The Flyers want to re-sign 39-year-old Kimmo Timonen, and though the veteran defenseman is considering retirement, he hinted he wants to come back for one last chance to win a Stanley Cup.
But as new general manager Ron Hextall examines his needs and his team's precarious salary-cap situation, the question he faces is this: Are the Flyers better off going with a cheaper defenseman for 2014-15 and using the money they save on a left winger?
It's a fair question because the Flyers have already overspent on their defense, and they could use more production and speed at wing.
For Hextall, the difficult Timonen decision is the first of many that will shape his tenure as the Flyers' front-office general.
Hextall said the Flyers have had contract conversations with Timonen and were waiting for his response. The implication: The Flyers want Timonen to return, but only if it is at a greatly reduced rate from the $6 million he earned last season.
Don't misunderstand. Timonen, named the Flyers' best defenseman this season, plays in all situations and still has something left in the tank. He has lost a step or two, but he makes up for it with smarts, and he is still a key part of the Flyers' power play.
If the Flyers were in a better salary-cap situation, it would be a no-brainer to re-sign Timonen, who can become an unrestricted free agent July 1. Get one last year from Timonen and buy time before promising young defensemen Robert Hagg and/or Shayne Gostisbehere are NHL-ready.
But the fact is the Flyers will be up against the cap if they sign Timonen for, say, $4.5 million and would have little to no flexibility to add a quality winger unless they traded a high-priced player.
"We've got the cap issue and everything else, but yeah, we'd like to have Kimmo back," Hextall said. "He's a good player, and he's a good example for our young people, as well."
It makes sense for the Flyers to pause before deciding whether Timonen plays his eighth season for the Orange and Black - and explore what it would take to sign a free-agent like Matt Moulson, or perhaps make a deal and take on more salary by acquiring Winnipeg left winger Evander Kane.
If the Flyers don't re-sign Timonen, 25-year-old Erik Gustafsson would likely find a regular spot in the 'D' rotation.
Gustafsson had some inconsistent moments this season, but it's worth noting he led the Flyers defensemen with a plus-7 rating in 31 games. The Flyers went 16-11-4 with Gustafsson in the lineup and 1-1 when he played against the Rangers in the playoffs. Gustafsson, a smooth skater who is built like Timonen, had a goal in the Flyers' 5-2 win over New York in Game 6.
Defensively, the Flyers struggled this season. They allowed too many shots (30.6 per game, 19th in the NHL) and too many odd-man rushes. Their 2.77 goals-against average, which was 20th in the league, was an indictment of the defense, not their goaltending.
So Hextall might decide it's the perfect time to go younger - and faster - on the back line with a guy like Gustafsson and add a missing piece to bolster the offense.
Timonen, who helped Finland win a bronze medal at the Olympics last winter, said that his family is entrenched in the area and that he would play only for the Flyers, if he decides to delay his retirement.
If he agreed to a bargain-basement price - say, in the $2.5 million range, which would make him the team's lowest-paid regular defenseman - it would make sense to sign him.
"Taking the Olympics out of next year, he might even be better," coach Craig Berube said. "I think he's still an effective guy . . . and can run a power play."
Timonen averaged 20 minutes, 20 seconds per game this season, his lowest total since he broke into the league with Nashville in 1998-99. Should he return, his time might be reduced even more.
"If he comes back, that'll be something we discuss with him, about playing time and the situations and stuff like that," Berube said. "Being the most-penalized team in the league, and he's killing penalties, that's a lot of hard minutes for a guy like that."
And, unless the price is right, a hard decision for the new guy in charge of personnel moves.
Inside the Flyers: Cap-Strapped
New Flyers general manager Ron Hextall has inherited a team with little salary-cap flexibility, unless he deals a high-priced player or two. The Flyers have $64.5 million dedicated to 17 players for 2014-15. Only Chicago ($67.4 million for 20 players) has more money committed. Assuming the cap goes to $69 million next season, here is how much space will be available for teams in the Metropolitan Division, according to capgeek.com:
Team signed space
N.Y. Islanders 21 $27 million
Columbus 16 $20 million
Carolina 13 $17.2 million
New Jersey 16 $15 million
N.Y. Rangers 14 $14.1 million
Pittsburgh 14 $13.9 million
Washington 21 $12.2 million
Flyers 17 $4.5 million
- Sam Carchidi