PHILADELPHIA, Pa – With the Stanley Cup playoffs officially over, the Philadelphia Flyers must now look forward to the off-season that fortunately for the team has fewer questions than answers this time around. Upper management, AKA, General Manager Paul Holmgren and his scouting staff, must evaluate what the team needs are in order to improve upon a season that came within two wins of capturing the Stanley Cup.
Some people will look at Michael Leighton’s performance in the Cup finals and say that the greatest team need is for a new goaltender. After further review, that may or may not be the case. The Chicago Blackhawks outshot the Flyers in most of the games and did not win face-offs in most of them as well. That has nothing to do with goaltending the last time I checked.
Another glaring issue that has been repeated in these pages is that the Flyers do not build their teams through the NHL Entry Draft. I dare you to pick a team that has won the Cup in the past 20 years that has no less than one third of their roster that was not drafted by the team. Building through the draft means three things: Youth, speed, and staying under the salary cap.
I know that the cap has not been around in the past 20 years but building a team through the draft has not changed. In fact, because of the cap, building through the draft is more essential than ever before. The Flyers have to take the draft more seriously, but playoff runs like this past season and two seasons ago once again have the Flyers thinking the status quo, which is to spend money in order to win a cup. It is these runs that give the Flyers a false sense of security that they are doing the right thing in order to win the cup. The truth is, until they realize that the draft is how you build a team, the Flyers will always be a good team, but never good enough to win a cup. And yes, I’m taking bets that I am right on that one.
Let’s take a look at what the Flyers should or should not do, not only regarding free agency but in the upcoming draft as well. (All stats are regular season numbers)
Power Play: 3rd
Penalty Kill: 11th
RFA: Dan Carcillo, Darroll Powe, Braydon Coburn, Ryan Parent, Danny Syvret
UFA: Aaron Asham, Mike Pyorala, Lukas Krajicek, Michael Leighton.
The Flyers had two players with over 30 goals, one with over 20, and seven players with more than 10. They had three players with over 100 penalty minutes and one with over 200 (Carcillo). With the salary cap going up to $56.8 million, the Flyers have some wiggle room but not much to play with. The Flyers have always prided themselves on being strong down the middle of the ice. Well, it looks as though the Flyers may have to part with some of that depth in order to improve the team not only for the present but for the future as well.
On left wing, Gagne has one more year left to go on his contract and the Flyers would love to sign him to an extension but without knowing what the cap will look like come next season that will be put on hold. Even still, it is no secret that the Montreal Canadiens would love nothing more than to make Gagne an offer he can’t refuse should Gagne make it to free agency next summer.
Scott Hartnell is a penalty machine but as shown in the finals that when motivated he can play extremely well. That’s the part that gives the team fits and I’m not talking about their opponents. The Flyers wanted to move Hartnell at the trade deadline but not only does he have a no trade clause they couldn’t find a taker on someone who under achieved during the regular season. His cap hit is $4.2 so the Flyers would love to get out from under it but he only scored 14 goals during the season. He is under contract for three more seasons but his salary does come down after next season even if his cap hit stays the same.
James Van Riemsdyk, aka, JVR, will improve next season provided he’s on a line with players who have skill. They didn’t draft him second overall to be a third or fourth liner.
Carcillo is the question mark. He is not in a position to command much so the Flyers can do what they wish salary wise. As an RFA no one goes after RFA’s in this business so unless he turns down the Flyers offer he should be back but the question is, why bring someone back that doesn’t play for you in the finals and has a control issue?
The surprised of the playoffs was Ville Leino who set a team record for points in the playoffs by a “rookie”, which is odd since he is 26. Carcillo and Hartnell will suffer monetarily because if Leino turns out to not be a fluke the Flyers will have to give Leino a contract extension and a raise that will affect one or both players.
At center, the cupboard is full with Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Daniel Briere, Blair Betts, Powe, and possibly Claude Giroux. Sorry to my esteemed colleagues who cover the team but Giroux is not a center. He is a right winger, always has been, always will be. Don’t expect Powe to be resigned. The top four centers should be Carter, Briere, Richards, and Betts. The Flyers had six players win over 50 percent of their face-offs, two of them were wingers (Ville Leino and David Laliberte) and one of them only played in three playoff games (Jared Ross). The only two regular centers who played in the playoffs that won over 50 percent were Carter and Betts.
