The Philadelphia Flyers overhauled their roster last summer and the new-look team still topped 100 points and did win their first-round playoff series against their arch-rivals from Pittsburgh.
Off-Season Game Plan looks at a Flyers team that has lots of talent, but has a couple major issues to address if they are going to be legitimate Stanley Cup contenders.
General Manager Paul Holmgren took a major chance trading Mike Richards and Jeff Carter last summer, a decision that came home to roost when Richards and Carter won Stanley Cup with the Los Angeles Kings.
Viewing those deals through a larger perspective though, Holmgren stocked the Flyers' roster with young talent and increased the Flyers' financial flexibility. It just so happened that additional issues posed insurmountable problems.
The first issue was losing defenceman Chris Pronger early in the season due to serious concussion effects. Even in his late-30s, Pronger was still a bona fide No. 1 defenceman and it's not easy -- okay, it's damn near impossible -- to fill that void in the lineup.
Another problematic issue for the Flyers was the play of goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, whose long-term, big-money contract ate into some of that coveted financial flexibility, which would have been fine if only Bryzgalov would have played well. He didn't. And while it's one thing to try and plow ahead without the big dog on the blueline, doing it with subpar goaltending is a pipe dream.
That leaves some work for Holmgren this summer but, all things considered, he's coming from a relative position of strength making moves for a team that is positioned to be a contender for many years if someone will stop the puck.
The TSN.ca Rating is an efficiency rating based on per-game statistics including goals and assists -- weighted for strength (ie. power play, even, shorthanded) -- plus-minus, hits, blocked shots, giveaways, takeaways, penalty differential and faceoffs. (Stats are listed in this format: G-A-PTS, +/-, PIM, GP). Generally, a replacement-level player is around a 60, a top six forward and top four defenceman will be 70-plus and the biggest stars will be over 80. Evgeni Malkin finished at the top of the regular season ratings with a 93.12.
Salary cap information all comes from the indispensable www.capgeek.com.
Paul Holmgren/Peter Laviolette
|James van Riemsdyk||68.13||43||11||13||24||-1||$4.25M|
|Player||Rating||GP||G||A||PTS||+/-||Class||'11-'12 Cap Hit|
When the Flyers decided to jettison Mike Richards and Jeff Carter last summer, that passed the mantle of leadership to Claude Giroux, who continued his evolution to stardom. Giroux has increased his point total in each of the last three seasons (by 20, 19 and 17 points). He's one of the game's premier offensive players, but the 24-year-old can also play with some grit when the situation demands it, so it's no surprise that he's been a force in the playoffs (scoring 55 points in 50 career playoff games).
It's hard to imagine an 11-year NHL veteran with a well-earned reputation for falling down, but that is the case with Scott Hartnell who, nonetheless, was very effective alongside Giroux, scoring a career-high 37 goals and 67 points last season. Hartnell is a rambunctious sort that offers a rare blend of talent and toughness. Over the last five seasons, he's the only player in the league with at least 120 goals and 700 penalty minutes.
34-year-old Danny Briere may be showing some signs of age (and effects of concussions), as he finished wth 49 points in 70 games last season, his lowest points-per-game scoring rate since 2000-2001, before he was even a regular in the league. Of course, as usual, he still revved it up for the playoffs, scoring eight goals and 13 points in 11 games, so he remains a valuable scorer, but maybe in more of a supporting role as he hits his mid-30s.
A solid two-way contributor throughout his rookie season, 25-year-old Matt Read played in a variety of roles and proved to be both a reliable checker and valuable secondary scorer. His versatility enhances his value, but it could be unlikely long-term that he gets more ice time than younger rookies with more upside, like Sean Couturier and Brayden Schenn.
Wayne Simmonds received better opportunities in Philadelphia and responded to increased ice time (and power play time) by scoring a career-high 28 goals and 49 points. He can get under opponents' skin and, combined with his increased productivity, it makes him quite valuable relative to his cost.
Expectations have been high for James van Riemsdyk since he was drafted second overall in 2007, but the power forward has been slow to develop, showing flashes and going through spurts that suggest he can be a perennial 30-goal scorer, but injuries hampered him last season. After scoring 16 points in the first 20 games, van Riemsdyk started a run of injuries - hip, concussion, foot -- and managed eight points in the last 23 games that he played. At 23-years-old and signed long-term, van Riemsdyk could be trade bait, but has more value, obviously, if he gets healthy.
It may have seemed aggressive for the Flyers to offer Maxime Talbot a five-year deal as a free agent last summer, but Talbot responded by scoring a career-high 19 goals and 34 points while playing the hard minutes, with more defensive zone starts and tougher checking assignments (www.behindthenet.ca).
