Wednesday, March 19, 2014

What if I told you that Carle and Jagr didn't have to go?

He's baaaaaack! Another post from the mind of 4who4whatsports.

This time, El Capitan is expounding on the question of what happens if the Flyers don't let Matt Carle and Jaromir Jagr walk. Enjoy. 

After a successful and extremely entertaining six-game series victory over the Penguins in the first round of the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs, the Flyers were handled by the New Jersey Devils in a paltry five games.

Free agency is about to burst open with such names as Zach Parise, Ryan Suter and Shea Weber headlining. Paul Holmgren does what he does best, trying to make a run at those big names, ultimately failing to land a single one. In the meantime two key contributors, Matt Carle and Jaromir Jagr, were left to dangle in the wind while Captain Ahab tried to land his white whales. The hunt for the big names cost the Flyers Carle and Jagr and left them with stop-gap signings Bruno Gervais and Rusty Fedotenko. We all know the horror story that was the truncated 2013 season and there is no need to relive it.

But I ask you Flyers fans, what if Paul had decided to keep things in house and bring back Carle and Jagr? How different of a team would we have today? Does the nightmare of 2012-13 happen? Time to play a game of “what if?” and see where the organization would be if Holmgren’s eyes didn’t wander.

Garth and Wayne if you please: .

First and foremost, let’s see what each player brought to the table. To steal a tweet of my own, if you had told 11-year-old me that me in 2011 would fall in love with Jaromir Jagr, the kid would have socked adult me in the face. But damned if that old Czech didn’t make me fall in love with him for the season he spent in Orange and Black. Besides putting up a respectable 57 points in 73 games with the Flyers, Jagr brought out the best in Claude Giroux and unintentionally gave Scott Hartnell’s career a shot in the arm. Hartnell had the best season of his career -- 37 goals -- with Jagr on the opposite wing. 

As for Carle, he is that mythical and always-desired “puck- moving defenseman” with a good outlet pass, above average offensive ability and pretty solid defensively.

So why didn’t the Flyers keep either of these fine players, both of whom expressed interest in returning to the team with reports of Carle willing to sign for less than market value? More importantly why didn’t we resign them in the middle of the season?

Two words: tagging space.

As stated in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, a team’s contracts for the following season are not allowed to exceed the current year’s cap. This also includes contract extensions (JVR, Braydon Coburn and Nick Grossman in this case) and players to be put on LTIR or waived (Chris Pronger and Matt Walker). In other words the Flyers hamstrung themselves from keeping, at that time, their No. 2 defenseman and their first-line right wing and being able to negotiate midseason. 

Why not wait and sign them as soon as free agency opens? That’s when teams come in with better offers like Tampa Bay’s $33 million offering for Carle and Dallas’ $4.55 million price for Jagr. That, and the Flyers’ front office’s collective ADD kicks in when bigger names are out there on the market.

Finally let’s get to the question at hand: What If? I firmly believe these moves set the Flyers back a year in the team’s drive to remain contenders.

Jagr has continued to contribute at the advanced age of 42 with Dallas, Boston and now New Jersey. His 53 points this season would only be behind captain Giroux and, considering how magical these two were together, just imagine how much more each would have at present. Maybe Claude doesn’t have that slump to start the season with a solid veteran to guide him through the ups and downs.  

Then there is the aforementioned Hartnell. Remember how dreadful the start of his season was, a continuation of the frustrations he felt at the start of last year? It’s clear that Hartnell would enjoy more space with the puck- controlling dynamo Jagr opposite him.

Carle was, and is, clearly this club’s second-best defenseman if he remains in Philly. His mobility would be a refreshing breath of air on this otherwise lumbering defensive corps. Carle would be that guy we’ve coveted since his departure two years back.

In order to keep what was the status quo, there are players that would have never “played for the crest on the front and not the name on the back.” With Carle in the fold the Flyers would have never overpaid for Mark Streit and have to deal with another 35-plus contract on the books. The old war horse Kimmo Timonen probably isn’t overused to the point of exhaustion either – nor does he does he command the  $6 million cap hit he is costing us this year and maybe even next.  A back line of Timonen, Carle, Coburn, Grossmann, Luke Schenn and (the now departed) Andrej Meszaros clearly wins out over the current group that the Flyers have.

If Jagr stays, the Flyers can’t afford and won’t pursue Vinny Lecavalier and at this point that isn’t a bad thing. Holmgren again tried to recapture what they had with Jagr to add that veteran spark that Giroux seemed to miss last season. One problem is Lecavalier is a center, and another is, if you pay attention to supplemental stats, there’s nobody else he fits in well with on the forward lines. As an adaptable front-liner, Jagr was a much better fit and the chemistry was clearly visible. Now we have an aging vet, at a higher price that clearly cannot play where he is needed, and is impeding the progress of Brayden Schenn.

I can’t speculate if the Flyers would have more wins right now, nor can I say that the team would be perfect with Carle and Jagr in the fold, or if they could have won a playoff round last year. I will say that, in typical Flyers fashion, the idea of greener pastures with marquee names have cost this team a year of development which other clubs like the Bruins and Penguins and even Blue Jackets have made up. The holes left by the departure of two key pieces cost the Flyers a year and a half trying to replace them, but these new pieces are starting to come together.

Don’t become too attached though and let’s see if any of these new pieces become casualties for the spoils of bigger and better battles come July.
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