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Off-Season Game Plan: Philadelphia Flyers

Scott Cullen

6/17/2011 6:40:55 PM

A team that has reached the postseason in 14 of the last 15 seasons, the Philadelphia Flyers have decided to address a position that seems to have contributed to their postseason demise more often than not.

Off-Season Game Plan looks at a very talented Flyers roster and what they might need to do in order to secure the first-rate goaltender they've targeted.

After using three goaltenders in this year's playoffs, and getting swept in the second round by the eventual Cup-winning Boston Bruins, the Flyers didn't waste any time seeking out a solution for their shortcoming between the pipes.

Flyers GM Paul Holmgren traded a third-round pick to Phoenix for the rights to Ilya Bryzgalov, who is the only goaltender in the league to have a .920 ave percentage while playing at least 60 games in three of the last four seasons. (Henrik Lundqvist is the only one with two.)

Bryzgalov has had some trouble in recent playoffs, both against the Detroit Red Wings, so that may be considered an issue, since the whole purpose of bringing him in is to solve the Flyers' postseason woes, but Bryzgalov had some very good playoff performances in Anaheim earlier in his career, so it's not like he's inherently incapable of doing the job.

The Flyers are annually dancing around the league's salary cap, bouncing a player or two to the AHL to clear salaries off the books and utilizing the long-term injury list to fit in pieces that otherwise might not work and that creativity will likely be tested again this summer.

In order to make room for Bryzgalov, the Flyers will need to make moves. How drastic the cutting will depend on exactly what the level is of the league's salary cap and how much Bryzgalov expects on his deal.

While the Flyers may be able to get away with waiving Matt Walker and Michael Leighton, and dealing Kris Versteeg, that still might not be enough to get the job done. At that point, it could become a question of dealing a defenceman like Matt Carle or Braydon Coburn or as perhaps a last gasp, a top forward like Jeff Carter.

Certainly the ideal plan for the Flyers isn't going to require them to trade their leading goal-scorer from last season, but his name has popped up in trade rumours already this offseason.

The Flyers have the top-end talent and enough depth on the roster that they should be expecting to contend for the Stanley Cup annually. If it requires some hard decisions this summer to achieve that goal, then it will most certainly be worth it.

Of course, we can't know if the decisions are right until the games are played, so in the meantime, we'll wait and see how the Flyers attempt to get over the hump and win their first Cup since 1975.

GM/COACH
Paul Holmgren/Peter Laviolette

Returning Forwards

Player Rating Cap Hit
Jeff Carter 78.78 $5.273M
Danny Briere 78.59 $6.5M
Claude Giroux 78.01 $3.75M
Mike Richards 75.70 $5.75M
James van Riemsdyk 72.37 $1.654M
Scott Hartnell 71.17 $4.2M
Kris Versteeg 69.91 $3.083M
Blair Betts 60.31 $700K
Jody Shelley 57.52 $1.1M
Ian Laperriere N/A $1.167M

Free Agent Forwards

Player Rating Class '10-'11 Cap Hit
Ville Leino 70.57 UFA $800K
Nikolay Zherdev 66.55 UFA $2.0M
Andreas Nodl 65.04 RFA $850K
Darroll Powe 61.88 RFA $725K
Dan Carcillo 59.83 RFA $1.075M

Despite playing his fewest minutes per game (18:15) since his rookie year, Jeff Carter enjoyed another very productive season, scoring 36 goals and registering a career-best plus-27 rating.

Over the last three seasons, only four players -- Alexander Ovechkin, Patrick Marleau, Steven Stamkos and Sidney Crosby -- have more goals than Carter's 115.

Danny Briere followed up his outstanding 2010 playoff with his best regular season in four years with the Flyers, scoring 34 goals, 68 points and a career-high plus-20 rating.

Rising star Glaude Giroux scored 76 points and was plus-20, emerging as an elite all-around player in his third year in the league. Giroux was one of three players under the age of 25, along with Jonathan Toews and Anze Kopitar, to score more than 70 points and have at least a plus-20 rating.