Briere was the Flyers best player in the playoffs not named Chris Pronger. Richards struggled for the most part but he was still a key part of their success. Betts is a solid fourth line center who can win face-offs. Carter had a great season until he hurt his foot. He is their best player when he’s in a groove and can garner the most in a trade. Briere’s contract is too great and he has a NTC (No trade clause), Richards isn’t going anywhere and Betts is staying as well.
Briere can play the wing but is a natural center and will most likely move back to center especially if there is a trade. Elsewhere on the right wing, Claude Giroux isn’t going anywhere; Ian Laperriere is signed through next season. In order to save some money Aaron Asham might not be re-signed in order to bring up either Laliberte or Andreas Nodl.
Chris Pronger proved his worth all season long. That said he will turn 36 this year and unless the Flyers add a defenseman who can help elevate some of Pronger’s minutes so he can be ready for the playoffs is a must. Kimmo Timonen is the team’s second best defenseman but like Pronger he will turn 36 this year.
Coburn’s stock has fallen since he came over from Atlanta. He was a negative-six in the regular season and a negative-two in the playoffs. Still the Flyers must find a way to re-sign him. The Flyers have the hammer and should only sign him to a two-year contract.
Matt Carle was solid on the blueline but still needs to get better defensively. He has shown flashes of an offensive game and needs to assert himself more on that part of this game.
That leaves room for the 5th and 6th defenseman to step up their games. Ryan Parent was a virtual no show in the playoffs as was Krajicek who will most likely not be re-signed. The jury is still out on Parent but he is injury prone and has been since coming over from Nashville. Oskars Bartulis was solid whenever he got in the lineup and will be given a good shot to make the roster come training camp.
Brian Boucher looked like his career could have been over due to poor play until late in the year when he turned back the clock and played very well. Still he is a backup at best and not the answer in net. Leighton is the big question in net, but the Flyers should remember had it not been for Leighton they don’t even make the playoffs much less reach the cup finals.
The Flyers don’t have any blue chip prospects waiting in the wings. Oddly enough their top prospects are goaltenders but no one stands out as a goaltender of the future. Joacim Eriksson, Jacob De Serres, and Nicola Riopel top the list but all of them are a year or two away from making their mark.
Three defensive prospects are close to making an impact on the roster in Kevin Marshall, Marc-Andre Bourdon, and Joonas Lehtivuori will all be given a shot to make the team in training camp with Marshall the front runner.
Of the forwards Eric Wellwood turned some heads with his play with the Memorial Cup champion Windsor Spitfires but he needs at least one year of the AHL or ECHL in order to make his mark on the roster in the future.
Team needs (In order of preference: Goaltender, Defenseman, right winger, left winger)
The Flyers are solid up front but they need to settle their goaltending issue once and for all. This is where the team will most likely make a trade for one either at the draft or sign a free agent. The Flyers have a glaring need for another defenseman as the playoffs proved. If the Flyers trade Carter and move Briere and/or Giroux to center the need for a right winger will go up dramatically. Unless Gagne re-signs for a long term contract a left winger will be a major need considering that Hartnell is trade bait and Van Riemsdyk is not ready to take on a first liner scorer’s role. Patience is the key with him, but that is something the Flyers have never had but need to learn.
Hartnell, Van Riemsdyk, Carter, and Gagne will be dangled out there with Carter being the favorite to be moved. One of their goaltending prospects will also be moved as part of a larger package if it’s for a goaltender of the future. Don’t be surprised if Timonen gets brought up as well since he has three years left on his contract at $6.333 cap hit. More on Timonen in a few. Also, don’t be surprised if Carle’s name gets brought up as well. The bottom line is that the Flyers also have to get younger one defense since their two best defenseman are going to be 36 in the same season and the Chicago series proved they need speed on the blueline. The team was consistently outshot this season and that was not the goaltenders fault.
The draft: Because of the Pronger trade the Flyers don’t have a draft pick until the third round. Unless Philadelphia makes a major trade, which I think they will, the Flyers won’t be moving up to help themselves this season. Unfortunately for Flyers fans, the draft is not a priority with the team. Don’t believe me? Just look at their draft record ever since Holmgren took over as GM.
Last season the Flyers didn’t draft until the third round also because of the Pronger trade. Their top pick in 2008, Luca Sbisa, also went to Anaheim in the Pronger deal, therefore they didn’t draft a pick until the third round that year. In 2007 they took JVR second overall and if they decide to trade him that draft will be a bust considering no one else is on the roster and might not make it. Oh the bad news doesn’t stop their but that’s another article for another day.
