The sound is very quiet, but it is there. As he pulls his purple and orange jersey over his head, surely Denis Gauthier curses the salary cap and Gary Bettman while his face is shrouded in the fabric of the Phantom. How could he not? The 31 year old Gauthier, a veteran of 489 NHL games under his belt, is riding the buses of the AHL because his $2.1M contract didn’t fit nicely into the Flyers financial picture.
The sad part is, the Flyers have no choice other than to let him rot with the Phantoms. They cannot call him up because he would have to go through waivers, whereby a team could pluck him from the Flyers at 50% off. The other 50% would be applied to the Flyers cap, not just this year, but for the full duration of his contract which wouldn’t expire until 2009.
For the Flyers, this is not a vindictive move - they had no choice following their summer spending spree. Opening up the checkbook for guys like Briere, Timonen, Hartnell, and Smith meant that someone had to go, and that someone would be a player with a big price tag attached to them. That someone was the Goat.
It is a problem the Flyers will face again, perhaps as soon as the summer of 2008 when they will be juggling their finances again trying to fit some young and very talented restricted free agents (RFA’s) under the cap.
Randy Jones (currently making $525k), Jeff Carter ($942k), Alexandre Picard ($500k), Stefan Ruzicka ($525k), and RJ Umberger ($1.05M) are all up for new contracts.
The biggest RFA, however, is Mike Richards who is currently making $942k. His agent Pat Morris is already on record as saying that Mike is worth far more than Ryan Getzlaf of the Ducks, who recently signed a 5-year $26.6M contract - or just over $5.3M per year.
And who can argue with him?
At the quarter mark of the season the 22 year old, Richards is among the NHL elite in scoring despite routinely playing against other teams top forwards. He also has that certain something that makes a good player a legendary player. Something that Eric Lindros, despite his immense talent, didn’t have - which is likely the reason 88’s name is not on that big silver Cup.
Surely, this breakout year for Richards wasn’t part of the Flyers plans. While they may have expected it at some point, I don’t think Holmgren considered having to dole out $5M+ for Mike while he was gleefully writing checks to the big 3 free agents over the summer.
Which leads us back to Denis Gauthier, more affectionately known as “the Goat”.
Assuming Richards gets his payday, and deservedly so, which veteran with a big price tag finds himself in purple and orange next season? Who gets “Goat”ed? Or what about the following year, in 2010 when Lupul, Upshall, Eager, Kukkonen, and Biron are looking for new deals? What happens to certain blue-chippers such as Downie, Nodl, vanRiemsdyk, and Parent?
Clearly, it’s a big reason the NHLPA fought tooth and nail during the lockout to avoid the salary cap. A veteran player certainly doesn’t want to be put out to pasture and left to rot in the AHL simply because his contract is too large.
For the Flyers, with $17M of cap space being occupied by three players: Briere, Timonen, and Hartnell until 2013 (Briere extends to 2015), the writing for the big ticket players wearing the orange and black is already on the wall. Especially with the glut of talent they currently have in the pipeline.
In my opinion, it was financially foolish for the Flyers to sign more than one of those big ticket free agents this past summer. Seven years for Daniel Briere at a cap hit of $6.5M per year is outrageous - even moreso when you consider he had cleared waivers in Phoneix prior to the lockout.
Something tells me that in 4-5 years the Flyers will be looking to lock up guys like Carter, Coburn, Richards, Downie, and Parent to long term big dollar contracts. Should this be the case, the Flyers front office will scour the roster looking to “Goat” some big ticket players on the downside of their career.
Which brings us to the question: How will Briere and Timonen will look in purple and orange?