Analyzing Philadelphia Flyers’ Minor League Veteran Free Agent Policy

[Guest Post]

der Eishockeyzuschauer 

ALLENTOWN, Pa

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The Hershey Bears, that rightfully proud franchise who have already won the prestigious Calder Cup trophy a record 11 times during the club’s long history, have only missed out on the American Hockey League playoffs but once in the last eleven years. The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins have made for AHL playoffs the past fourteen years in a row and, altogether, have only failed to qualify for post-season play twice during the team’s seventeen years of existence. Meanwhile, the other AHL club that happens to be located in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, like to talk about tradition and history but somehow also neglect to mention the fact that the nomadic franchise has not had any experience at all with the annual Calder Cup tournament ever since the bygone Philadelphia Phantoms were swept out of the first round by none other than the intra-state rival Hershey Bears way back in 2009.

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Aside from the simple fact that the franchise are in the midst of a nasty playoff drought which stands at seven years and counting, the harsh truth is that the Philadelphia/Adirondack/Lehigh Valley Phantoms have really only advanced to the Calder Cup playoffs a not so grand total of four times in the last fourteen years — taking into account that more than half of all teams in the American Hockey League qualify for post-season play every season and especially considering the noteworthy accomplishments of the AHL’s other two Pennsylvania-based teams, the recent historical record of the Philadelphia Flyers’ top minor league affiliate has to be characterized as underachievement on full parade.

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On the omnipresent subject of “Player Development”, it is most interesting to observe that the Philadelphia Flyers have either failed to qualify or have been summarily bounced out in the first round of the NHL’s Stanley Cup playoffs for the past four years in a row. Ironically enough, the Flyers were dismissed from the playoffs last spring by none other than the Washington Capitals — the NHL parent of the Hershey Bears. And the Stanley Cup champion last term, the Pittsburgh Penguins, featured no less than four players including the starting goaltender who had been recalled from the AHL’s Wilkes-Barre Scranton/Penguins during the course of the 2016/17 campaign — very familiar faces and names to those who have been faithfully attending ice hockey games at the PPL Center in downtown Allentown these past two seasons.  

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Nevertheless, there just might be cause for supporters of the Hamilton Street Heroes to be realistically hopeful with regards to the team’s Calder Cup playoff chances this time around. This because there appears to be evidence that the Philadelphia Flyers organization have adopted a more serious attitude about icing a higher caliber club at the American Hockey League level than they have shown in the recent past. Specifically, never before have the Flyers been willing to offer a “one-way contract” in order to convince a top shelf AHL free agent to essentially sign for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms and this summer Philadelphia pulled that maneuver twice.

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Indeed, 28-year-old playmaking forward Andy Miele has really only appeared in a total of 15 NHL games over the course of his five seasons as a professional player while 28-year-old offensive defenseman Will O’Neill has never even skated in so much as one single National Hockey League contest during his first five winters as a pro. Despite this, the Philadelphia Flyers organization still found it entirely appropriate to guarantee both Miele as well as O’Neill major league salaries even if the incoming pair end up spending the whole season in the minors – which they very well might. This kind of spending by the front office clearly demonstrates a certain amount of commitment to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms’ excellence and it certainly is unprecedented.

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To review, for their inaugural 2014/15 season in the American Hockey League, the fledgling Lehigh Valley Phantoms had only one player with a standard NHL one-way contract and he was the pugilistic Jay Rosehill, who pocked a salary of $ 675,000 while piling up 219 penalty minutes and scoring all of five goals in 65 AHL games that season. Moreover, Rosehill had already been in the Philadelphia Flyers organization since arriving during the 2012/13 campaign so he could not be classified as a free agent who had been lured away from another NHL organization. The minor league salaries of the other five veterans who were on the Phantoms’ historic opening night roster on October 11th in 2014 were as follows :

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$ 300,000 …… for – Andrew Gordon

$ 250,000 …… for – Darroll Powe

$ 250,000 …… gk – Rob Zepp

$ 150,000 ……. for – Chris Van de Velde

$ 125,000 ……. for – Zack Sortini

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It is interesting to remember that the opportunistic Van de Velde scored two goals for Lehigh Valley Phantoms in their first-ever AHL game ever played versus the intra-state rival Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins and was immediately recalled by the Philadelphia Flyers, never to return.

