Monday, February 20, 2012

A Plea for Paul Holmgren: Resist Nash

As I posted earlier today, the Flyers have a rich history of deadline shopping, often bringing in big names. Defensemen Nick Grossman and Pavel Kubina are the latest to join the team mid-season.

And yet, it appears the Flyers may not be done. Against all odds, rumors involving Columbus winger Rick Nash continue to build momentum. Trust me when I say the deal would be a huge mistake.

Some background: Nash is an elite forward, having scored 30 goals six times in the last seven seasons. The Blue Jackets are easily the worst team in the NHL. Flyers GM Paul Holmgren met with his Columbus counterpart Scott Howson on Saturday. Howson brought his top advisor to the meeting, and the Jackets have apparently had scouts at each of the Flyers' last two games.

I'm not one to dispute Nash's talent. And a Nash/Claude Giroux pairing would instantly be one of the most electric in the league. And yet here I am, with a desperate plea:

Don't do the Nash deal.

It's tempting to be suckered in by the prospect of a top scoring talent. But a Nash trade wouldn't get the Flyers any closer to the Stanley Cup, and it would significantly compromise the team's depth and flexibility moving forward.

Let's start with everyone's favorite topic: Numbers! After the Grossman and Kubina deals, the Flyers are right up against the cap. For all intents and purposes, they have no significant cap room.

Nash carries a hefty $7.8 million annual cap hit on a contract that runs through the 2017-18 season, so the Flyers would need not only to deal good enough players to acquire Nash, they'd also have to unload nearly $8 million in contracts.

Untouchables (either because the Flyers wouldn't trade them or the Blue Jackets wouldn't be interested) probably include Claude Giroux, Jaromir Jagr, Danny Briere, Chris Pronger, Kimmo Timonen, Matt Carle, Jakub Voracek, and, very unfortunately, Ilya Bryzgalov. I'm taking age into consideration here, as well as remaining contract length, assuming that the Jackets would want young, talented players that they can control long-term as part of a rebuilding effort.

****Sidebar: If they Flyers ever manage to deal Bryzgalov for a player of consequence, it's safe to assume that Holmgren has deeply incriminating photos of the opposing team's general manager.

It's also unlikely that the Jackets would be interested in Braydon Coburn or Andrej Meszaros, since they have significant money tied up in the defensive end already and a severe dearth of forwards.

That leaves the following players: Scott Hartnell, Sean Couturier, Matt Read, Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn, James van Riemsdyk and Sergei Bobrovsky.

Hartnell is an interesting case. He's enjoying a career year and costs $4.8 million against the cap. He's only under contract through next season, but if any deal is going to be done, he may need to be included for salary cap purposes. Nash, of course, would instantly replace Hartnell on the top line. A fan favorite, it would be tough to see Hartnell leave town, but palatable given the return.

It's almost certain that Columbus would want either Couturier or Schenn in return, given their status as some of the top young players in the entire NHL. The Flyers would be absolute fools to deal either one. My unhealthy obsession with Couturier is coming into play here, but when you've got forwards like that who will remain under team control for the next four-plus years, you hang onto them. Each has flashed immense ability thus far, and it would be a huge mistake to give up on either.

I'm probably a bigger James van Riemsdyk fan than most, but he and his cap number could be dealt. Unfortunately, this year, that number is only around $1.6 million. Sergei Bobrovsky and Wayne Simmonds check in at similar numbers. Matt Read is earning just $900,000.

So, in all likelihood, it's going to cost Hartnell and Couturier or Schenn ($3.1 million), as well as probably a third piece, likely JVR, to get this deal done. Things get more complicated if the Jackets look to unload their underachieving goaltender, Steve Mason, and his $2.9 million cap number.

Maybe you look at that and say, hey, that's not so bad. Unfortunately, it doesn't fix what ails the Flyers.

Remember, this is a team with no goaltending whatsoever. They also can't count on Chris Pronger coming back, and will have three of their six starting defensemen (Grossman, Kubina, and Carle) leaving once the season ends. Eric Gustafsson and Marc-Andre Bourdon can probably fill two of those holes, but Kimmo Timonen's deal expires after next season.

By all accounts, this team's primary concern within 18 months is going to be keeping the puck out of its own net. Bringing in Nash and his enormous contract would limit the Flyers' ability to make moves to improve the defensive side of the puck. On the other hand, watching Schenn and Couturier blossom as extremely cheap but effective forwards will only improve the offense in the future.

Maybe I'm being too much of a downer. Maybe the allure of a bona fide superstar like Nash is worth the hefty price the Flyers would have to pay. But this kind of deal screams "all in" to me, when Holmgren's offseason moves all seemed geared toward the future.

Even with Nash, this team isn't properly constructed to win a Stanley Cup--not with Bryz between the pipes and holes along the blue line. There's no sense in making a blockbuster deal now and sacrificing cap flexibility and future top-flight players like Couturier and Schenn.


  1. By all accounts the deal would be something like Schenn/Courtier + JVR + Bob. That's too big a pill to swallow. I think we should do what ( I hate to say this) the Rangers did. Stock pile your young talent, let it grow and see what you have, then take a run at a free agent ( a la Brad Richards) in the offseason when it is clearer what you need.

  2. I think I'd be in favor of a Schenn + JVR + Hartnell for Nash deal... the dude is a stone cold killer. That being said, I'd probably just give JVR to the Blue Jackets for free.

  3. Even then, I'm not sure that would be enough money off the books. This year, it would only be around $5 million. But either way, you're right, I think it would be a mistake. As tempting as it is to try to win right now, this is a team with a ton of young talent that can afford to let it coalesce and add pieces as necessary. The focus should be medium-term, and it should be on the defensive side of the ice.

  4. Schenn/JVR/Hartnell would get it done salary-wise. I'm just loathe to deal Schenn. I know Nash is only 27 and is basically in his prime, but Schenn looks like a legit #1 center for years to come, and he's younger and less than half the price of Nash. This team is going to need payroll flexibility to fix the defense at some point soon.

  5. You're right, he actually does have a no-trade clause (not sure if it's a full no-movement clause). Assuming he'd never approve a move to Columbus, figure it would take Schenn, JVR, and Bob to make the salaries work, or something along those lines. That's more than I'm willing to give up.