A Flyers Lesson, Applied To The Canadiens

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After allowing the shock of elimination to settle in for over 24 hours, can you say for yourself that you are any less stunned than than you were Monday night?

If you happened to see the televison cameras scan over at Hal Gill, standing long faced and simmering at the Montreal bench, immediately after the final siren, then perhaps you can that Gill looked, the way you felt inside.

The Flyers elimination of the Canadiens, who were favoured by many in the Eastern Conference final, was sudden, dismally abrupt and often times mystifying. A cruel and stilling fate few foresaw.

In letting mixed and confusing emotions marinade over the past day in search of some clarity, I found myself thinking much more about the Flyers past than the Canadiens present. I didn't consider the Canadiens large favorites in the round and I also didn't see either team as being much more superior than the other. That it was curtain time after five games, cheated what looked to be a better matchup and a longer series.

After thinking it over, I'll say this: The Flyers were greatly underestimated by many (yours truly included). They were greatly underestimated moreso than the post-season Montreal miracle machine.

Admittedly, my perception of Philly was based on their regular season and not on their potential. That cleared up, I now totally understand why and how they acheived the final, and that they are deserving of being there.

What cleared that mental hurdle for me, were thoughts going back to the past three off-seasons for Philadelphia and some bold strokes made by GM Paul Holmgren that had many in the hockey world either shaking their heads in disbelief or bewildered by his brash audacity.

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When my thoughts turned to where the Canadiens should take this season and its accomplishments into the summer, I was reminded of the Flyers off season moves in which bold strokes were made to define and solidify the club's identity.

On June 18, 2007, Holmgren acquired the rights to impending free agents Scott Hartnell and Kimmo Timmonen from Nashville in return for the first round pick Philly had acquired in the Peter Forsberg trade, plus future considerations. With less than 10 days left before free agent season opened, Holmgren signed Hartnell to a six year deal that averaged out at $4.2M per year and Timmonen for the same term at $6.33M per annum.

The trade and subsequent signing were so brilliant, sneaky and ballsy, conspiracy theories abounded. Not only was there controversy, but it threw the Flyers well over the salary cap.

Fast forward to June 26, 2009, the day of the NHL entry draft in Montreal. Rumours had been swirling that Anaheim defensemen Chris Pronger was about to be dealt somewhere. He was heading into the final season of a contract that paid him $6.2M.

Midway through the first round of the draft, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman stepped to the podium to announce a trade. I recall it well because I was there.

A crescendo of excitement spread like a wave throught the Bell Centre, as fans in Montreal likely assumed the deal involved the Habs, as their pick was approaching. The buzz was all about Vincent Lecavalier, and it was very real, and very close to happening.

But it was not to be.

Pronger was traded by Anaheim to the Flyers with Ryan Dingle for forward Joffrey Lupul, defenseman Luca Sbisa, Philadelphia's 1st round choices in the 2009 and 2010 Entry Drafts and future considerations.

It was another Philly stunner, as it sacrificed tons of future assets for standing in the present tense. Again, it pushed the Flyers over the cap, and made even less sense considering Pronger was an impending free agent. They have since signed him to a four year extension that comes in at about $7.2M.

So here's the thing. The Flyers were able to identify the available players that they wanted and did what they needed to do to secure them. They sacrificed potential assets, present and future, in order to group together a team of players that could reach for the Stanley Cup in short order.

They have risked greatly in swinging for the fences, but they are now in the Cup final with a kick at the can. In the present tense, little else matters. To summon a lyric from a Tragically Hip tune, "no one is interested in something you didn't do."

The long and short of it is that the Flyers, doormats just a few seasons back, realitzed that opportunity in the salary cap era of the NHL represents a very small window of time. So, caution to the wind, they went for broke.

The worst case scenario should they swing and miss, is that in a few seasons, they begin at square one again, rewarded with high draft picks that could bring franchise players into the fold.

Now this lesson applies to the Canadiens in a contrary scenario. Approaching this off-season, many of the Canadiens desirables, they already own.

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Tomas Plekanec and Dominic Moore are unrestricted free agents. So is Glen Metropolit. The restricted free agents on the team start with goaltenders Jaroslav Halak and Carey Price, and include forwards Maxim Lapierre, Sergei Kostitsyn, Benoit Pouliot and Tom Pyatt.

Now the sooner the better, but before July 1 the Canadiens should sign up each and every NHL commodity they want going forward. Give market value to Halak, Plekanec, Moore and Price before July kicks in, in order to retain assets.

If trade scenarios need to be worked out for certain players, it is easier to achieve when a player has a defined salary attached to his future. If they can do this before the draft in June, and before July 1, it would empower their own trade potential at each pivotal time.

In the summer of 2009, the Canadiens allowed ten players of interest to walk with no return. Logic made such a purge sensible with the notion the Canadiens would replenish those losses from the free agent pool, and they struck paydirt, signing the likes of Mike Cammalleri, Brian Gionta, Hal Gill, Jaroslav Spacek, Travis Moen and Paul Mara.

Now, imagine if the Canadiens brass had been visionary enough to the point of gaining an asset or two by virtue of the resigning and trading of players such as Saku Koivu, Alex Tanguay, Alex Kovalev, Mike Komisarek, Robert Lang or Chris Higgins.

Any asset returned would have been a bonus.

The Flyers have made the most of current NHL rules by undertsanding that the salary cap and its constraints are not in effect between May and October.

That is like infiltrating rocket science thinking with the rock, paper, scissors inevitability.

The Canadiens would do well to do the same, mimicking the Flyers off-season daring, while retaining every possible asset prior to July 1st.

There are win/win scenarios, and this one is a can't lose/can't lose deal.

Not retaining valuable assets while salary cap constraints are not in play is reckless.

So sign away, and retain assets.

What is there to lose?

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