Fixing the Flyers, Step Two: Amnesty Briere, Keep Bryzgalov (For Now)

Fixing the Flyers, Step Two: Amnesty Briere, Keep Bryzgalov (For Now)

Beyond missing the playoffs and having some obvious needs to
fill, the Flyers have a problem. The salary cap is set to decrease from $70.2
million to $64.3 once the new league year begins, and according to one
projection, as of today they would be over the threshold by about $3 mil.

It should be noted that this is only an estimate. Capgeek’s
current numbers
are showing some two-way contracts for young players who
finished this season in Philly, but may or in some cases are likely to be back
with Adirondack come October. There will also be some additional relief once Chris
Pronger (and just a guess, but perhaps Max Talbot as well) is placed on
long-term injured reserve, although that will be minimal.

Of course Erik Gustafsson and Oliver Lauridsen are both
restricted free agents who will re-sign, both of whom have earned the
opportunity to compete for a spot on the club next season if one is not already assured. The team may also be
interested in bringing back Simon Gagne at a reduced figure, as well as one or
two other unrestricted free agents – Ruslan Fedotenko, Adam Hall, or Kent
Huskins possibly?

The main point is the Flyers are already up against next year’s cap. That’s where compliance buyouts come in.

To the uninitiated, the buyouts – commonly referred to
as amnesty – were put in place with the new collective bargaining agreement to
assist teams in getting below the reduced cap. Sarah Baicker shares the details,
but in brief NHL teams have a total of two buyouts to be used over the next two
offseasons, and those players will no longer be counted toward the payroll.

Due to the nature of their finances, the Flyers basically must use one this offseason, and in my
opinion, it’s a no-brainer.

Victim No. 1

While Danny Briere is great in the locker room, great during
the playoffs, and seemingly a great guy, the organization has to move on this
summer. His $6.5 million cap hit is easily the largest on the team, and the
production nowhere near matches that any longer. One way or another, his departure is very much expected at this stage.

Briere was a complete non-factor this season, scoring six
goals and 10 assists with a -13 in 34 games. His 6.9 shot percentage was less
than half its career mark (14.4). Yes, he battled a wrist injury at the
beginning of the year and later missed time with a concussion, but the writing
was on the wall already last season when Briere posted 49 points in 70 games
with a 9.2 shot percentage, among the lowest totals in his career.

Fan favorite or not, Briere will turn 36 before next season
begins, so even if he rebounds somewhat the expectation is his best days are behind him.
It makes sense from a business standpoint as well – the team still has to pay
two-thirds of an amnestied player’s contract, but Briere only has two years
left on his deal anyway, so it’s not an excessive amount of money the
organization would be “throwing away” so to speak.

The Flyers could also attempt to trade Briere if he agreed, perhaps to a team that could use his salary to boost their payroll above the floor and could use some veteran leadership, or one searching for the final piece. Either way, the fact is his $6.5 million would give Philly's front
office some breathing room this summer, even a little money to play with, while based on what he’s done over the past
two seasons and in 2013 in particular they wouldn’t lose too much production on
the ice. It’s a little sad, but it’s Briere’s time.

Not so fast…

On the other hand, while using a buyout on
Ilya Bryzgalov merits consideration, I would hold off on that for another year at least. Bryz’s
$5.67 million cap hit by itself is not outlandish – that currently ranks ninth
among NHL goaltenders for the upcoming 2013-14 season – not to mention getting
rid of him puts the Flyers right back in the same bind the franchise has been
in seemingly forever.

Yes, Bryzgalov’s numbers were abysmal this year. He managed
to post a .900 save percentage to go with an ugly 2.79 goals against average,
the latter being among the worst in the league. Yet simply looking at statistics
doesn’t tell the whole story. For much of the season, defensive breakdowns plus
ill-timed turnovers left Bryz hanging out to dry, often numerous times per
game. And while he’s not alone in being overworked this season, and some
goalies handled it better than others, overusage couldn’t have helped.

The debate basically hinges on whether or not he is a good netminder,
and while many Flyers fans think no, it’s not necessarily a view shared around
hockey. He’s previously been named an All Star and has finished as runner-up for the
Vezina Trophy. It was even reported recently that Bryz will be Russia’s number
one goalie in the World Championships, ahead of… Sergei Bobrovsky.

It’s not about whether he can play or not – he can, at least
in the right situation. The real issue is contractual. While Bryzgalov’s salary
is not out of line with what veteran starting goaltenders are paid around the
league, the fact that his contract lasts until he turns 40 is a bit unsettling,
especially given how things have gone so far.

