Most times when July rolls around, you have a pretty good idea of where the Flyers are headed in free agency.
This summer, not so much.
Usually, the Flyers are dealing from a position of strength: A good team with stability and dollars in hand.
This summer, it’s topsy-turvy. For starters, the Flyers’ stability as an organization has been rocked with a series of buyouts, trades, organizational upheaval and, most of all, zero dollars to spend.
And all eyes around the NHL are watching to see how the club resolves its Vinny Lecavalier dilemma. New general manager Ron Hextall all but tried to give away the 34-year-old centerman at the NHL draft and could not move him.
Lecavalier gets his $2 million bonus Tuesday and the club will again try to rid itself of his $4.5 million cap hit, or perhaps even buy him out at some point if they can’t move him.
On Monday, they tried in vain to move him to Nashville (see story).
One agent suggested it might help the Flyers with potential free agents by announcing their intention in advance to buy Lecavalier out “if” they can’t deal him.
The Flyers need his contract money to sign other players. Yes, they can go 10 percent over the cap for now, but at some point, they need his millions back.
At least one former league official and two agents remarked this weekend that Hextall is dealing with other issues that affect what he can do this summer as well.
“You got to try to find ways every day to make the organization better and that is what I strive to do every day,” Hextall said.
“Next year, if we get $15 million in cap space and there are free agents out there, the focus might be a little bit different. We’re still going to do our due diligence in free agency because we don’t know what is going to happen between now and then.”
There is a feeling of uncertainty among some agents about what the Flyers' real plan is because of their spend-and-dump policy.
• They sign Ilya Bryzgalov to a gargantuan nine-year deal, then buy him out early into it.
• They sign Lecavalier, a guy who didn’t fit, to a five-year deal when they needed a left wing, then attempt to trade him.
• They give Scott Hartnell a six-year extension, then trade him.
Some agents wonder: Will my client get traded or bought out two years into any deal we sign with them?
“They don’t have a dollar to spend,” one prominent agent said.
“Everyone knows they have issues with the cap and it’s going to affect anything Hextall tries to do,” another said.
One agent said he was “nervous about many teams,” but especially nervous about the Flyers because of what has happened in recent years with failed signings, coaching changes and so forth.
That could very well impede Hextall’s ability to sign the players they really want -- assuming they can scrape together some dollars.
The Flyers would have had a lot of interest in 27-year-old Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen, but he is likely going to command $6 million or more. They’re out. Niskanen only earned $2.3 million against the cap last season.
That’s why they appear to be targeting Christian Ehrhoff, who was bought out by Buffalo on Sunday and will have so many suitors that the price will inflate on him.
They need a left wing. Matt Moulson would be perfect to play with Sean Couturier and Matt Read. He earned $3.1 million last year and is going to get a nice bump, although nothing like Jussi Jokinen, who earned $3 million but had a tremendous playoff run for the Penguins and substantially increased his value in free agency.
A possible cheap fit for backup goalie -- if Ray Emery is not re-signed -- would be Anders Lindback, who earned $1.8 million in Tampa Bay.
Again, however, the Flyers have no money under the cap. They might actually be better served allowing their prospects a chance to play and mature at the NHL level, something they have been very reluctant to do in the recent past.
“Hextall’s hands are really tied,” an agent said. “It will be interesting to see how he deals with it.”