What the Flyers should do
The Flyers should settle their goaltending issue once and for all. The list of available free agents is poor this year and will most likely cost the team more money than they can spend. That said don’t be surprised of one of them just asks for a one or two year deal just to play on a team like the Flyers to have a shot at the cup.
What the Flyers should do is get a promising young prospect on another team if they are convinced they don’t already have one in their system. Most of the names already being thrown out there are Jonathan Bernier (Kings), Cory Schneider (Canucks), and Josh Harding (Wild).
If you’ve been a regular reader of these pages, you might recall that these the same three names I threw out their last year, aren’t they? Yep, they are, and if you will recall the name that I said that they should get is Bernier, who is a former first round pick. If you’ve seen him in the AHL, which I have on more than one occasion, this would be the guy for me. The problem is, you will only be able to get him if the Kings feel that Jonathan Quick is your guy. Not to mention Carter would be the only guy that could nab him in a trade.
The Kings also have something else the Flyers need, which is some good young defenseman. Thomas Hickey and Colten Teubert are two that make people drool and could be had as part of the trade. Hickey has more of an offensive upside and he has more speed, so in my world, he is the man.
All of that sounds great but keep in mind the Flyers need to get up on the draft and Carter could do that for you. I will give you two teams that could use Carter and are in a position that can help the Flyers: the Florida Panthers and the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The top two players in the draft are both forwards which means that the top two defenseman in the draft will be sitting there waiting for the Panthers, who pick third overall, and the Jackets who pick fourth. Cam Fowler and Eric Gundbranson will be ripe for the pickings and both are the only two defensemen who are considered to be NHL ready. Fowler has more of an offensive upside but Gundbranson is a monster who no one wants to mess with. Think Pronger only an inch or two shorter. The Flyers would love to get their hands on either player, but to do so they’d probably have to get to third but they’d settle for whoever is sitting at four.
The Panthers and Jackets might do the deal for one simple reason: The playoffs. Both teams need to make it badly and the last thing both franchises want to do is go back to their fanbase and ask them to wait 2-3 years on another prospect no matter how good he is. Here are the trade offers I’m proposing for all of the above mentioned teams in order of preference.
My first proposal would be with the Kings
Carter, Marshall, De Serres, and a second round pick in 2011 for Bernier, Hickey, and the Kings first round pick (19th overall) in 2010. At 19 the Flyers might also get a shot at either Jack Campbell or Calvin Pickard. Both goaltenders are expected to go in the first round.
My second proposal is with the Panthers
Carter, Marshall, De Serres, and a second round pick in 2011 for goaltender Jocab Markstrom, and the third overall pick in the draft and draft Fowler or Gundbranson.
This trade will be hard to pull off only because the Panthers see Markstrom as their future. Another proposal for the Panthers would be for the following:
Carter and a second round pick in 2011 for Nathan Horton and the third overall pick in the draft so the Flyers could draft Fowler or Gundbranson.
My third proposal is with the Blue Jackets
Carter, Marshall, and a second round pick in 2011 for Nikita Filatov and the fourth overall pick in the draft so the Flyers can draft Fowler or Gundbranson, which depends on who Florida will take at number three.
My fourth proposal is with the Canucks
JVR, Marshall, and a second round pick in 2011 for goaltender Cory Schneider and the Canucks first round pick in 2010 (25th overall).
Other moves the Flyers should make
Move Hartnell and do not re-sign any of their pending free agents. With the cap space left to play with sign defenseman Dan Hamhuis (Nashville) who made $2 million last season so it would probably take $3.5 to $4 to sign him. I’d only trade Hartnell for draft picks so I can move up on the draft.
What the Flyers will do
The Flyers will most likely re-sign Carcillo, Powe, Coburn, and Parent. Hartnell will stay but the Flyers will most likely trade Carter who has one year left on his contact ($5 million) and will surely get a raise when it runs out, which means the Flyers can’t afford to keep him unless they move Hartnell and some other cap casualty types like Timonen, Gagne, and Carle.
The Flyers will not sign any of the UFA free agent goalies and will trade for one. Most of the rumors thankfully involved the ones mentioned in my trade proposals so good to hear someone in Voorhees is finally listening to me.
The bottom line
Regardless of how the off season shakes out, the Flyers must settle their goaltending situation once and for all or its business as usual next season. They will just be another team that’s good but never good enough to get over the top. As much as I’d hate to see Carter leave it just might take that to happen for the Flyers to solve their never ending goaltending saga. It should be a fun off-season no matter how you slice it and dice it.