Of course, that’s another reason why the organization might
want to wait. While the contract comes off the books as far as the salary cap
is concerned, the Flyers still have to pay two-thirds of $34.5
million they owe Bryzgalov on the last seven years of his deal. Do the math. That’s a lot of
cash to pay somebody to go away.

They might as well keep Bryz for another year and give
him one more chance to prove himself, because even if they did use amnesty,
what are the Flyers going to do in goal? Steve Mason’s numbers for his entire
career are just as bad as what Bryzgalov posted this one season, and unless
they went out and paid another number one goaltender they will be right back in
the mess that landed the cosmonaut in Philly in the first place – a goalie

Let Bryzgalov battle it out for Mason for a full season, let 2012
second-round prospect Anthony Stolarz develop for another season at the lower levels,
and make a determination next offseason. What’s the rush to give Bryz the boot?

Previously: Step One: Don't Panic Over a Shortened Season

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Best of NFL: Matthew Stafford's late TD pass leads Lions past Redskins

Best of NFL: Matthew Stafford's late TD pass leads Lions past Redskins

DETROIT -- Matthew Stafford threw a go-ahead, 18-yard touchdown pass to Anquan Boldin with 16 seconds left.

The Lions (4-3) extended their winning streak to three games. The Redskins (4-3) had won four straight.

Stafford, who set up game-winning kicks in the previous two games, led his team to another win in the 100th game of his career. He was 18 of 29 for 266 yards, one TD and no turnovers.

Kirk Cousins scored a go-ahead TD on a 19-yard run with 1:05 left (see full recap).

4 interceptions power Giants past Rams in London
LONDON -- The Giants capitalized on four interceptions of Case Keenum in the first NFL game played at London's home of English rugby, a sold-out and raucous Twickenham Stadium.

Keenum, coming off the best start of his career, had the Rams at the Giants' 15-yard line with 50 seconds left when he lobbed a pass in the left corner of the end zone that Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie easily picked off. Keenum's intended target, Brian Quick, failed to get the quarterback's audible and cut off his route early.

Keenum, who finished 32 of 53 for 291 yards and one touchdown, has thrown an interception on the Rams' final offensive play of the last three games. That likely will fuel debate on a potential quarterback change to overall No. 1 draft pick Jared Goff.

Landon Collins returned his first of two picks 44 yards for a second-quarter touchdown, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie also had two interceptions (see full recap).

Fitzpatrick relieves Smith, propels Jets to comeback win over Ravens
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.  -- Ryan Fitzpatrick replaced an injured Geno Smith and led the Jets on three scoring drives, and a rejuvenated defense came up with two rare interceptions.

Fitzpatrick came in for Smith in the second quarter and led the Jets on a go-ahead drive capped by a 13-yard touchdown catch by Matt Forte. Fitzpatrick finished 9 of 14 for 120 yards and a touchdown as the Jets (2-5) snapped a four-game losing streak.

Smith injured his right knee while taking a sack from Baltimore's Matthew Judon. Fitzpatrick was efficient after losing his job earlier in the week.

Joe Flacco started for Baltimore (3-4), loser of four in a row, after being questionable with a sore shoulder. He went a team-record 176 consecutive throws without an interception before Buster Skrine picked off his pass in the third quarter (see full recap).

Ajayi rushes for 200 yards in second straight game as Dolphins top  Bills
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Jay Ajayi tied an NFL record by surpassing 200 yards rushing for the second game in a row. Ajayi rushed for 214 yards in 29 carries after totaling 204 yards a week earlier in a win over Pittsburgh. He scored on a 4-yard run, and busted a 53-yarder when the Dolphins were pinned at their 3 and trailing in the fourth quarter.

The Dolphins (3-4) used an extra lineman much of the time to clear big holes for Ajayi, who tied the NFL record for consecutive 200-yard games held by O.J. Simpson, Earl Campbell and Ricky Williams.

Miami overcame an 11-point deficit with 16 minutes left to end a four-game winning streak by the Bills (4-3) and beat them for only the second time in their past seven meetings.

Buffalo RB LeSean McCoy, ranked second in the NFL in rushing, started, but totaled only 11 yards in eight carries before departing with a hamstring problem (see full recap).

Luck improves to 8-0 vs. Titans in Colts' 34-26 win
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Andrew Luck threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to Jack Doyle with 1:55 left to put Indianapolis ahead to stay, and the Colts rallied to beat the Titans for their 10th straight win against their AFC South rival.