Getting the eighth overall pick in last year's draft from Columbus as part of the swap for Jeff Carter seemed like decent value at the time and it turned out to be an exceptional value pick when Sean Couturier slipped at least a few spots beyond expectations. The 19-year-old stepped right in to the Flyers' lineup, thanks to his impressive defensive responsibility, and played like a veteran for much of the season.
Couturier has more offensive upside to be explored as he matures, but he was already trusted with high-leverage ice time in a defensive role as a rookie, so he's going to be a valuable building block for the next generation of Flyers forwards.
The fifth overall pick in 2009, Brayden Schenn has taken some time to stick in the NHL and was up-and-down as a rookie last season, finishing on a high note, with nine points in 11 playoff games. It will be interesting to see what Schenn can produce once the 20-year-old forward earns a regular spot on a scoring line.
22-year-old winger Eric Wellwood landed a regular spot in the lineup late in the season and into the playoffs. He's a hard worker with some skill and might have a better shot at playing time on a team without the Flyers' depth up front.
Zac Rinaldo is generally a trouble maker, ranking second in the league with 232 penalty minutes last season. The 22-year-old has 20 points in 130 pro games (between AHL and NHL), so it's going to be an uphill climb for him to be anything more than a fourth-line disturber.
Veteran enforcer Jody Shelley was a part-time player, dressing for only 30 games, and he's essentially been phased out of the operation. The 36-year-old will still deal with the big boys, but appears to be part of a dying breed.
Jakub Voracek has good size and plenty of talent and has been a reasonably productive player, but hasn't had the kind of breakthrough that might have been expected through his first four seasons. He finished strong, with a point-per-game in the last 15 and then 10 points in 11 playoff games, so maybe it's next year that he goes beyond the 45-50 point range.
The Flyers have enough depth to push ahead even if they don't re-sign Jaromir Jagr, but even though he's 40-years-old and not the player he was in his prime, he's a fine complement to Giroux. The challenge for any team signing Jagr, including the Flyers, is what to make of his second-half struggles (seven goals, 23 points in his last 41 games), particularly when he would still prefer to get more ice time than last year's career-low 16:20 per game.
|Player||Rating||GP||G||A||PTS||+/-||Class||'11-'12 Cap Hit|
Facing the future without Chris Pronger, the Flyers' greatest need is on defence, where they have a solid enough group, but have no one suitable to replace the future Hall of Famer.
Few defencemen are as reliable and steady as Kimmo Timonen, the 37-year-old who has scored between 37 and 44 points in each of the last five seasons. Since 2001-2002, he ranks fifth among defencemen with 437 points, behind Nicklas Lidstrom, Sergei Gonchar, Dan Boyle and Tomas Kaberle.
Back surgery knocked Andrej Meszaros out of the lineup for 19 games at the end of the regular season and the first 10 of the playoffs, which was a costly loss for a unit already a tad undermanned. Nevertheless, Meszaros is a capable top-four defenceman who may be needed to take on a very significant role next season, particularly if the Flyers don't get Matt Carle signed to a new deal.
Though it appears that Braydon Coburn's 36-point season in 2007-2008 may not be replicated any time soon, Coburn has been steady in a shutdown role, playing more than 21 minutes per game and missing a total of eight games in the last five seasons.
The Flyers don't have a lot of undersized mobile defencemen, but Erik Gustafsson filled in at times last season and, while playing protected minutes (more offensive zone starts, weaker competition per www.behindthenet.ca) the 23-year-old was effective enough to contend for a spot on the roster next season.
Acquired from Dallas prior to the trade deadline, Nicklas Grossmann provided a steady defensive presence, steady enough that the Flyers signed the 27-year-old to a new contract before he could hit free agency. Focused on a shutdown defensive role, Grossmann's presence ought to help free up some other blueliners for more offensive roles, if need be.
Veteran Andreas Lilja has been an extra D-man, playing 118 games for three different teams over the last three seasons. Despite his plus-9 rating, he struggled last season, so the 36-year-old isn't likely to be any more than a seventh or eighth defenceman from this point forward.
Part of the reason that Lilja can be bumped aside is that young defencemen like Gustafsson and Marc-Andre Bourdon are pushing for roles. Bourdon was solid enough in his 45 games with the Flyers last season that, like Gustafsson, he could be in consideration for a full-time position next year.
