It didn’t take long to wake up and perform some Monday-morning general managing following the glacier-melting hockey headline that the Sabres had traded highly skilled winger Thomas Vanek. In exchange, the Islanders sent a first-round pick, a second-round pick and 30-year-old forward Matt Moulson packing to Buffalo.
After absorbing the news for a few days, you may have come to the realization that the Flyers could have easily acquired what the Islanders had lured away from the Sabres. Even if general manager Paul Holmgren had genuine interest in Vanek’s services, a blockbuster wouldn’t have made sense, and here’s why:
1. Are the Flyers even a playoff team?
Anytime you mortgage a portion of your future for a superstar-caliber player like Vanek, you better have a definitive "yes" answer to this question. Right now, the Flyers can’t honestly say that. They may feel like one with the players they’ve assembled, but they’re in a transitional period after firing Peter Laviolette three games into the season. If the Flyers were winning in spite of their lack of scoring, then a Vanek deal would have been feasible.
2. The salary cap
Unfortunately for the Flyers and a handful of other NHL teams, whatever you import in cap dollars you also have to export. Vanek comes attached with a $7.1 million cap hit, so essentially the Flyers would have had to ship that same cap amount to Buffalo. Since the Sabres have disclosed their intentions of rebuilding, GM Darcy Regier is looking to trim his payroll, not add to it. Acquiring Moulson saves the Sabres roughly $2.5 million. Certainly, the Flyers could have packaged players to cover Vanek’s cap hit, but they still would have to unload draft picks, and that’s too lopsided a trade even for the Flyers.
3. Vanek is an impending UFA
Let’s say the Sabres requested a young player like Sean Couturier or Brayden Schenn in return. Is it worth moving one of these guys for just one season of Vanek, who will command a free-agent price tag in the $8 million range at the end of the season? Not at all.
4. Flyers don't need another long-term contract
Assume Holmgren wouldn't have negotiated a trade unless Vanek agreed to stay in Philadelphia long-term. It’s still not worth it. The Flyers already have 15 players on next season’s payroll totaling $56 million (current cap is $64 million), and that’s without a goaltender under contract. Squeezing Vanek into the Flyers' 2014-15 cap would have been nearly impossible, even for one of those contortionists who perform at halftime of an NBA game.
5. The core has to perform
If the Flyers' current roster can’t consistently score goals, there’s nothing Vanek could have done to remedy that problem either. Claude Giroux, Scott Hartnell, Jakub Voracek and other cast members have to start elevating their games and, more importantly, scoring goals. Otherwise, it doesn’t matter who you bring in from the outside.