NHL Salary Cap Announced, Holmgren Wants to Move Up in the Draft

NHL Salary Cap Announced, Holmgren Wants to Move Up in the Draft

We've all been waiting with bated breath for the announcement of the NHL's 2011-2012 salary cap, primarily to see how much space the Flyers will have in order to sign goalie Ilya Bryzgalov and any of the restricted free agents they'd like to retain. TSN is reporting that the cap will be $64 million, with a floor of $48 million. Last year's cap was $59.4 million, and $64 million represents about the highest anyone was expecting the cap would be.

In other words, good news for the Flyers, who need as much room as possible.

Below, we'll take a look at the implications of the cap number, as well as the Flyers' hopes to move up in this Friday's NHL entry draft.

Frank Seravalli of the Daily News put together a nice contextual look at this year's cap as compared to previous seasons since its application in 2005 (even more interesting is a reminder of what the Flyers paid out before the cap was put in place). In 2011, the salary floor is $9 million more than the 2005 cap. Frank also points out that this season's floor may have a big impact on the market, forcing teams at the bottom to spend up:

It may sound crazy, but the biggest number reported on Monday may be the salary cap floor number. Why? Small market, low budget teams like Florida, who have just $18 million committed in salary for next season, will need to spend at least $30 million just to be cap compliant. They may be willing to take on a little more salary than normal off a team like the Flyers looking to dump.
I don't disagree, but I also wonder if the other side of that coin could hurt the Flyers in their attempts to negotiate. With both the cap and the floor increasing, so too could the demands of available, sought after players. Meanwhile, teams unlike the Flyers (ie, against the floor rather than the cap) may want to target a marketable big fish in free agency, and they just got a mandate to get spendy. Could that drive up the price on Bryzgalov?

With that in mind, if the Flyers really want Bryz to be their man, it was a good move to acquire the rights to start the talks before the floor was announced today, as well as having exclusive ability to negotiate through July 1 (including just before the draft day trade festivities). Although no agreement was made during last week's meeting, it seems progress was, and there's no indication that the two sides are far apart.

Switching gears to the league's other big item this week, Flyers  fans are probably pretty used to the club not having many high picks when the NHL draft gets underway. At present, that is certainly the case in 2011, with the Flyers not set to be on the clock until pick #84, which falls in the third round.

That may change come draft day though. When asked whether he'd want to have a pick in the first two rounds on a conference call on Monday, GM Paul Holmgren gave the obvious answer that anyone would, but he also indicated that the Flyers will try to trade up.

"[We are] drafting at 84 right now and we’d like to move up, absolutely," Holmgren said. "Are we going to be able to? I don’t know, we will see how it goes."

Nothing too earth-shattering here besides the Curtis, but the draft bit dovetails nicely with the salary cap picture. In addition to their need to restock their depleted prospect ranks, the Flyers may also need to clear some cap space this season in order to complete all the signings they're targeting, even with the cap increase.

Homer said he doesn't feel the Flyers are in a position where they have to clear cap space. But, that really depends on the demands of the players they're targeting. If in fact they do "choose" to shed some salary though, one appealing return would be to acquire a draft pick or two, given that they'd add the potential for future depth while also lowering the current salary mark. Of course, in order to do that, they'd have to shed a rostered player and deal with the subsequent hole left behind.

Two of the names you most hear linked to being sent away are Jeff Carter and Kris Versteeg, but while the need for cap space may be real, everything the Flyers have done with respect to these two players to date would indicate they want to keep them in the fold. Carter is a young, talented scorer with a manageable cap hit for the next decade. (I could go on, but I'm assuming most Flyers fans don't need a primer on Carter.) My guess is both sides made that deal in the hopes that Carter will be a career Flyer or close to it. Dealing him would surprise me, but nothing is out of the question after the debaculous end to the team's meek Cup run last month.

The cost of obtaining Versteeg was high (a first and a third), which is important for two reasons. First, it indicates the Flyers really wanted him. Versteeg's a versatile young player who can be chiseled in for 20+ goals per season, and, importantly, he is under contract at less than $3.1 million next season, after which he's still a restricted free agent. His career as a Flyer has been unceremonious so far, but there's been nothing to indicate the team doesn't want him going forward. And there shouldn't be. He's a good player who just turned 25.

The Flyers would also have trouble recouping what they paid for him. A player's value and a team's willingness to pay in picks for him is dependent in large part on the desire of the team trying to get him, which can involve a little desperation at the trade deadline with the playoffs looming, rather than the draft, when there's more time to tinker.