Not only does Giroux have slick skills with the puck, he's also proven to be a hard-nosed determined player as well. No wonder Flyers fans are excited about his potential.

There was a time when that excitement was reserved for team captain Mike Richards, but an uneasy relationship with the media (and if reports are to be believed, perhaps with coach Peter Laviolette) has resulted in more criticism directed at Richards, even though he finished with 66 points a plus-11 rating.

James van Riemsdyk developed nicely in his second season, but took his game up a notch or three in the playoffs, when he scored seven goals in 11 games and, through two rounds, led all players in shots on goal.

JVR has a rare combination of size and soft hands which could make him a star if he can sustain a higher level of consistency as he matures.

There are so few players that provide both the skill and physical/agitating play of Scott Hartnell. He's surpassed 20 goals and 100 penalty minutes in five of the last six seasons, four times reaching those heights in the same season. Corey Perry, who has also done it four times, is the only other NHLer to top those two benchmarks more than twice in the last six seasons.

Kris Versteeg struggled to make an impact with the Flyers after coming over in a trade from Toronto and his marginal production (11 points in 27 games) leaves him as a prime candidate to be moved as the Flyers try to make moves to solidify their goaltending, yet somehow remain under the salary cap.

If the Flyers do need to move Versteeg, it shouldn't be difficult to find suitors because, even as disappointing as he was in Philadelphia, he's topped 20 goals for three straight seasons.

Blair Betts anchors the Flyers' penalty killing and is a fine fourth-line checker who has never scored more than 18 points in a season.

35-year-old enforcer Jody Shelley has been through the wars and can still tangle with the league's biggest and baddest after 167 regular season scraps (according to www.hockeyfights.com).

Ian Laperriere is as game as they come, but concussion woes kept him out of action all season, and it might not be reasonable to expect the 37-year-old to suit up and play the relentless style that's been his trademark for 1083 games.

Andreas Nodl landed a regular gig for much of the season, producing a little early before tailing off altogether in the second half, managing four points in 26 games after the All-Star break. Nodl is a competent NHL forward -- one of the best Austria has to offer -- and should have a spot provided he's re-signed at a reasonable price.

Darroll Powe is a blue-collar fourth-liner, who makes an impact with his energy and physical game. Undrafted, Powe played four years at Princeton, but reached the NHL shortly after turning pro, playing 95 games in the AHL, as he quickly found his niche.

The Car Bomb, Daniel Carcillo, has lost some of his lustre. As a rookie in Phoenix, in 2007-2008, Carcillo was on the lunatric fringe, wracking up 324 penalty minutes in 57 games, but he also contributed 13 goals and 24 points, making him a fairly valuable contributor. His game has declined since and he managed just six points last season while playing a career-low 7:46 per game.

There's no arguing Carcillo's passion, but it seems it will be a constant battle to harness his aggressive instincts in the right direction and if keeping him is going to cost more than $1-million, the Flyers might be fine with letting him go elsewhere since they have no shortage of players capable of causing mayhem on the ice.

The Flyers' two unrestricted free agents, Ville Leino and Nikolay Zherdev, present opposing sides of the free agency coin. Zherdev was productive enough in limited minutes, but the fact that he couldn't earn consistent ice time is an indication that the Flyers won't be too sad to see him leave, whereas Leino really emerged as a productive player in the 2009-2010 playoffs and carried it over to last season, scoring a career-high 53 points, so he's likely to earn a nice payday and it may not be in Philadelphia.

Given their salary cap situation, the Flyers aren't going to be big players in free agency, but may need to do some bargain hunting to fill out the depth chart after making a few cost-cutting moves.

Returning Defencemen

Player Rating Cap Hit
Chris Pronger 72.44 $4.921M
Kimmo Timonen 72.08 $6.333M
Andrej Meszaros 71.93 $4.0M
Matt Carle 71.04 $3.438M
Braydon Coburn 64.22 $3.2M
Matt Walker 56.61 $1.7M
Oskars Bartulis 55.21 $600K

Free Agent Defencemen

Player Rating Class '10-'11 Cap Hit
Nick Boynton 61.43 UFA $500K
Sean O'Donnell 61.41 UFA $1.3M

Even in year that was decidedly not his best, in part due to injuries, 36-year-old Chris Pronger still proved his value when he was in the lineup, despite a lighter workload (at least in terms of minutes) than any of his previous seasons.

