Flyers have early edge

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:34 AM ET

The new agreement in the National Hockey League will do more than change the way of doing business. It will change the seeding.

As a result, by the time the new season begins, the team that should have the best chance of winning the Stanley Cup is the Philadelphia Flyers.

The Flyers are a team that has cash and doesn't mind spending it, so their most likely course of action is a jettisoning of some of the high-salaried veterans.

Look for the Flyers to buy out any or all of: Tony Amonte, John LeClair, Donald Brashear, Danny Markov and Eric Desjardins.

Jeremy Roenick, who scored the goal that eliminated the Maple Leafs from the most recent playoffs, can be retained. He was under contract for $6.5 million this year but under the terms of the new collective bargaining agreement, that figure will be reduced to $5.6 million.

That still leaves the Flyers $33.4 million to stock the rest of the team.

The Flyers gladly will pay the maximum to two of their 2003 draft picks, Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, both of whom are ready to play in the NHL.

A clause in the new CBA allows those two players to sign at the salary level that was available to them before the lockout. Players drafted this year will be limited to an $850,000 salary.

The Flyers also will re-sign goaltender Robert Esche, who is a restricted free agent and only earned $560,000 US last season.

The Flyers were a solid team that advanced to the Eastern Conference final and most of those players, many of whom are now restricted free agents, can be expected to return.

But even after those acquisitions, the Flyers will have plenty of salary-cap room left to entice free-agent Scott Niedermayer.

They probably would even have enough money left to bring in Mike Modano and reunite him with the coach who prodded him to his best years, the Flyers' Ken Hitchcock.

Flyers CEO Ed Snider was bitter about being left out of the serious CBA negotiations. There's nothing he'd like better than to use the CBA he wasn't allowed to craft to defeat those who shunted him to the side.


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