Despite a first-round playoff exit, the Philadelphia Flyers have a quality young roster that should be in contention for years to come, so long as budgetary issues don't hold them back.
Off-Season Game Plan looks at what the Flyers can do to get over the hump.
While accumulating talent over the past couple of seasons, the Flyers have issued some sizeable long-term deals, putting them in a challenging cap position this summer.
The first order of business for the Flyers should be sorting out their goaltending situation, as the top three goaltenders in the organization (Martin Biron, Antero Niittymaki and Scott Munroe) are all unrestricted free agents.
Furthermore, given the rumours around the trade deadline, the Flyers would figure to enter into the Jay Bouwmeester sweepstakes, which is obviously going to be a high-stakes game and one that doesn't seem to fit with the Flyers' budget.
However, the Flyers have proven to be creative in their efforts to make blockbuster moves and maneouvre around salary cap restrictions, so it would be foolhardy to discount their potential involvement in major moves this summer.
Given their finish in the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff pack, the Flyers probably need another big splash that can lift them to the next level of top Cup contenders.
Paul Holmgren/John Stevens
Free Agent Forwards
Top Prospects: James van Riemsdyk (17-23-40, plus-14 in 36 GP; New Hampshire-HE), Andreas Nodl (6-14-20, even in 39 GP; Philadelpia-AHL), Jonathan Matsumoto (29-34-63, minus-12 in 7 GP; Philadelphia-AHL), Patrick Maroon (23-31-54, plus-2 in 80 GP; Philadelphia-AHL)
Mike Richards built on his 75-point season in 2007-2008 with an 80-point campaign on 2008-2009. He's a premier two-way player who does it all; leading the league in shorthanded goals while also putting up 33 power play points. Of some concern is that Richards' hell-bent style of play may already be taking a toll on his body and he's had surgery on both shoulders this off-season.
In his fourth NHL season, Jeff Carter emerged as an elite goal-scorer, leading the Flyers with 46 goals, 84 points and a plus-23 rating. Along with Richards, Carter should be a cornerstone for Philadelphia to build around.
Riding shotgun with Carter, Scott Hartnell enjoyed the best year of his career, notching a career-best 30 goals and 60 points. He's not shy about getting involved physically, so Hartnell can be a major pain to play against.
Simon Gagne returned from a concussion-plagued 2007-2008 season to re-establish his credentials as a top scoring winger. In addition to his 74 points, Gagne was a double-digit plus player (plus-21) for the seventh time in nine NHL seasons.
An impressive second-half audition has quickly created great expectations for Claude Giroux, the smooth playmaker who showed some grit in the postseason as well. Though he scored 27 points in 42 games, Giroux could be a big-time scorer soon.
Joffrey Lupul is as streaky as they come, yet still finished with more than 20 goals for the third time in his five-year career. With a contract extension kicking in for next season, though, Lupul needs to put up more than 50 points to provide a decent return on investment.
Injuries limited Daniel Briere to just 29 games, but he still put up 25 points. Briere could still be a serious point producer in the right situation, but he may not be able to provide a great return investment since the Flyers already have a couple of point-per-game pivots. As such, Briere could be a candidate to be moved, despite his no-movement clause.
Gritty Arron Asham hasn't lost any of his combative spirit, racking up a career-high 17 fights and 155 penalty minutes, while chipping in 20 points. The veteran provides good value on the fourth line.
Darroll Powe established himself as an NHLer, hustling and hitting for 60 games. He definitely adds some grit, but needs to improve if he's going to play a bigger role.
After showing some offensive promise in his rookie season in 2007-2008, havoc-wreaking Daniel Carcillo couldn't get going last season and managed just three goals and 14 points, split between Phoenix and Philadelphia. With so many talented forwards in Philadelphia, there should be a complementary role for Carcillo that gives him a chance to be a 20-goal scorer.
Riley Cote takes on all comers, accumulating 22 fights last season, but he doesn't have the size of the league's true heavyweights and has just one goal in 141 career games, so he should remain in a limited role.
The Flyers have lots of talent up front, with more on the way in the body of James van Riemsdyk, but someone may need to be moved in order to create cap room that will allow for other acquisitions.
Top Prospects: Luca Sbisa (4-11-15, minus-4 in 19 GP; Lethbridge-WHL), Kevin Marshall (9-29-38, plus-23 in 61 GP; Quebec-QMJHL), Mike Ratchuk (5-12-17, minus-7 in 77 GP; Philadelphia-AHL)
Veteran Kimmo Timonen is a reliable workhorse, but he also finished with a career-low three goals, not scoring after the first week of December. Now 34, Timonen will benefit from additional help and maturity in the supporting cast.
Braydon Coburn didn't develop as expected, yet still logged big minutes on the Flyers blueline. He possesses a rare combination of size, mobility and passing ability, so he should be more productive than he was last season. He'll also be a veritable bargain for one more year.
Though the shine has come off Matt Carle somewhat after his 42-point rookie season in 2006-2007, he generally played well for the Flyers after coming over in an early-season trade from Tampa Bay. He's not physical, at all, but is certainly capable of moving the puck effectively for 20-plus minutes per game.
A hip injury limited Randy Jones to just 47 games, but he performed well in his shortened season and he's valuable because he has the size, mobility and skill to contribute in any situation.
Ryan Parent is on the verge of a full-time role after a couple of partial seasons and he showed well late last year, working in a shutdown role. Next season should be an opportunity for him to have a real impact as a defensive presence for an entire season.
Mike Rathje hasn't played since 2006-2007, yet still has a year remaining on his contract, so he'll presumably spend another season on the Long Term Injury list, leaving the Flyers room under the cap.
While this is a solid group, don't be surprised if the Flyers renew their pursuit for Jay Bouwmeester, who was reportedly in the Flyers' sights before the trade deadline. If not Bouwmeester, adding a physical presence like Mike Komisarek might have some appeal as well.
Additionally, Luca Sbisa could bid for a spot again, after spending a promising half season in the NHL before he was returned to his junior team.
Top Prospect: Johan Backlund (2.56 GAA, .907 SVPCT, 4 SO in 49 GP; Timra-SEL)
Goaltending has been a trouble spot for the Flyers and, while Martin Biron has provided stability, he's not at the elite level of starting goaltenders in the league. If the Flyers decide to go in another direction, there seems little doubt that Biron will land a starting job elsewhere because he's proven that he's certainly capable of starting for a playoff team.
Antero Niittymaki has improved over the last couple seasons, to the point that he might be able to challenge for a starting job somewhere, but that would require a leap of faith for it to be the Flyers since Biron's numbers have been better behind the same defence for the last two seasons.
With a blank slate in goal, the Flyers could take a shot at a free agent like Nikolai Khabibulin or Ray Emery. If trade deadline rumours are to be believed, there also could be interest in dealing for Thrashers goaltender Kari Lehtonen. Depending on the cost, Biron could end up being the most reasonable option.
21st - Carter Ashton, David Rundblad, Louis LeBlanc.
The Flyers have approximately $51-million committed to salaries for next season.
Needs: Depth forwards, one top four defenceman, another defenceman, two goaltenders
What I said the Flyers needed last year: One top four defenceman
Who did they add? Darroll Powe, Ossi Vaananen, Luca Sbisa.
Daniel Briere, Joffrey Lupul, James van Riemsdyk, Randy Jones.
Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@ctv.ca