Point/Counterpoint: To match or not to match?

Welcome to another edition of Point/Counterpoint, where a pair of Flyers Faithful scribes square off, debating an issue with their own unique style and flair.

This week, Nick D and Bob H “discuss” whether or not the Flyers should sign their big name future restricted free agents.

At the end of the 2013-14 season, the Philadelphia Flyers have a couple big restricted free agents due for new deals. Those RFAs are Sean Couturier, Claude Giroux, and Brayden Schenn. Assuming that the rules of the current CBA change, but still allow for offer sheets, and that the salary cap floors and ceilings will both come down a bit before going back up, the summer of 2014 could be a very interesting year and extremely costly.

Let’s say that all three of these forwards receive offer sheets that year, would Paul Holmgren pony up the dough and match?

Point, by Nick: The Philadelphia Flyers routinely spend to the cap ceiling. With that in mind, if the ceiling comes down at all, they could be in quite a predicament that year. Right now, they’re a young team with a lot of potential, but they don’t have too much in the way of forward prospects beyond newly inked Scott Laughton, which leaves them incredibly vulnerable if and when injuries occur. If all three of Couturier, Giroux, and Schenn are given offer sheets, there’s no way they could match all three.

You’d have to think that they’d let one or even two of them walk, which would actually be the better decision especially if they let Giroux walk. If Giroux were to receive an offer sheet, it would easily be a top tier one that would net the Flyers four first-round picks. Rather than trading his rights, or trading the player, wouldn’t it make sense to let Giroux walk, take the first round picks and let Couturier, Schenn and Laughton take up the reins in two years? Schenn is a top-five draft choice and Couturier is a top-10 pick.

Between the two of them, they’ve shown flashes of great scoring and play-making ability, as well as shutdown defense. Laughton is supposed to be in the realm of a Mike Richards type player, or at worst a John Madden-type center, so you would have to think that they easily have their third line checking center either way. The Flyers are set up for years of success down the middle, even if their top center is allowed to walk, but match both Schenn’s and Couturier’s offer sheets which would undoubtedly be less lucrative and for fewer years.

Counterpoint, by Bob: Ahem…as long as Ed Snider walks this Earth and has all his marbles and can influence the decision making of the Flyers front office as well as his owner brethren thanks to speed dial, the Philadelphia Flyers will be in a position to succeed at all costs. So, the very idea of the franchise letting Giroux — their best player and marquee face — walk away is totally, as Crazy Eddie once put it,  innnn-saaaaane.

You may have a point, with the impending labor uncertainty, that the cap ceiling may go down. But if a workable compromise isn’t forthcoming, why wouldn’t the ceiling be raised every year, based on revenue, to make sure that the haves won’t be handcuffed at the expense of the have-nots? Remember, someone’s legacy is at stake, labor peace be damned!

Barring any further radical monkeying with the Collective Bargaining Agreement, there is absolutely a way that all three principals are retained despite their RFA status: dealing away or unsigning almost every other asset to ease any potential problems. Bye-bye Kimmo. Rush away Ruslan. Farväl, Andreas, Matt, “read” it and weep. You forgot to mention Wayne Simmonds, but hey, thanks for the memories, if an offer comes your way we won’t match. Scottie, take your hair and fall down somewhere else, perhaps to Salavat Ufa, to commemorate your unrestricted status. Jody, find another locker room to stalk. Bruno, go haunt Sacha Baron Cohen.

My point is, no matter what course the Flyers may take after next season, why not ensure the future by showing faith in just those three main guys are build everything else around it? And don’t you EVER try to equate Our Ginger with Chris Gratton, even for comparison’s sake…

Nick: With an additional first-round pick in each of the following four seasons, the Flyers could make some nice trades either for depth players, or move up in a deeper year to get a top prospect. With all those extra picks, they could even acquire top tier talent at deadlines for help and sign them.

They would have room without Giroux’s likely maximum length/money deal and would also be in a better position to land a guy like Anaheim Ducks right wing Bobby Ryan, without worrying so much about the implications of trading a first round draft pick. More draft picks gives Philadelphia the ability to make moves that are necessary and lets them deal from a position of strength, given that they wouldn’t have to fret over losing one of their first round selections.

Bob: Draft, schmaft. Trade, schmade. At the first sign of the possibility to gain an advantage over their Atlantic and Eastern Conference foes, all that good early-round drafting and those prospects will be headed for points known (Nashville, Columbus, LA, Phoenix), and we’ll be stuck every year evaluating Holmgren at an even plus-minus because his smart and dumb dealings will have the Flyers back at their weird equilibrium.

At some point, the constant desire to trade in and up every, oh, say…three years has got to stop. Retaining Giroux, et al, especially if their performances have improved and their leadership skills have blossomed, will go a long way towards squashing criticism in that vein.

Just think of the public relations bonanza that will occur if the Flyers, just once, get a grip on the league’s finance structure and don’t “Umbergerize” either one of the three in question. Holmgren will be regarded in the same way David Poile will be for his handling of Weber-gate, for taking a stand and retaining a franchise player in spite of skyrocketing market value — and that’s far more valuable than cap management or points or wins and losses.

And as for Mr. Ryan/Stevenson, I wrote something not so long ago at the other end of the hockey dial expressing quite clearly my feelings on the matter.

Nick: Armed with a new extension, head coach Peter Laviolette figures to be with this team another three years. In his 2 1/2 seasons as the Flyers’ bench boss, he has overseen the development of young players such as Giroux, Couturier, Schenn, and Read. All rookies, all of whom met or exceeded their expectations, as long as they were healthy. This past year, the Flyers had rookies up and down and in and out of the lineup. All of them played better than expected or at least held their own. A lot of credit must be given to the head coach for allowing young players to be thrown into positions and succeed on a nightly basis.

The team may not have had the strongest defensive numbers, but they scored a lot of goals, won a lot of games, and really were a team that showed great resolve in completing a good amount of comeback wins. To think that Laviolette can’t get the best out of his young players is downright silly at this point because his track record proves otherwise.

Bob: You see a multi-year extension for a head coach, I see a very generous parting gift for a man who won’t be in Philadelphia to see out the full terms, being paid his remainder while drawing a salary doing guest spots on TSN.

All coaches have a limited shelf life, and Lavy has passed the halfway point already on most NHL tenures. That’s not to say he wouldn’t continue to positively impact the kids until he’s run out of town, or that another interim/full term head coach wouldn’t, but I’d gamble more on the performance of the player rather than the instruction of the man behind the bench — lest we forget how quickly Ken Hitchcock went from savior for a veteran-laden squad trying for one last shot at glory to being totally incompatible with a roster that grew ever younger.

Besides, Laviolette isn’t calling the shots. He can lead the horses to water but can’t make them deck Sidney Crosby and then score the first goal 32 seconds into the first shift of a series-clinching home playoff game against a bitter rival. He can’t teach the tenacity of Schenn battling back from a concussion. He can’t tell Couturier where to be on the ice to pick up all of the scores in his first career hat trick.

If the intrinsic value of each of the Three Amigos won’t be apparent as reason enough to do whatever is in Holmgren’s power to keep them, well, what IS Flyers hockey anyway?