Philadelphia has concerns rounding out this group, however. If Pronger is indeed finished due to post-concussion effects and Matt Carle departs via free agency, Philadelphia could really use a top four -- or even top pair -- defenceman. Perhaps trading a forward or two could bring that player, but the Flyers might also explore the free agent market, where Ryan Suter, Jason Garrison, Barret Jackman or Sheldon Souray could be potential solutions among a thinning free agent class.
When the Flyers decided to rest the fate of their franchise on the shoulders of Ilya Bryzgalov last summer, signing him to a nine-year, $51-million contract, they took a great risk, paying substantially more than other goaltenders were getting on the free agent market. As it turned out, Bryzgalov struggled early before improving in the second half (.895 SV% prior to the All-Star break, .929 SV% after), but he was subpar in the playoffs as well, only managing to get through the first round when his awful play wasn't quite as poor as Marc-Andre Fleury's play for Pittsburgh.
Given his contract, the Flyers are committed to Bryzgalov and they have to hope that he can get his game back on track next season.
While Sergei Bobrovsky remains under contract for next season, he's expected to be shopped around so that the Flyers can bring in a steadying influence to backup Bryzgalov. Martin Biron, Scott Clemmensen or Josh Harding might be the best free agent options.
|Ben Holmstrom||C||Adirondack (AHL)||15-26-41, -14, 67 GP|
|Nick Cousins||C||Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)||35-53-88, +1, 65 GP|
|Jason Akeson||RW||Adirondack (AHL)||14-41-55, -9, 76 GP|
|Oliver Lauridsen||D||Adirondack (AHL)||3-4-7, -5, 65 GP|
|Brandon Manning||D||Adirondack (AHL)||6-13-19, -6, 46 GP|
|Tom Sestito||LW||Adirondack (AHL)||9-8-17, -2, 34 GP|
|Tye McGinn||LW||Adirondack (AHL)||12-9-21, -1, 63 GP|
|Marcel Noebels||LW||Portland (WHL)||20-38-58, -3, 62 GP|
|Matt Mangene||D||Maine (HE)||16-18-34, even, 40 GP|
|Harry Zolnierczyk||LW||Adirondack (AHL)||8-13-21, -10, 39 GP|
The Flyers don't have high-end prospects, in large part because the young guys have already stepped into the Philadelphia lineup, but 25-year-old Ben Holmstrom is a reliable, gritty checker that seems safe to project in a depth role.
A third-round pick last summer, Nick Cousins can agitate and he's skilled enough to have his point totals climbing year after year in the Ontario Hockey League.
An undrafted free agent signing, Jason Akeson led Adirondack in scoring as a 21-year-old rookie pro. It's not going to be easy to crack the Flyers' lineup, but with further development, Akeson could be a nice value signing.
A project with potential to turn into a reliable defender, Oliver Lauridsen is a 6-foot-6 Danish blueliner who is working on his puck skills, but has the size and aggressiveness to make it to the next level.
Another undrafted player who performed well in his first pro season, Brandon Manning even got into four games with Philadelphia when injuries decimated the Flyers' blueline. The 22-year-old could use at least another full season in the minors, since he played a total of 50 pro games last season, but he's worth keeping an eye on.
Tom Sestito has five points and 147 penalty minutes in 27 career NHL games, so his role is pretty much established, if he's going to make the big club. At the same time, he's scored 52 points in 91 AHL games over the last couple seasons, which is more than the stereotypical thug, so there could at least be a fourth-line regular lurking in there somewhere.
A blue-collar winger with good size, Tye McGinn has a chance to develop into an NHL winger, but he's going to need further development before he's capable of challenging for a spot.
German-born winger Marcel Noebels was a fourth-round pick last summer and after a so-so regular season, he scored 23 points in 22 playoff games for Portland, perhaps a decent launching point for the 20-year-old to get into his pro career.
Signed out of the University of Maine, defenceman Matt Mangene scored 16 goals in 40 games and got into five AHL games late in the year.
24-year-old winger Harry Zolnierczyk isn't going to score much (he had six points in 37 games with the Flyers), but he's capable of filling an energy role any time the Flyers run into manpower issues.
In addition to the several prospects that are on the bubble that played enough with the Flyers last season to be considered returnees (Erik Gustafsson, Eric Wellwood and Marc-Andre Bourdon), defencemen Blake Kessel and Matt Konan add further depth to the Flyers' relatively shallow prospect pool.
Needs: One top four defenceman, veteran backup goaltender.
What I said the Flyers needed last year: One top nine forward, one defenceman, goaltender, cap room.
They added: Jaromir Jagr, Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds, Matt Read, Maxime Talbot, Sean Couturier, Brayden Schenn, Zac Rinaldo, Ilya Bryzgalov.