Philadelphia Flyers Offseason: Aggressiveness, Restraint, or Both?

Photo by Scott Levy/NHLI via Getty Images

Photo by Scott Levy/NHLI via Getty Images

By Charlie O’Connor (@THG_Charlie)

So far during the offseason, the Philadelphia Flyers have spent $43.5 million on new contracts and $26.33 million on compliance buyouts for a grand total of $59.88 million dollars, all before the official start of the free agency period.

At first glance, it would seem to be just another ultra-aggressive, shoot-from-the-hip offseason from general manager Paul Holmgren and Comcast Spectacor chairman Ed Snider. To be sure, the franchise clearly is not being run on any sort of internal budget, a product of Snider’s intense desire to finally bring another Stanley Cup to the city of Philadelphia.

Yet behind the aggressive moves and obscene amounts of money, another attribute not often seen from Holmgren and the Flyers organization has emerged.

Restraint.

Not a word identified with the Philadelphia organization, restraint is exactly what Holmgren has shown with regards to his youthful core. Despite the buyouts of Ilya Bryzgalov and Daniel Briere, the early signing of Mark Streit and today’s surprise acquisition of Vincent Lecavalier, the core of the roster remains intact.

Exiting their first playoff-less season since 2006-07, it was obvious the summer would bring major adjustments to the roster. First and foremost, the defense would need to be addressed, as the lack of mobile, decisive puck movers on the back end had hamstrung Philadelphia at even strength during the year. Considering the weak free agency pool for defensemen, many observers assumed that only by trading a valuable young forward could the Flyers hope to solve their defensive issues.

Instead, Philadelphia took the short-term approach. Acknowledging that no free agent defenseman fit the bill as both young and offensively gifted, Holmgren opted for a quick fix, signing the 35-year old Mark Streit to a four year, $21 million contract. A year too long and a bit too expensive, perhaps, but it allowed Philadelphia to avoid the trade market. That market, which the Flyers had explored for months, simply did not include a fair offer for one of Philadelphia’s top young forwards that brought back equivalent value.

As a result, Holmgren avoided the trade market entirely, and at least temporarily solved the problem without relinquishing any assets aside from cap space.

The Flyers could certainly run into issues on the back end of Streit’s contract when his play will likely slip, but for now, Streit is the puck moving defenseman that Philadelphia needs to properly execute coach Peter Laviolette’s preferred system.

Philadelphia also wished to improve their forwards. After jettisoning Daniel Briere after two poor, injury-ravaged seasons, the Flyers had a void in their top-six forward corps. Briere’s game had slipped so much that he was dragging down the second line that he had been pegged to anchor, and Holmgren wanted to replace his declining production with a younger, cheaper player.

The name Bobby Ryan was brought up briefly before the draft. The Flyers have long coveted Ryan’s skillset, and the possibility of a trade was explored.

But yet again, the price proved too rich for Holmgren’s blood. Other trade possibilities for top-six forwards were likely explored leading up to and during the draft, but the Flyers repeatedly refused to pull the trigger.

Hesitant to overpay in terms of assets, Holmgren again jumped back into free agency, this time pitching newly-bought out free agent Vincent Lecavalier on the City of Brotherly Love.

Today, Lecavalier made his decision, inking a very reasonable five year, $22.5 million contract with Philadelphia to serve as second line center behind star Claude Giroux.

Of course, the possibility of a blockbuster Flyers trade did not end with the signing of Lecavalier. Trade talks will likely continue throughout the offseason, and one or more of Couturier, Schenn, Read, or Laughton could still be moved. Even fellow under-25 building blocks Jakub Voracek and Wayne Simmonds are not completely safe.

So far, however, instead of consummating a panic trade and decimating his young core in a desperate attempt to win now, Holmgren is making his additions without using his biggest chips.

In many ways, by utilizing the free agent market almost exclusively, the general manager is protecting his young team while still appeasing the win-now desires of Snider and the rest of the organization. Holmgren’s aggressiveness in free agency has been the direct result of his caution in the trade market.

For most teams, spending almost $60 million dollars in two weeks on four players would be the height of impulsive craziness.

But for Philadelphia, doing so without tearing apart the young core that gives the Flyers their best chance of eventually hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup yet again? It counts as the best kind of restraint.

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