The Philadelphia Flyers have taken an early exit from the playoffs, and everyone wants to know where they go from here.
It’s no mystery they need solid goaltending, but they have other holes to fill, and their netminder questions will likely be answered with status quo on Broad Street.
There have been cries of Ilya Bryzgalov and Tomas Vokoun heard since long before the playoffs ended, but those cries should be silenced by the history of Broad Street goaltenders. Bryzgalov and Vokoun are the cream of the goaltending crop, and they’ll require over $5 million for any team to sign them. With the cap going up next season a measly $3 million, and the Flyers being a team that typically low-balls at the goaltending position, Bryzgalov and Vokoun will never wear orange and black.
The other issue between the two of them is they’re bonafide starters, who play 50 to 60 games per season. The Flyers organization has declared Russian phenom, Sergei Bobrovsky, to be the goaltender of the future, who appeared in 54 games in his maiden season. They’ll likely look for someone to supplement his development and help him along.
Evgeni Nabokov comes to mind. Before departing for the KHL last season, Nabokov put up extraordinary numbers as a member of the San Jose Sharks, helping them in their trip to the Western Conference finals in his last season. He’s now property of the New York Islanders with a manageable salary of $570,000. The Flyers will need to trade for him, but the Islanders are looking for young prospects and draft picks, which the Flyers have shown in the past they’ll gladly give up.
Another name that could come up is Nikolai Khabibulin. His salary ($3.75 million) and age (37) make him a tough choice for the Flyers, but he’s a possible candidate to backup Sergei Bobrovsky. And he owns a Stanley Cup ring–that comes with a certain amount of experience.
The final choice is a strange one. Semyon Varlamov, now 23, unseated Jose Theodore, as the starter, in the 2009 playoffs. He’s put up great numbers, but his injury filled season in 2010-11, and the rise of Michal Neuvirth in the Caps organization, may have put him on the outside. Even though he’s young, the Flyers may look to him as an option, and an inexpensive one having made just $821,000 last season.
There is one overriding commonality in each of these candidates — they’re all from Russia. One of Bobrovsky’s biggest issues last season was his inability to develop a dialogue with Flyers’ goalie coach Jeff Reese. Anyone of these three could help bridge that gap.
Although goaltending is a huge issue in Philadelphia, it may surprise many to believe it’s not the biggest. The Flyers invested a great deal in defense last season, but going into 2011-12, they’ll need to pad the position again.
Future hall-of-fame defenseman Chris Pronger was held to only 50 regular season games and three playoff games in this past campaign. He’ll be turning 37 this season, and recovering from the removal of a herniated disk from his spinal cord. If this sounds familiar to Flyers fans, it should be. It’s the same procedure that ruined the career of Ryan Parent and eliminated Michael Leighton for most of last season.
The problem is caused by pressure on nerve endings in the spinal cord, and can cause weakness and numbness in the legs. It may seem Pronger, a seasoned veteran, can handle this type of recovery, but he’s no spring chicken, and his game will likely suffer. Recovery from surgery like this could cost him close to half of next season.
Next in line is Kimmo Timonen, who also turns 37 next season. He’s a guy who plays big minutes for the team, but his age and small stature may finally be catching up with him. He’s also signed for two more seasons at $6.33 million. He’s stilled a skilled defenseman, and an elder like him could be used to strengthen a young defense core on another team — possibly the Isles or Oilers in exchange for a goaltender.
It might be a good idea for the Flyers to pad their defense with some youngsters, like Erik Gustaffson, 22, Danny Syvret, 25, or Kevin Marshall, 22. But what the Flyers missed most in the post season was a voice, which is something the young players won’t be able to offer. A few options to fill the role could be Hal Gill, Steve Montador, or Scott Hannan. Each of these players offers size and an edge to their game that the Flyers could use if Pronger hits long term injured reserve.
And the final thing the Flyers need to improve over this off-season, is size up front. While they were able to generate pressure on the Sabres Ryan Miller in the first round, the much larger Bruins kept them to the outside, and never allowed the Flyer forwards to recover rebounds to deflect shots on their netminder, Tim Thomas.
There are several big forwards hitting the free agent market his summer, including Erik Cole, Zenon Konopka, and Mike Grier. These three could offer the kind of size up front they’d require and to some degree an aspect of intimidation they’d be missing if they choose to pass on Dan Carcillo.
There are several options for improvement the Flyers could be looking into over the summer, but don’t look for any more than minor tweaks.