But with the Flyers probably looking to move up and possibly aiming to add some more prospects to their cupboard, it's a safe bet someone will be on the move soon.

It's already been an interesting off-season for the Flyers, but things are about to start moving pretty fast. The team meets with Bryzgalov again tomorrow, and Friday's draft, when many deals will happen league-wide, is looming on Friday. With all of the above forces acting on the Flyers at once, they're bound to be in the headlines a few more times heading into the weekend.

Josh Huff's acrobatic kick return touchdown sparks Eagles to win

Josh Huff's acrobatic kick return touchdown sparks Eagles to win

For the first 40 yards of Josh Huff’s kick return touchdown on Sunday, he went untouched.

When he got to the Eagles’ 42-yard line, Vikings kicker Blair Walsh was the only guy left in his way.

Huff ran through him.

“Yeah, I can’t let a kicker tackle me,” Huff said. “If he would have tackled me, I really would have been pissed at myself.”

The 170-pound Walsh couldn’t make the tackle and was sent spinning as Huff ran through. Fifty-six yards later, Huff took off from the 2-yard line, flipping into the end zone to give the Eagles their first lead in an eventual 21-10 win over the Vikings (see Instant Replay).

Huff said he knew he was scoring as soon as he saw that he had just the kicker to beat.

With the Eagles’ down 3-0 and with their offense sputtering through the first quarter and change, Huff’s play was a game-changer (see 10 Observations).

“Josh did a great job on the return,” head coach Doug Pederson said. “[Special teams coordinator] Dave Fipp really has those guys ready every single week. You need those things. You need special teams scores.”

After Wendell Smallwood’s kick return touchdown last week, this is the first time in franchise history the Eagles have had kick return touchdowns in back-to-back games. They also have the NFL’s only two kick return touchdowns of the season (see Standout Plays).

“It’s super cool,” Smallwood said. “Now teams have to pick their poison. They can’t go away from one. They can’t say they’re not going to kick to Smallwood, then they kick to Huff and he takes it. I think we’re going to get a lot of teams’ attention.”

Huff also had a role in the Eagles’ offense against the Vikings. He caught four passes for 39 yards, including two that picked up first downs. His 14-yarder in the third helped set up the touchdown that sealed the win for the Eagles.

This season hasn’t been great offensively for Huff. He is clearly the Eagles’ fourth wideout and came into Sunday with just eight catches for 24 yards.

“Obviously, I want to play good on offense, but we have three great guys in front of me,” Huff said. “I’m doing what I can to stay ready and I’m at my best when those guys do need me. At the end of the day, as long as I’m doing my job and as long as I stay ready, today was evident. Whenever they call my number, I’m going to make the most of my opportunities.”

Huff finished off his 98-yard kick return touchdown the same way he finished off his 41-yard receiving touchdown in New England last year: With a flip.

Huff took off from the 2-yard line and did a front flip, landing in the middle in the black end zone on his backside.

“It’s just something that happens,” Huff said. “Everybody says I should have stuck the landing, but I’m not a gymnast.”

Doug Pederson: Eagles rebound after getting 'lip bloodied a little bit'

Doug Pederson: Eagles rebound after getting 'lip bloodied a little bit'

They were great before the bye. They were bad since.

The Eagles rallied against the Lions only to lose late because of two turnovers. Then last week at Washington, they laid an egg.

But on Sunday, they looked like the pre-bye team — at least defensively — and handed the Vikings their first loss of the season.

"This is a team that for two weeks in a row has kind of got their lip bloodied a little bit," head coach Doug Pederson said after the 21-10 victory (see Instant Replay). "The Detroit game, obviously feeling sick about that one, and then last week in Washington not playing well and up to our potential.

"These guys are professionals. They know how to get themselves ready to go. I don't feel like I have to motivate them. ... They really took it upon themselves this week to really make the corrections, No. 1, from last week and the adjustments. The veterans, the leadership stood up today, took command of the game, and that's what you like to see from this group."

More from Pederson and quarterback Carson Wentz:

The defense
If the Eagles were going to win this game, the defense would have to dominate.

It did (see story).

The Vikings finished with only 282 yards from scrimmage — or 52 more than the Redskins rushed for last week against the Eagles.

The Eagles held Minnesota to 93 yards rushing (3.4 per carry) and battered Sam Bradford, who was 24 for 41 for 224 yards with a pick and a garbage-time TD. They sacked him six times (they had zero last week) and forced him to fumble four times. Bradford entered the game without a turnover this season.