The trouble for the Flyers is that they also don't know when Pronger might be ready to play next year after he underwent surgery last month to repair a herniated disc. If he's not ready to go at the start of the year, that could give the Flyers some salary cap leeway, as Pronger could spend some time on the long-term injury list, allowing the Flyers to exceed the salary cap for as long as Pronger is out.

Veteran Kimmo Timonen is as steady as they come, not to mention as durable and consistent. He's missed a total of 27 games in the last ten seasons, playing 22-23 minutes per game and scoring between 35 and 45 points in seven of the last nine seasons.

Coming to Philadelphia was a great opportunity for Andrej Meszaros. Not expected to handle as much responsibility as he did in Tampa Bay, Meszaros thrived in a depth role and then after regaining his confidence he handled big minutes down the stretch when Pronger was hurt, making it easier to envision him handling that kind of prominent role next season.

Matt Carle's career turned around in Philadelphia, too, particularly after he was paired with Pronger, but Carle's play has been strong enough to stand on its own merit and he played well even when Pronger was injured last season.

He managed just one goal, but Carle can move the puck well and his 40 points left him two behind his career-high and his plus-30 rating was the best mark of his career.

In 2007-2008, Braydon Coburn emerged with the Flyers as a superb passer who could skate extremely well for a big man. He's still a good skater and still big, but Coburn's puck skills and decision-making aren't quite as sharp.

Playing a more defensive role now, Coburn managed just 16 points last season (he had 36 in '07-'08), but his plus-15 rating was the second-best of his career.

Since the Flyers have five defencemen that could easily be considered top-four-calibre, Coburn or Carle -- both of whom have contracts that expire next season -- could possibly be deemed expendable as a cost-cutting move, but Philadelphia is likely better off maintaining their excellent depth on the blueline.

Still owed $1.7-million over the next two seasons, Matt Walker will be hard-pressed, really hard-pressed to make the roster. His contributions just don't allow his salary to fit in Philadelphia.

Reasonably-priced depth, Oskars Bartulis only played 13 games with the Flyers and had his season ended early by shoulder surgery. The 24-year-old hasn't shown anything yet to suggest that he's more than a seventh defenceman at the NHL level.

The Flyers have some prospects in the system that might be able to contribute, including Erik Gustafsson, but how much any prospects are needed will depend largely on health and whether any of the incumbents are moved out.

Returning Goaltenders

Player Rating Cap Hit
Sergei Bobrovsky 70.10 $1.75M
Michael Leighton 40.68 $1.55M

Free Agent Goaltenders

Player Rating Class '10-'11 Cap Hit
Ilya Bryzgalov 74.86 UFA $4.25M
Brian Boucher 72.33 UFA $925K

Sergei Bobrovsky was a surprising starter in the Flyers' first game last year and then went on to play in 54 games as a rookie, posting a 2.59 goals against average and .915 save percentage. He was better early in the season and his struggles in the playoffs cast his future as the starter in doubt, but he's not yet 23-years-old, so it's not as though a fade at the end of his rookie season means he can't be a quality starter in the league.

Michael Leighton was out for half the year with a back injury and then was stuck in the AHL, where he played very well and suddenly he ended up with a start in the playoffs for the Flyers, but he's now -- just one year removed from taking the Flyers to the Stanley Cup final -- looking like an expensive backup or even AHLer.

Philadelphia traded for the rights to unrestricted free agent Ilya Bryzgalov and they're now trying to get him under contract. It's a legitimate effort to stabilize a position that has been seen as the franchise's Achilles heel, pretty much since Ron Hextall patrolled the crease.

The challenge for the Flyers is paying the top dollar that Bryzgalov expects and then making the moves necessary to accomodate the deal under the salary cap.