The Colts (3-4) came in having lost two of three, including blowing a 14-point lead in an overtime loss last week at Houston. But Luck he improved to 8-0 against the Titans with yet another comeback win. He finished with 353 yards passing and three TDs, the last after Tennessee went up 23-20.

T.Y. Hilton caught seven passes for 133 yards, including a 37-yard TD. The Colts shook off 12 penalties for 131 yards in pulling out their 15th win in 16 games against Tennessee.

The Titans (3-4) saw their two-game winning string end.

Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri kicked a pair of field goals, and the second, a 33-yarder with 3:46 left in the third quarter gave him an NFL record 43 consecutive field goals made (see full recap).

Eagles 21, Vikings 10: Evaluating Carson Wentz

Eagles 21, Vikings 10: Evaluating Carson Wentz

Sunday was by far the ugliest game of Carson Wentz's young career.
But it was also a gutsy effort by the rookie quarterback in a 21-10 win over the Vikings (see Instant Replay).
It's not too surprising that Wentz struggled against a Minnesota defense that has been among the best in the NFL this season. Wentz finished 16 of 28 for 138 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions.
Here's a look at the good, the bad and the ugly from Wentz against the Vikings.
1st quarter, 9:46, 2nd-and-12, PHI 9 — Eagles 0, Vikings 0
Starting with the ugly, Wentz has no business throwing this football. There was no pressure on the play. Wentz has time and throws to Brent Celek, who was smothered by linebacker Eric Kendricks. There was no window to throw into and Wentz, as he does from time to time, misses high and hits safety Andrew Sendejo.
1st quarter, 5:28, 3rd-and-11, PHI 38 — Eagles 0, Vikings 0
Another throw that just made no sense to try to make. Wentz does get some early pressure to his right, but he dances around it pretty easily and has plenty of time to reset and make a better read. Sure, Mike Zimmer is a defensive wiz and does an excellent job disguising coverages, but there's no excuse for Wentz here. Nelson Agholor is double covered and this is an easy pick for Xavier Rhodes.
2nd quarter, 0:55, 1st-and-10, MIN 38 — Eagles 8, Vikings 3
Love the play call here. The Eagles just converted a huge fourth down. With time running down in the half, Doug Pederson elects to take a shot down the field. It sort of looked like Rhodes fell asleep while Dorial Green-Beckham shifted gears and started to run by him on a stutter go route. The ball looks like it's leading Green-Beckham perfectly, but Rhodes has an elbow in DGB's gut and a fist full of jersey. If Rhodes doesn't grab Green-Beckham, it's likely a touchdown. Ultimately, it's an incompletion. The refs were really letting the defensive backs be physical on both sides.
3rd quarter, 8:25, 1st-and-10, MIN 28 — Eagles 11, Vikings 3
This play sort of typified Wentz's day: It was almost disastrous but the kid found a way to get it done. Wentz, who had issues all day simply hanging on to the football, fumbled the snap. It didn't appear to be a great snap by Jason Kelce, but it also appeared that Wentz took his eyes off it. It's probably one he should've handled. What is so impressive about Wentz is that there isn't an ounce of panic in his game. He simply picks up the loose ball, rolls to his right and hits Darren Sproles for 19 yards. Similar to the big play against the Steelers, Wentz drew the linebacker Kendricks with the threat of running, leaving Sproles wide open for an easy pitch and catch.
3rd quarter, 5:45, 3rd-and-goal, MIN 5 — Eagles 11, Vikings 3
We've been hearing about Green-Beckham's role possibly expanding, but it hasn't quite come to fruition. Pederson pointed out earlier in the week that he'd like to get DGB involved in the red zone and that he excelled at running slants and using his big body. That's exactly what happened on this play. Wentz put the ball right on the money on the slant and Green-Beckham bullied his way into the end zone. The stats aren't impressive (two catches on four targets for eight yards and a touchdown), but it's clear Wentz is starting to look for Green-Beckham more.
Overall analysis
After forcing the issue in the first half against an elite defense, Wentz settled in and let the game come to him. The protection held up for the most part and Wentz just took what the Vikings were giving him. What you have to love is that Wentz found a way to get it done on a day when it looked like he couldn't. He played game manager and let his defense dominate in the second half. The ball security issues — the two picks, a couple bobbled snaps — are troubling, but really a gutsy performance by the kid.