"I think the guys just put it in their mind to play better than last week," Pederson understated. "Our defensive line really came off the ball today, really took it upon themselves to just attack the line of scrimmage and play on their side.

Two of the Eagles' three takeaways occurred in the red zone and in the first quarter, when the game was scoreless. They picked off Bradford on 3rd-and-goal at the 6 and forced a fumble on 1st down at the 17.

"It's huge," Pederson said. "Our defense playing as well as they did down there and stopping them. ... It was fun to watch our defense today. That's the defense that we expect every week going forward."

Bring the heat
The Eagles blitzed more than they had all season (see story). 

Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz prefers to let his front four bring the pressure, but it hadn't worked the last two weeks, and now they were facing Sam Bradford, who was familiar with the scheme.

"Anytime you know a quarterback on the other team and kind of know his strengths and weaknesses and things like that — just try to give him some different looks, put some pressure on him from different areas," Pederson said. "It was a great game plan. ... Sometimes just changing things up to help your guys be in position — we benefitted from that today, and guys did a nice job."

Going for two after a made PAT
Midway through the second quarter, Pederson took a point off the board and decided to go for two after the Vikings were penalized for hitting Caleb Sturgis on an extra point, which was successful.

Wentz made the conversion with a QB sneak.

"It was kind of a no-brainer, because you get the ball at the 1," Pederson said.

"I've got a lot of trust in our guys. If you don't work those situations in practice and talk about those situations, then yeah, negative things can happen. But I felt totally 100 percent confident in our guys to execute that play."

Another "no-brainer"
Pederson hasn't been afraid to go for it on fourth down — the Eagles entered the game 4 for 4 on fourth downs — and on Sunday he converted another.

On the aforementioned drive, the Eagles faced a 4th-and-2 at the Vikings' 44. After unsuccessfully trying to draw the Vikings offside, the Eagles called timeout ... and sent the offense back out to go for it.

"Sometimes at that point, they feel like you're going to rush the punt team out there and burn the timeout," Pederson said, "but I went with the offense. I just had total confidence that we were going to get the first down.

"It was a kind of, again, a no-brainer — almost like the two-point conversion."

The play was an run-pass option ... until Wentz dropped the snap. He then ran six yards for the first.

"Obviously when he dropped it, at that point, it was run all the way," Pederson said. "But great execution."

"One more shot"
With 15 seconds left in the first half, the Eagles had the ball at the Minnesota 17. 

Pederson sent out the field goal unit for a 35-yarder, but when the Vikings called timeout to ice Sturgis, it gave Pederson time to change his mind.

The offense came back onto the field. Wentz threw incomplete to Jordan Matthews in the end zone, and then Sturgis came back and hit the field goal.

"Take one more shot," Pederson said. "Max the protection. It's two-man route. It's either a completion or an incomplete pass."

Wentz said there was "a little indecisiveness on the sideline," but once the play was decided on ... 

"It was just a max protect throw to Jordan or throw it away," Wentz said. 'It was pretty plain and simple: Don't take a sack."

All's well that ends well
Wentz botched a handoff. He threw two ugly interceptions in the first quarter. 

OK, those things happen (see Wentz's overall evaluation).

But he also dropped three snaps. How?

"I'm not really sure," Wentz said. "I just have to catch the ball, for starters. Some of them were a little off, but those are the things that we have to clean up."

On one of the dropped snaps, he converted the 4th-and-2. On another, he recovered and found Darren Sproles for a 19-yard gain.

Now, about those interceptions. On the first, he overthrew a blanketed Brent Celek. On the second, he forced a throw to Nelson Agholor with too much purple around.

"That one was 3rd-and-12, and there's no need to force that one," Wentz said. "As a quarterback, sometimes that happens. There's really no rhyme or reason. You see things and you kick yourself in the tail after the play, but you learn from it and move on."

Picks aside, Wentz's numbers weren't pretty — 16 for 28 passing for 138 yards with a TD. Pederson said Wentz "might have been pressing a little bit early" but overall "played efficient."

"Love the way he settled in," Pederson said. "There was no panic for him and any of us on the sideline."

Big V
Wentz was sacked five times last week. On Sunday, he wasn't sacked at all.

The Eagles at times max-protected, but they also benefitted from the improved play of rookie right tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai, who was in his second game in place of suspended Lane Johnson.

Pederson said he didn't help Vaitai as much as he did against Washington.

"I felt he kind of settled in this week, did a nice job," Pederson said. "The run game obviously helps. ... We were in some two tight-end sets a little more today, and that obviously helped him a little bit. We'll evaluate the film tomorrow, but I thought overall he did a nice job."