Top Prospects

Player Pos. Team/League Stats
Erik Gustafsson D Adirondack (AHL) 5-44-49,-5, 72 GP
Matt Read RW Bemidji St. (WCHA) 22-13-35,+3, 37 GP
Eric Wellwood LW Adirondack (AHL) 16-12-28,-15, 73 GP
Tom Sestito LW Adirondack (AHL) 13-22-35,-15, 57 GP
Kevin Marshall D Adirondack (AHL) 3-11-14,-9, 78 GP
Mike Testwuide RW Adirondack (AHL) 18-21-39,+12, 76 GP
Ben Holmstrom RW Adirondack (AHL) 16-22-38,-13, 79 GP
Brendan Ranford LW Kamloops (WHL) 33-53-86,-10, 68 GP
Niko Hovinen G Pelicans (SML) 2.99 GAA, .914 SV%, 18 GP
Tye McGinn LW Gatineau (QMJHL) 31-33-64,+30, 42 GP

An undersized but mobile defencemen, Erik Gustafsson had an impressive rookie season with the Adirondack Phantoms of the AHL, to the point that he could be a serious contender for a spot on the Philadelphia blueline next season. With so many experienced blueliners ahead of him, easing Gustafsson into the NHL in a third-pair role might be ideal.

Signed out of Bemidji State in the spring, Matt Read might be the best of the Flyers' forward prospects if his late-season AHL audition (seven goals, 13 points in 11 games) is to be believed.

It says something about the quality of the Flyers prospects when one of their top forward prospect scored 28 points in the AHL last season. Eric Wellwood skates better than older brother Kyle Wellwood and didn't look out of place in three games with the Flyers, but he could probably use another year in the AHL to establish his offensive credentials at that level before worrying about the NHL.

Acquired from Columbus at the deadline, Tom Sestito is a bruiser who has scrapped 28 times in the AHL over the last two seasons, along with four times in nine games with the Blue Jackets last season, when he also contributed four points. While the physical game is going to be Sestito's bread-and-butter, he did score 42 goals in his last year of junior, so he at least has a clue what to do around the opponent's net.

An aggressive defensive presence with a physical edge to his game, Kevin Marshall could further refine his all-around game, but he's a battler that has two AHL seasons under his belt and could be ready for a look in Philadelphia soon.

A big forward with a bit of a scoring touch, Mike Testwuide had a solid first pro campaign after four years at Colorado College but, at 24-years-old, he should be closer to the NHL than some of the other prospects.

Another 24-year-old, Ben Holmstrom, is a high-energy checker who showed a little more offensively in his first AHL season than might have been expected following his collegiate career at UMass-Lowell.

A seventh-round pick last summer, Brendan Ranford continues to improve in the WHL and now that he's earned a rep as a scorer, he can still work on a more complete game before worrying about playing in Philadelphia.

Niko Hovinen may be a bit of a project, but the 6-foot-7 goaltender is intriguing enough and, considering the Flyers' track record between the pipes, it's probably best to take the no-stone-unturned approach.

A big forward with good hands, Tye McGinn will get a chance to prove he can score in the AHL next season. Whether he can succeed as a pro may depend on whether he's quick enough to consistently put himself in position to score.

Zac Rinaldo may be as likely as any Flyers forward prospect to land a spot in Philadelphia, but a forward who had nine points and 331 penalty minutes as a rookie in the AHL last season has a defined role as a disturber that also means a relatively low ceiling.

Check out a possible roster for next season on www.capgeek.com, counting on some moves to get under the cap and possibly a generous cap increase: http://bit.ly/m6rArc

DRAFT
No first-round pick.

FREE AGENCY
According to www.capgeek.com, the Flyers have approximately $60.7M committed to the 2011-12 salary cap for 19 players.

Needs: One top nine forward, one defenceman, goaltender, cap room.

What I said the Flyers needed last year: Two defencemen, starting goaltender.

They added: Nikolay Zherdev, Andrej Meszaros, Sean O'Donnell, Sergei Bobrovsky.

TRADE MARKET Kris Versteeg, Matt Carle, Braydon Coburn, Matt Walker, Sergei Bobrovsky.

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.

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