I realize that none of us has the inside knowledge of the game, or the experience of an NHL general manager, but I have a couple questions that need to be answered.
What would you do if you knew there was a free agent forward, already deemed expendable by his club before the season concludes, who has won two Stanley Cups and will most likely be playing for his final contract?
Would you sit idly by and let 29 other teams get a crack at him while you stockpile bodies for depth just because of his salary? Or would you take the opportunity and run with it, dealing with the consequences later?
This offseason, the Flyers chose option A: jettisoning Simon Gagne, bringing in Nikolai Zherdev, Jody Shelley, Andrej Meszaros, Matt Walker and Sean O’Donnell while re-signing Dan Carcillo, Braydon Coburn and Michael Leighton – all of which left little breathing room with that ole devil called the cap hit.
Enter Bill Guerin, 39, and let go by the Penguins very publicly. He just happened to be on the correct side of the Delaware River that the Flyers hold training camp, visiting his in-laws one day last month and his agent just so happened to inquire about an open roster spot.
He wants to play. He CAN play – judging by the 21 goals and 45 points in 78 regular-season games last year. Nobody else wanted him. But all he’s going on is a tryout contract at this point.
Guerin is at the end of his career, but he certainly has something to contribute. Aside from veteran leadership on the forward lines that took a hit when Gagne was dealt to Tampa Bay, the Massachusetts native can be the key cog to the power-play puzzle that’s been missing ever since Mike Knuble left for Washington – the man who does the dirty work down low in front of the net.
All of that may be for naught, however. First, the price tag issue. Guerin made $2 million a year ago. The Flyers have less than a million of cap space to work with. Second, because of the cap issue, who will have to go? Dan Carcillo and Blair Betts have been the names mentioned on the majority of hit lists regarding Guerin, and defenseman Oskars Bartulis has been dangled as a waiver-wire action to facilitate any deal.
But the veteran minimum is $500,000 according to the Collective Bargaining Agreement and yes, professional pride for a player who knows he’s at the end of the line will permit more wiggle room when confronted with the possibility of giving the Flyers a hometown discount.
All of that may be for naught, however, because the Flyers organization is nothing if not steadfast when formulating a plan to fill their roster. They’ve gone to all the trouble of signing the players they did, so why muck things up and have to crunch more numbers when they’ve already gone through the delicate balancing act around the cap this Summer?
It happened two years ago when the club dangled the carrot in front of Jim Dowd and Bryan Berard in camp, only to pass on both. I think the Orange and Black paid dearly for that, particularly in the playoffs.
For Guerin, I’d imagine this tryout is kind of like trying to snag a ride someplace with a casual acquaintance, who initially agrees to hook him up, but then at the last minute has to back out because he suddenly remembered he has to take along four of his brothers and sisters to run errands.
You just expect the inevitable to happen once you ask, but still leave open the possibility that the favor will be granted.
Other than the cap issue – which will always be an issue to the Flyers franchise as long as hockey lifers without business sense are in charge of personnel and finance – it’s a mystery as to why long-time rival Guerin was allowed to languish in favor of a Russian retread (Zherdev), hired goon (Shelley), 38-year-old defenseman (O’Donnell) and run-of-the-mill warm body (Walker).
For the Flyers, I’d imagine Guerin’s presence is akin to a sugar-happy kid who’s just seen his favorite candy bar on sale, but only after spending most of his money gorging endlessly on gummi bears, Twizzlers and Peanut Chews and is ready to hurl even as he finds the one corner of his stomach that can accomodate one last treat.
You can do it, but is it worth the pain of the purge and the clean up of the mess?
I’d guess that, as it has been for the last five seasons of the salary-cap era, the heart and the eyes say yes, but the wallet says no. With Comcast holding the purse strings, the answer may already be known before the questions were written.
It shouldn’t be this difficult, but it always is. Still, what would you do if you were in charge?