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Last summer, given the American Hockey League’s rules regarding “Veteran” and “Veteran Exempt” skaters, the Philadelphia Flyers actually got more than a little carried away loading up on free agents who were projected to be assigned to their farm club in the Lehigh Valley; three players were repatriated from Russian teams in the Kontinental Hockey League and commanded some of the more lucrative minor league salaries paid out by the Flyers organization last season but one was forced to retire at the start of training camp after being diagnosed with sarcoma and the other two never really did play up to the level of their heavier price tags. Meanwhile, Rosehill skated in just 23 AHL games (one goal) while spending most of the season watching from the press box as a healthy scratch :

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$ 650,000 …… def – Brandon Manning

$ 300,000 …… for – Tim Brent

$ 300,000 …… for – Colin McDonald

$ 250,000 …… for – Chris Conner

$ 250,000 …… for – Jay Rosehill

$ 250,000 …… gk – Jason LaBarbera

$ 225,000 …… for – Aaron Palushaj

$ 225,000 …… def – Logan Pyett

$ 150,000 …… def – Davis Drewiske

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Manning was a free agent in the sense that the defenseman coming off of a career year in the American Hockey League could have easily signed with another National Hockey League organization during the summer of 2015 but elected to remain with the Philadelphia Flyers after being enticed with a one-way contract. The overriding point here, though, is that the native of British Columbia was not a free agent who had been brought in from another NHL organization with the idea of bolstering the AHL farm club’s roster. It certainly it interesting to remember that Manning was not necessarily supposed to make the Flyers’ opening night roster coming out of training camp last year but, of course, that is exactly what transpired.

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For this coming 2016/17 season, it does appear as if the Philadelphia Flyers front office has adopted a policy for the AHL’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms more aimed at quality over quantity and was willing to spend a couple of more dollars than usual in order to implement such, as well. Perhaps the big wigs who run the Broad Street Bullies have grown tired of subpar performances at the spectacular PPL Center, too. These are the six ‘high end veteran minor leaguers’ whom I would expect be on the Phantoms’ opening night roster at this point in time (before training camp has even begun) :

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$ 600,000 …… for – Andy Miele

$ 575,000 …… def – Will O’Neill 

$ 325,000 …… def – T.J. Brennan 

$ 300,000 …… for – Colin McDonald

$ 250,000 …… for – Chris Conner

$ 190,000 ……. for – Greg Carey

If this is accurate, it would mean that the Philadelphia Flyers organization are spending in the neighborhood of $ 80,000 or so more per veteran AHL player on average this season than they have in the previous two seasons and, hopefully, that will translate into the first-ever Calder Cup appearance for the Hamilton Street Heroes this spring.



Categories: Uncategorized

5 replies

  1. This is a good post and an important point: We can fault the Phantoms for a lot of things (delayed promo schedule, no playoffs, crappy food, ineffective ushers, sweaty TShirt guy…) but they haven’t gone cheap on the players. This is the Flyers prerogative, though, as we’ve seen on the baseball side as well. When the parent club is willing to provide the top affiliate with the appropriate talent, good things can happen. Not to mention that this provides the parent club with better depth as well. Both the Phillies and Flyers orgs are currently building with young talent, and this should benefit both the IronPigs as well as the Phantoms–and we’ve already seen it in the baseball side with our best season ever. Both orgs in the past were similar in trying to patch things up with free agency and trading away prospects. I’m also expecting a similarly successful season in hockey.

    • Naturally, aside from genuine on-ice production from the veterans getting paid the highest salaries, there will be other factors – goaltending, in particular – that will heavily influence where the Lehigh Valley Phantoms end up in the AHL’s Eastern Conference standings by season’s end … but we’ll address these things in due time as pre-season skates along.

  2. Kram– is it odd that Phantoms opening night tix are not even on sale yet or this a hockey thing? Also, with the Florida move I have kept my tix– but all games are for sale— section 117–row 4– seats 1-2-3— club area-blue line– I do take a small loss on them for part of my advertising at arena. $120 per game— pick any 5 games for $500— see everyone at concert Tuesday, me and Debbie will be in our seats

    • Hey Bert, I think they’re in STH presale right now and will be single game to the public very soon. Flyers game and preseason are for sale I think. Certainly, once the schedule is released they should immediately be moving on the ticket thing as well as the promo schedule and the season ticket books and all that.

      There are a couple groups over on Facebook for season ticket holders and ticket sales where you might be able to move more of those tix–and to people who would appreciate them. Good seats!

      • I bought tickets for each of the Lehigh Valley Phantoms’ two pre-season AHL exhibition games versus the Charlotte Checkers when I visited the box office at the PPL Center downtown in person last Saturday. I found it somewhat astonishing that I could not buy a ticket for the Phantoms’ AHL regular season opener less than thirty days away from the actual contest, itself. But hey, whatever.

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