The Flyers didn’t need Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Coburn to sustain their bid, against lengthening odds, for an eighth seed.
They needed the $4.5 million his departure creates in cap room towards paying the two more good players that are the requirement for them to get back into serious Stanley Cup contention, needed to create lineup spots over the next two years for the promising defensemen they have been drafting over the last three years, needed to reassert the philosophy that making the playoffs never is going to be a challenge if you have teams that year after year can contend for the Cup.
With the cap, before the cap, Ed Snider never has been ruled by the fear of missing the playoffs. That’s why Keith Allen, desperate for a scorer and willing to deal Bernie Parent to get one, flipped Mike Walton in a three-way deal for an unproven Rick MacLeish and a No. 1. Also, why the Flyers, coming back for air after three consecutive playoff misses, were willing to set themselves back two years to trade for the next great player, Eric Lindros.
Sometimes the moves worked and sometimes they didn’t but the Flyers haven’t made six more finals and six more semifinals since last winning in 1975 because their goal has been just to get in and then hopefully get hot.
“We have young prospects and a lot of picks,” said Ron Hextall Monday after adding Tampa Bay’s first 2015 pick, Tampa Bay’s third 2015 pick, Chicago’s second 2015 pick, plus Chicago’s either second, third or fourth 2016 pick, in addition to defenseman Radko Goudas, over the last three days.
“We got to make [the choices] count now, this is only the first part. But I think if you look at young pieces, young assets, we have a lot of them coming. That’s what excites us. We are tying to build towards a top team for an extended period of time and I think we are on the way to that.
“Chicago took a long time to build. All the top teams take time to build. In the salary cap world you can’t just buy everything you need on July 1. These moves helped us with the cap. We have some flexibility where maybe we can do something to make our team better in the summer. But we’re not there yet as far as moving forward and planning.”
Some of Coburn’s money already was spent yesterday to re-sign Pierre Edouard-Bellemare. This is no windfall that will burn a hole in Hextall’s pocket, merely the sign of a first-year GM with a three-year plan to make the Flyers less reliant on expensive veterans to fill their holes, plus give them more flexibility, meaning more assets with which to make a deal for the right guy at the right age.
For Coburn, they have an extra first-rounder in what is expected to be good draft. For Timonen, the Flyers essentially received back the second rounder they traded for Andrew MacDonald. In the process they put MacDonald, who wasn’t justifying a $30 million expenditure on the bench, back into a lineup that is only marginally compromised by Coburn’s departure.
“I feel we have won of games without Coby,” said Hextall. “He has been hurt a couple times.
“Kimmo, we didn’t have all year. I don’t look at our team right now and say we can’t take a run at the playoffs. We got [Steve Mason] back. And our group at D is going to feel more at ease now.
“We had nine guys with Kimmo coming back and they were all looking around. ‘Who is going? Who is going to play?’ That’s not a fun feeling for an athlete. Now there are seven guys who we are going with.”
It is because Hextall made smart, minimal-cost, pickups like Michael Del Zotto and Nick Schultz, that the Flyers could move Coburn, a good one-on-one defender, if an inconsistent decision-maker, and still not send a message to the team that management has given up on them.
“I don’t look at us right now like we’re not a good team,” said Hextall. “We’re a good enough team to make the playoffs and Cinderella runs happen every year.
“No one on our side, including the players and coaches, doesn’t think we can’t make the playoffs. But as an organization we’re trying to stay competitive, trying to stay good and grab assets for the future.”
That’s how the Flyers have sustained themselves. And how they will in the future.