There is a lot going on right now in the Philadelphia sports world. The Phillies are attracting a lot of attention, and rightfully so, after finishing up one of their worst homestands in team history. The Eagles recently finished up OTAs and the local media is still finding more ways to dissect McNabb's new contract. And the Sixers are preparing for the NBA draft this week and trying to launch a new slogan for the coming season.
Even though most media outlets in the city will not cover it, the NHL draft also takes place this week, Friday night in Montreal. The Flyers currently own the 21st pick in the first round, but in hockey circles right now, the Flyers are being mentioned more for trade rumors than who they will select with the pick. Scouts are saying that the current draft class is top heavy, meaning that past the 10th to 15th pick, it could potentially be hit or miss with a future impact player. The Flyers currently have no picks in rounds 2 or 4 and GM Paul Holmgren has indicated he may try to acquire a second round pick. I would not be surprised if the Flyers traded out of the first round in order to secure more picks. We will have to see what they decide come Friday.
Now onto the exciting trade rumors swirling about. The Flyers are one of a handful of teams believed to be trying to acquire the negotiating rights to Florida Panthers defenseman Jay Bouwmeester. He is set to become an unrestricted free agent July 1 and trading for his right would give that team exclusive negotiating until July 1. It is no secret the Flyers want a top tier d-man to complement current defensemen Kimmo Timmonen and Braydon Coburn. Bouwmeester, or J-Bo as he is referred, would be the perfect fit. He is 6'4 and only 26 years old. He has scored 15 goals the past two seasons for the Panthers and has potential to put up even more when surrounded by a more talented group of teammates.
I have heard differing numbers on what J-Bo's asking price may be. Personally I think he will command anywhere from 6.5-7.5 million dollars per season. Right now the Flyers have 6 million under the current cap, and they still have other needs to fill. The Flyers are able to trade for his rights and sign him now, even though it could put them over the salary cap. The Flyers can be a certain number over the cap in the offseason, but must be back under by October.
For all this to work, the Flyers would have to clear significant cap space. Three names being tossed about that the Flyers could move are Danny Briere, Simon Gagne or Joffrey Lupul. I would be shocked if Briere went anywhere. Not only is he making significant money, he has a very restrictive no movement clause. I just do not see him waiving that. Gagne is an interesting case. Gagne is set to make 5.25 million through the 2010-11 season. He also has a no trade clause but his is less restrictive than Briere's leading to some speculation that he could be dealt to clear salary. Personally I believe Joffrey Lupul will be the one moved if cap space needs to be cleared. A new contract for Lupul kicks in this season paying him 4.25 million and he has no restrictions on trades like Briere and Gagne.
Trading Lupul would clear space but not enough to get where the Flyers want to be for the upcoming season. I would suspect either Matt Carle or Randy Jones would also have to be dealt in order to make room for J-Bo. Jones is making 2.75 million and Carle is making slightly more than 3.4 million. I would like to see Jones dealt, but the way Holmgren talks about him, and head coach John Stevens coaching him in the minors and now with the Flyers, I do not see the Flyers dealing him. I do not think Jones is a bad d-man, but making 2.75 million to be a number 5 or 6 d-man is just too much. Carle does make more, but also is a better d-man and can be a solid 3 or 4. I think Carle is more likely to go along with Lupul. That would leave the Flyers with, in my opinion, one of the best defensive corps as a whole in the NHL: Bouwmeester, Timmonen, Coburn, Ryan Parent, Jones, and most like young Luca Sbisa. These six d-men would be very solid in front of newly acquired goalie Ray Emery.
Speaking of goaltending, and Emery (I like the signing a lot), the Flyers still need to sign a backup. Antero Niittymaki is a UFA and there has not been much talk as to if the Flyers will re-sign him to back up Emery. There has been more talk about the possibility of bringing back former Flyer Robert Esche from Russia where he spent the past year playing really well in the Continetal Hockey League. Esche still has a year left on his KHL contract and their GM was quoted saying he would let Esche out of his contract if he can find a suitable replacement. So Esche is still up in the air, but a duo of "Sugar Ray" Emery and "Silent Bob" Esche would create many stories the media will feast on all season.
We are less than 4 days away from this year's draft. Wherever J-Bo is dealt, it appears that it will happen some time before the draft ends. Only time will tell if he will be a Flyer. I for one am hoping he is.