next big contract hurdle to climb is the 27-year-old, former Finnish Elite League MVP, Ville Leino.
Leino came to the Flyers in a trade from Detroit for Ole-Kristian Tollefson. He was a healthy scratch several times, and unable to find his niche, until he opened some eyes in the playoffs with his fast-skating and puck-wheeling style. He set a rookie record in the playoffs with 21 points in only 19 games. He’s carried that confidence over to the regular season, and currently leads the Flyers in assists with 12.
At the bargain price of $800,000 Leino’s next contract will likely go up to somewhere around the $2 million mark, and the Flyers seem likely to pay up.
“I’ve had some conversations with Ville’s agent (Bill Zito),” Holmgren said. “Obviously, he’s a guy we want to keep in the organization and we’ll do what we can. If he keeps getting a couple points a game it gets harder and harder. Maybe we’ll sit him out. I think Ville likes it here. He’s found a niche on our team, so hopefully we can get something done.”
Going into the 2011-2012 season, the Flyers have 18 players signed to a total of $57.5 million, leaving a meager $1.8 million in cap space remaining to fill out the roster, including Leino.
It’s rumored that a TV deal is on its way for the NHL, and the salary cap could go up between $3.5-$4.5 million. If this happens it would alleviate some of the cap stress for Holmgren.
For the sake of argument, let’s say the salary cap will be $63 million next season. Adding Leino at $2 million takes the Flyers to a total of $59.5. The figure includes the salary of Ian Laperriere, who is out on injured reserve with a traumatic head injury, and most likely career ending. The Flyers would like to place his salary on long-term injured reserve, but he has an over-35 contract, and will probably have to retire causing the Flyers to absorb the entire cap hit.
To fill out the roster, they’ll sign Andreas Nodl and Darroll Powe to around $1 million each. They’ll also give at least two players currently in Adirondack a chance to make the team, possibly Patrick Maroon and Eric Wellwood totaling approximately $1.1 million, bringing the team’s grand total to $62.6 million.
It’s doable if the salary cap increases to at least $63 million and Leino accepts no more than $2 million, otherwise, look for Philly to again shed a high priced contract like they did this past summer. Because of the depth at defense Kimmo Timonen’s $6.3 million salary may not be worth it for the soon to be 36-year-old blue-liner.
The Flyers are arguably the hottest team in the league right now winning nine of their last eleven games. They’ve scored 44 goals during that time and only allowed 20. One thing all of those games have in common is the Russian rookie in net, Sergei Bobrovsky. He’s tied for league lead in wins at 11 and ranked fifth in save percentage at .932.
Before the season, it was assumed Leighton would be the hands down starter, but after going down with a severe back injury, Bobrovsky has stolen the starting job with stellar play. Even the veteran, Brian Boucher, has been won over.
“Let’s call a spade a spade,” Boucher said. “‘Bob’ has been phenomenal. He really has been fantastic. I said it before the season, just watching him play, that he would be the starter pretty soon.”
Leighton is rehabbing from his back surgery, but he’s skating again, and the Flyers will need to make a decision soon. The recovering goaltender will get at least a short stint in Adirondack for conditioning before he needs to fight for his job, but it won’t be for the starting spot. In early December, he’ll have to prove to the organization that he belongs as Bobrovsky’s backup.
Leighton, 29, has signed through next season for $1.5 million. After Ray Emery went down last season and Boucher proved inconsistent, Laviolette again and again leaned towards Leighton as the go to guy all the way to the Stanley Cup finals including two poor performances in which he was pulled.
The veteran Boucher, 33, has been passed over by Laviolette, even sitting on the bench for this season’s opener against the Penguins in favor of Bobrovsky. He hasn’t started a game since October 25th, he’ll be a free agent this Spring, and his career is up in the air.
Having played 13 games already and never more than 35 in a season, Bobrovsky may not be ready for the rigors of the NHL season and playoffs. Leighton was the guy for the Flyers last season, and it’s likely they will choose him as the backup to Bobrovsky this season.
The only thing working in Boucher’s favor is salary, but look for the Flyers to waive Matt Walker upon his return from injury to free up some salary.
The Flyers haven’t had much trouble with the injury bug yet, but tough guy, Dan Carcillo, went down awkwardly against the Ottawa Senators Monday night. The report from Holmgren on Tuesday was, “Dan Carcillo has a sprained left knee and will be out approximately three weeks.”