If nothing else, this weekend’s NHL draft in Buffalo, New York, should be one in which Flyers general manager Ron Hextall can skate through without distraction.
That’s because his last two drafts have seen him burdened with the task of having to find a trading partner to dump salary cap dollars.
When the Wells Fargo Center hosted the draft two years ago, Hextall thought he had a deal with Florida to move Vinny Lecavalier’s disastrous contract.
It fell through. Same thing occurred with Nashville.
Last summer in Sunrise, Florida, Hextall went into the draft knowing he had to do something to unload Lecavalier’s contract because he was strapped to the salary cap ceiling.
While that did not happen, he pulled off a startling trade with Arizona announced after the draft to unload the final two years of defenseman Chris Pronger’s deal ($4.9 million cap hit).
Seven months later, Hextall packaged Lecavalier, who had a $4.5 million hit, with defenseman Luke Schenn to the L.A. Kings. Recall Lecavalier had a no-movement clause, which complicated things.
On Tuesday, Lecavalier, who had two years left on his contract, retired, taking both the Flyers and Kings off the hook for a potential cap hit of $1.125 million over both years.
While Hextall would love to create more cap space — he has about $14.3 million in space right now, according to generalfanager.com — and add room on the blue line by dealing Mark Streit, that’s highly unlikely without the Flyers assuming money and offering another club a player they really want.
Still, the pressure to unload Streit’s $5.25 million cap hit isn’t near as great as before, especially after the recent buyout of R.J. Umberger’s contract and now Lecavalier’s retirement.
So, this weekend, Hextall can relax a bit knowing his only real concerns here are making sure he gets a few quality players among the 10 picks he has — the most the Flyers have had since 2006.
Now, one thing he would like to do is start chatting up some fellow GMs about a possible trade or perhaps even an early free-agent rights acquisition to bolster his scoring among the forward group.
Hextall said he feels the club needs to add a top-six or top-nine forward at some point this summer. Many times, trades that occur right before or after July 1 have their seeds planted at the NHL draft.
It’s the best time to get a feel for the landscape. Is a top-nine acquisition realistic?
“Do I hope to? Yes,” Hextall said. “Are we going to? I don’t know. Term scares me, because term gets you in trouble. So if the right player’s there, at the right dollar figure, at the right cap space, we’re going to take a run at him.
“If he’s not, we’re not. We’re not doing something July 1 that two minutes and then later we are going to regret.
“We’re not doing something that we’re going to regret in two or three years when these kids’ contracts are up and we end up having to trade a young kid because of cap space and veterans are aging. I don’t know. Would I like to? Yes. Are we going to? I don’t know.”
Already this week, we’ve seen some trades involving negotiating rights to potential free agents, such as the deal Toronto and Anaheim completed involving pending restricted free-agent goalie Frederik Anderson.
Kyle Okposo, a scoring winger with the Islanders, is expected to test free agency. He might be a good fit for the Flyers or even a trade for his rights, if they feel they could sign him.
Would Hextall attempt a trade at the draft for someone’s negotiating rights?
“If the right player’s there, yeah,” Hextall said. “I’m not going to make a move for one or two years. We’re not going to trade a significant young piece for a guy for one or two years. We have some growing to do here. But if we can make ourselves better right now at the right price, yeah.”
One issue facing GMs this summer is how the Las Vegas expansion draft will affect teams wanting to add top-end players. Making a deal at this draft probably is a bit more complex than in the past.
“It’s hard to say,” Hextall said. “It’s hard to make deals nowadays. Everybody says the same thing, it’s hard to make deals. So capped up. And this year, everybody’s looking, is there going to be expansion?
“Do I want to acquire a player now that I’m going to lose? So this year, I can see it being less trades than in the past because teams are a little leery — leery to acquire a guy they might lose in 12 months. So, maybe it’s guys on one-year deals that everybody is going to be after.’’