With the gridlock of Kovalchuk out of the way, Simon Gagne was traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning. In return, the Flyers received defenseman Matt Walker and Tampa Bay’s fourth round selection in the 2011 entry draft.
Gagne is a world-class player with All-Star appearances, an Olympic gold medal for Canada, and a bevy clutch goals in the Stanley Cup playoffs. He’s had three 20 goal seasons, two 30 goal seasons, and two 40 goal seasons, all while not sacrificing in his own zone. He’s a key player used in all scenarios of the game from power player to penalty kill. It seems a loss for him to be traded for a depth defenseman and a late round draft pick.
Walker is a 6’4” 215 lbs right shooting stay at home blue-liner. He’s responsible in his own end, but he hasn’t spent more than 66 games with an NHL club, occasionally being a healthy scratch or sent down to the minors while playing for the St. Louis Blues, Chicago Blackhawks, and Tampa Bay Lightning. In the Flyers current defense heavy lineup, he will most likely either be the seventh defenseman, sending Bartulis to the Phantoms, or vica versa.
On the bright side, this gives the Flyers some added depth at that position, and with the number six defenseman, Sean O’Donnell, being 38 years-old, can’t be expected to play upwards of 80 games in a single season. Also, since Chris Pronger and Kimmo Timonen have passed 35 years of age, it can’t hurt to have a 30 year-old in the wings.
With Gagne leaving, the questions remain upfront, however. They’ve added Nik Zherdev to make up for the goal-scoring that is leaving the city, but Zherdev is not known for his defense. The Flyers top checking line last season consisted of Gagne, Daniel Carcillo, and Mike Richards, who matched up with the best offensive threats in the NHL.
Adding Jody Shelley in the off-season adds toughness and grit, but although he is usually a positive in the plus-minus category, Shelley is known for his antics and fighting more so than his defensive play. Having him on the same line as Carcillo would be overkill for a defensive line. One of the two will probably be used on the fourth line with Betts and Laperriere.
The other addition, in February of last season, Ville Leino, showed some defensive skill, but after skating rings through the playoffs, Laviolette will probably want him in a position to score more goals.
After breaking both feet in the playoffs and losing some of his conditioning, Jeff Carter was moved to play wing with Richards. As a rookie, Gagne started as a center before moving to the wing. Carter’s defensive play has improved drastically since entering the league. He’s become a strong back-checking player who always ties up his man in the defensive-zone and rarely harms his team. Remember Annsi Salmela? I wonder if Annsi remembers?
With a top line of Richards, Carter, and Carcillo or Shelley, this would allow for Briere to center the second line with Leino and Zherdev or Scott Hartnell and Zherdev.
One of the key aspects of the Flyers run to the cup was the penalty kill. They offered a dynamic kill that gave nothing to the opponent’s power play.
The top pair of Blair Betts and Ian Laperriere will most likely stay together. But the second pair was filled by Richards and Gagne (the one that had all the break-aways)? Although Darrel Powe is a strong defensive player, he usually fills in the third PK unit with Claude Giroux, so the second pair would have to again be Richards and Carter.
The Flyers’ lineup will be racked with questions and possible holes to fill going into training camp, unless Paul Holmgren makes another move. And with the active summer he’s been having, there is a definite possibility he will. However, with the over-abundance of centers and the loss of the defensive winger, moving Carter to the wing could solve the problem.
Either way, filling the holes left by Simon Gagne will not be easy for the organization. The ten year Flyer will be missed.