To amnesty, or not to amnesty: and who, is the question

Last week, Larry Brooks reported that the NHL and NHLPA were discussing the possibility of allowing an amnesty clause. For those that may be unaware, an amnesty clause would allow an NHL team from buying out a player without any salary cap repercussion; effectively eliminating a bad contract.

It’s been discussed in many hockey circles for some time; in fact it was something we asked in an older iteration of our Five Questions series. However, I don’t intend to rehash the argument for or against the amnesty clause. For my purposes, let’s speculate what might make sense for the Flyers to do if the amnesty clause were to become a real option.

In my mind, there are three options for the Flyers if they were to have an amnesty clause at their disposal: Danny Briere, Chris Pronger, and Ilya Brzgalov. I guess someone could attempt to make a case for our other two long-term contracts, Scott Hartnell and Wayne Simmonds, but considering their age, production, and cap hit, I don’t consider them to be realistic options.

With many of the proposed CBA changes, the Flyers could very well have some legitimate salary cap concerns; so ridding themselves of exorbitant contracts, both in term and cap hit, would behoove them.

Danny Briere

Image Courtesy of Associated Press

Here we have a 35-year-old player. Briere finished the season with 49 points in 70 games in a down season. The question is, was it “just” a down season, or is age catching up with Briere? His exceptionally low shooting percentage of 9.2% on the season does suggest some bad luck, but even the years before — with a more realistic shooting percentage — make the cap hit hard to justify.

Many people point to Briere’s playoff production as a reason to keep him, but is he really as “clutch” as many believe? In our Dazzlers and Duds tournament from this summer, our readers voted on their favorite and least favorite Flyers of the past decade. Geoff Detweiler of Broad Street Hockey made the case against Briere, and offered this excerpt below:

He hasn’t played a full season since the lockout, he hasn’t touched a point per game since coming to Philadelphia and he hasn’t scored even 70 points since his first year in orange and black.

With this declining offense, Briere already gets outscored while he’s on the ice. He may be clutch in the playoffs, but he has been outscored at 26-15 while at 5-on-5 in the past two playoffs and 55-48 over his career as a Flyer.

The Flyers are going to have to shed some payroll somehow, and 35-year-olds with $6.5 million cap hits are always a good place to start.

Image courtesy of Hockey Chump

Chris Pronger

This is a tough one because there is so much more to consider and so much that is unknown. As we all know, Chris Pronger is currently battling severe post-concussion syndrome and the chances of him ever returning are slim. So what becomes of him?The CBA provides so much uncertainty in the case of Pronger. Will 35+ contracts remain? Will Long-Term Injured Reserve (LTIR) go untouched?

The, now expired, CBA classified Pronger as a 35+ contract, effectively meaning he could not retire without damning the Flyers cap situation for the remainder of his contract. The current solution is to place Pronger on LTIR to help alleviate some of the cap burden and attempt to replace his salary. However, placing someone on LTIR does not simply make someone’s cap hit vanish. It’s a common misconception, and there are some negative ramifications to doing so. However, it’s the best option and something that would have to be exercised in the case of Pronger.

If 35+ contracts are eliminated, perhaps Pronger decides to retire (hopefully insurance would cover the money) and the Flyers are not stuck with his cap hit. If LTIR remains the same, the Flyers may simply decide to go that route. However, if LTIR is not an option you’ve got to consider the amnesty clause.

Chris Pronger has five years remaining on his contract, taking him to age 42, at a cap hit of $4.921 million. All of this for a player that will probably never play again. The only thing worse than a player not playing as well as cap hit may indicate he should, is a player that isn’t playing at all.

Ilya Bryzgalov

Thanks to the Calgary Herald

It’s hard to give up on a player one year into a nine year contract, but it’s a real possibility should the amnesty clause be granted. In his first season as a Flyer, Bryzgalov had quite the roller coaster season, ultimately finishing with a very pedestrian .909 save percentage and a 2.48 goals against average.

At age 32, with 8 years left on his contract at a cap hit of $5.667 million, it’s a worrisome contract to say the least; and he hasn’t exactly been lighting it up in the KHL during this lockout.

The biggest obstacle in using the amnesty clause on Bryz is simply who would take over in net? I doubt anybody wants to give the reigns to Michael Leighton. Having recently traded Sergei Bobrovsky and the goaltending depth in the system–Niko Hovinen, Cal Heeter, and Anthony Stolarz– being too far from the NHL, there is no in-house option.

If there appears to be a reasonable goaltending option on the market, Bryzgalov becomes a real possibility to be amnestied. Unfortunately there is no free agent goaltender worthy of a starting job that is currently available. However, you never know who may hit the market with the implementation of the amnesty clause.

If the Flyers can make the cap work for one season — which is a real possibility given that the NHL has said teams will not be penalized for spending to the $70.2 million cap that was set for this season — it may make more sense to ride out the season with Bryzgalov and use the clause on him next offseason. (You could make the same case for Briere as well.)

This would give the Flyers the opportunity to shop for a goaltender on the free agent market, and not leave them without a starting goaltender for the 2012-2013 season (I’m still saying its going to happen!). Additionally, there is always the chance that Bryzgalov pulls things together and starts playing like he did in Phoenix. Even then, however, there is still very little appealing about a 32 year old goaltender with eight years remaining on his contract.

If and when the amnesty clause becomes a reality it will surely cause some waves around the league, and the Flyers would be no exception.