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Top Shelf: Flyers try to spend their way out of downturn

4:28 PM, Jul 3, 2013   |    comments
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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - There is absolutely nothing wrong with signing Vincent Lecavalier to a five-year, $22.5 million contract. In fact, the reported deal the former Tampa Bay Lightning star signed with the Philadelphia Flyers could be accurately described as cap friendly.

Still, considering this is the Flyers we are talking about, it is completely fair for the rest of the NHL to shake their heads and chuckle at Philadelphia for once again spending first and asking questions later.

Philadelphia already used both of its compliance buyouts last week, wiping away the sizeable cap hits of goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov and forward Danny Briere. However, before using those buyouts, the Flyers had already signed 35- year-old defenseman Mark Streit to a four-year, $21 million deal, a contract that wasn't made official until Philly parted ways with Bryzgalov and Briere.

Now, with the 33-year-old Lecavalier joining the fray thanks to another multi- year deal, it's obvious the Flyers weren't using their buyouts to get their fiscal house in order. With owner Ed Snider and his deep pockets ready to sign any check that comes across his desk, Philadelphia sees no need to play it safe. The club somehow still believes it is one high-profile signing away from ending its lengthy Stanley Cup drought, no matter how far-fetched those dreams actually are at the moment.

Although he comes with a palatable cap hit of $4.5 million a season and fills a need at center for the Flyers, Lecavalier does not come close to making Philadelphia, which failed to qualify for the postseason in 2013, a legitimate Cup contender next season. Streit also adds a power-play quarterback to a team that didn't have a suitable option in that role, but, like Lecavalier, he will be closing in on 40 years of age by the time this deal is finished.

Oh yes, both guys have battled injuries in recent years and it's unlikely those issues will go away as they head into the twilight of their hockey careers.

More and more it seems like Philadelphia's surprising run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2010 has warped Snider and general manager Paul Holmgren's perception of how close the club is to landing that elusive third championship. After bowing out in the second round to Boston in the spring of 2011, the front office panicked and traded away former franchise cornerstones Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, who, of course, went on to win it all as teammates for Los Angeles in 2012.

An injection of youth in 2011-12 re-energized the Flyers, but Snider and Holmgren have shown little interest in building a winner through the draft. After all, that's a slow process which often doesn't work out and can wind up alienating the fan base.

In fact, the recent signings of Lecavalier and Streit could end up derailing any attempt at a serious rebuilding project. In light of this summer's spending spree, young pieces like Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier or Matt Read could be made expendable when it's time for their potentially big paydays.

In a potential nightmarish scenario, the lack of restraint could prevent the Flyers from committing to star center and captain Claude Giroux over the long term, but that's unlikely. The club will find a way to make Giroux fit into its future plans, even if it means losing every single one of the youngsters mentioned above.

The flip side to rebuilding slowly, however, is pacifying the rabid masses with high-priced options like Lecavalier and Streit. Those free-agent signings may not make a significant difference in the standings in 2013-14, but they'll generate excitement in the summer months. Maybe that's what the Flyers are really after, staying relevant and having people talk about them.

Of course, the Flyers are never done spending and trading, so maybe there is a larger plan in place here. One would hope the big picture saves room for another goaltender because there are many questions about Steve Mason -- No. 1 on Philly's depth chart after the buyout of Bryzgalov -- and his ability to be a go-to guy in the crease.

Even if they add a better option in net, it feels like the Flyers are trying to use free agency as a short-cut to success, and that's not a formula that works very often in the NHL.

Philadelphia has shown it can scout and draft players who can help on offense, but identifying talent on the blue line and in goal has proven much more difficult. As a result, the Flyers often have been forced to pay a premium to acquire defensemen and goaltenders on the open market.

That trend should make the Flyers wary about spending so freely on offensive- minded players who are on the downside of their careers, but that obviously wasn't the case with Lecavalier or Streit.

There will be plenty of people in Philadelphia who have faith in the Flyers being on the right track, but those folks can't be paying attention to the recent history of this franchise.

The Sports Network

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