On the eve of the free agency free-for-all, the Flyers landscape has changed completely. Gone is the carousel at the goaltending position, the size on the wing has been addressed, and hopefully, as well, the disputes over leadership.
Bobby Clarke, the Flyers’ senior vice president, spoke on Paul Holmgren’s decision to send captain Mike Richards to LA and goal scorer Jeff Carter to Columbus: “He’s made our team better.”
Actually, at this point, the team is not better, it’s just different. Including Sean Couturier, acquired with the eighth overall pick from Columbus in the entry draft, the Flyers now have four new young players in place of two seasoned veterans.
It’s a faster and younger team, and the trade to acquire Jacob Voracek and Couturier in the draft for Carter was pure gold for Holmgren, but moving Richards has left a gaping hole.
Rookie Brayden Schenn turns 20 before the start of the season, and although his game has been compared to a young Richards, the differences are extreme.
Schenn is viewed as being one possible finalist for the Calder Trophy next season as rookie of the year, and he’s believed to be capable of putting up 90-100 point seasons for most of his career. He tore up the WHL offensively and captained the Canadian team at the 2011 World Juniors to a silver medal.
Richards, on the other hand, was more than the offense he could provide. He played on both special teams, he stripped pucks, he caused turnovers giving himself breakaways, and he was a gritty shutdown two-way centerman who could drop the gloves. In 2009, he was a finalist for the Selke Trophy, as the best defensive forward, having scored 7 shorties that year, including 2 during 5-on-3 situations.
Schenn will need time to develop into the same type of centerman, and in the meantime, the Flyers lack a bonafide two-way forward.
The other big addition to the orange and black was Ilya Bryzgalov, a 31-year-old netminder, who stood on his head to take the struggling Pheonix Coyotes to back to back playoff appearances. He finished last season with 36 wins in 68 games played, a 2.48 goals against average, 0.921 save percentage, and 7 shutouts.
The rock solid Russian will be an upgrade from last season, with his countryman, sophomore Sergei Bobrovsky, as the backup.
With goaltending resolved, it may seem depth on defense is the least of the Flyers concerns, but their two top d-men are closing in on 37-years-old, and their bodies are beginning to show it.
Future hall-of-famer, Chris Pronger, was held to only 50 regular season games last year, due to a series of injuries, and will likely miss more in the up-coming season, as he is recovering from back surgery. His better days gone, he’ll be wearing the ‘C’, in place of Richards, for the Flyers, but his spot on the roster will be filled by someone else to start the season.
Veteran, Kimmo Timonen, has two more seasons on his $6.3 million contract, but a nagging hip issue will cut his ice time down going forward. In the Boston series, the diminutive defenseman, was frequently knocked off the puck, and struggled to play the minutes of a number one defenseman.
Behind the aging two defensemen, Braydon Coburn, Andrej Meszaros, and Matt Carle, will be asked to bare a much greater burden. And rookie Finn, Erik Gustafsson, will likely start the season with the Flyers, and possibly finish it.
The Flyers begin free-agency with $8.3 million in cap space, and they would be wise to fill the holes. They will need to look for a shutdown centerman and a veteran checking defenseman. Here are a few options.
(1) Cory Stillman has won Stanley Cups with both Tampa Bay and Carolina, under Peter Laviolette. His experience and ability to shutdown opposing forwards would be a great addition. And signing him at around $3.7 million would be doable with their current cap space.
(2) Rob Niedermayer is a less expensive alternative, having made only $1.2 million last season. He could be signed for less than $2 million, and his experience, having won a Stanley Cup with Pronger in Anaheim, and centering checking lines on several different teams would be a great addition.
(3) And Chris Drury, who just appeared on the radar. His $3.7 million contract was bought out by the New York Rangers, and he could be acquired for less. He was part of a one-two-punch with Danny Briere in Buffalo years ago, and he might like to be re-united.
(1) Brent Sopel is a mean defenseman, with a locker room voice, and a Stanley Cup ring with Chicago. Injuries have been a problem for him in the past, but he’ll stand up for his teammates, and at 34-years-old, he could be had for a maximum of $2.5 million.
(2) Shane O’Brien is a cheaper prospect, who received $1.6 million playing for Nashville last season. He’ll take the body, intimidate opponents, and drop the gloves when
needed. He could be a great pick up, especially at age 27, as a depth defenseman.
(3) Scott Hannan won’t come cheap. He’s an intimidating force on the blueline and coming off of a $4.5 million contract with Washington. He’d be a great upgrade to the Flyers defense and a guy who could play key minutes of big games.
The fresh young Flyers have a lot to think about entering free-agency, but with more cap space than they’ve seen in years, they could be a better team.