Where Do We Go From Here?

Posted: June 28, 2012 in Uncategorized

Flyers GM Paul Holmgren is never one to shy away from the spotlight. In one of his first major moves in 2007, Holmgren spent big bucks on Danny Briere on the first day of free agency. Then, two years later, the team made a big splash at the draft by trading for Chris Pronger. Few thought it was possible for Holmgren to shock Flyers’ nation even more a year. But, he certainly proved the doubters wrong by trading Mike Richards and Jeff Carter for talented young players that make up the current team’s core.

What will Holmgren do for an encore this season?

Free agency begins this Sunday, and anyone who has followed the Flyers knows that they will be active in their never-ending pursuit of Lord Stanley’s Cup. The Flyers have about $11 million in cap space. This should allow Holmgren to make one or two key moves to better the team. The first few dominoes have already fallen, as evidenced by the trading of G Sergei Bobrovsky and LW James van Riemsdyk. But, what do these moves set up exactly. Below is an analysis of the Flyers’ needs and who they may go after to fill them:

1. Defenseman

The Flyers may have acquired Luke Schenn from Toronto last weekend, but they still have a need on the blue-line. With Pronger’s career in doubt and Matt Carle an unrestricted free agent, two holes needed to be filled coming into the offseason. Landing Brayden’s brother filled one, but Holmgren still must find a replacement for Carle. For the past few weeks, it was expected that the team would eventually resign the much maligned puck-moving defenseman. But, Dennis Wideman’s 5 year, $26 million extension with Calgary (who acquired his rights from Washington via a trade on Wednesday), threw a wrench in those plans. Yes, Wideman was an All-Star this season. But, his body of work is the picture of inconsistency. With Wideman receiving over $5 million a season, Carle should be expected to demand at least $4.5 million. Are the Flyers really prepared to give Carle such a cap-constricting contract?

After Ryan Suter, Carle is probably the best defenseman on the market. Expect there to be a significant amount of interest in him. The Flyers’ first option to replace him should be Suter. After all, he is the best defenseman out there short of trading for Shea Weber. Cheaper alternatives would include Dallas’ Sheldon Souray (6 G, 15 A) or Vancouver’s Sami Salo (9 G, 16 A). Both of these players would provide equivalent offense and defense as Carle at a discounted price. Other options include Florida’s Jason Garrison (16 G, 17 A) and former Wisconsin Badger product Justin Schultz.

2. Top-Six Forward

A top-six forward is a valuable commodity in the NHL. There are thousands of hockey players but only 180 can call themselves top-six NHL forwards any given year. With the trade of JVR and the loss of Jaromir Jagr to free agency, the Flyers lost two of their top-six forwards from last season. Now, it remains a possibility that Holmgren could go conservative and make do with what he has on the roster. Still, no one wants to see Jody Shelley dressed for 82 games. Nor should Flyers fans be comfortable with expecting that Hartnell, Simmonds, or Read will mimic their spectacular breakout 2011-2012 campaigns. Instead, Paul Holmgren should focus on acquiring a top-six winger to pair with Claude Giroux on the first line.

The dream scenario would be for Zach Parise to drive over the Ben Franklin Bridge and join the Flyers on Sunday. But, it’s unlikely that, with all the teams interested in Parise, he chooses Philadelphia. After the New Jersey Devils’ star, the pickings become a bit slim. Former Washington Capital Alexander Semin is an intriguing offensive talent. But, his perceived apathetic defensive play would bring back nightmares of Nik Zherdev’s time in orange-and-black. Semin also seems more interested in joining the KHL than sticking in North America.

The next best option would be Islanders’ RW P.A. Parenteau. Many will remember this Quebec native as the lone Ranger to score in the season ending shootout that sent the Flyers to the playoffs in 2009-2010. Islanders fans know him as the player who emerged from nothing the past two seasons to notch career highs in points with 53 in 2010-2011 and 67 in 2011-2012. However, he does not exactly fit the mold for a winger to slot next to Giroux. In fact, he could be considered a “Giroux-lite.” While he does not have the talent or work-ethic that Claude has, his playmaking abilities are of the same mold.

Two Phoenix Coyotes, Ray Whitney and Shane Doan, could be possibilities. But, their age and cost could be prohibitive. It is also unlikely that the Flyers go out and trade for a top-six winger considering the asking prices on Columbus RW Rick Nash and Anaheim RW Bobby Ryan. At this point, it appears the most likely scenario is that Holmgren retains Jagr at around or slightly above the $3.3 million he received last season.

3. Backup Goaltender

With Sergei Bobrovsky shipped off to Columbus, the Flyers will need to find a backup to keep starter Ilya Bryzgalov fresh during the season. Michael Leighton is finally a free agent, and I doubt resigning the goat of game six would be seen with much support from the fans. Meanwhile, the Flyers have some good young prospects in the system headlined by Finnish GK Niko Hovinen. The 6’7, 24 year old is expected to join Adirondack next year with an ETA in Philadelphia of 2013-2014. So, that leaves Holmgren with some options. He could make a trade for a cheap, unproven backup. Or, he could scan free agency for a veteran backup. The top free agent goalies include: Martin Brodeur, Al Montoya, Martin Biron, and Scott Clemmensen.

There is less than a 1% chance that Brodeur leaves New Jersey. Marty will either return to defend his team’s Eastern Conference championship or he will retire as the greatest goaltender of all time. That leaves the trio of Montoya, Biron, and Clemmensen.

Most Flyers fans know Montoya as the backup Islanders goalie who always seemed to struggle against the Flyers’ attack. The sixth overall pick by the Rangers in 2004, Montoya has been a dramatic draft bust (as most first round goalies are). But, the past few years, he has proven that he can play at least a marginal role in the NHL. His 2010-2011 season was by far the best of his career, when he went 9-5-3, with a 2.39 GAA. He should come pretty cheap if that is the route the Flyers want to go.

Biron is a familiar face in Philadelphia. The former Rangers’ goalie spent three seasons with the Flyers, leading them to the playoffs in his final two years with the team. Since then, Biron has been backing up Vezina Trophy winner Henrik Lundqvist in New York. Biron would be a fantastic choice as Bryzgalov’s backup if for no other reason than his experience as both a backup and with The City of Brotherly Love. Marty was always well liked when he was here, even if his inconsistencies were often mind-numbing.

The other option available is Scott Clemmensen. The former Boston College star has spent the past three seasons in Sunrise, Florida playing 30+ games a year for the Panthers. His numbers are nothing special. But, he’s a capable backup who can come in and start if injuries occur. Clemmensen won 14 games last year backing up Jose Theodore and is probably the safest best (and most expensive) of all three goalies mentioned.

Paul Holmgren was on the golf course when he was interviewed by Comcast Sportsnet – Philadelphia earlier this week. He better get his leisure time out of the way now, because come Sunday, there will be no time for fun. The Flyers have not won a Stanley Cup in 37 years. The real work to reach that desired goal begins on Sunday when NHL free agency begins.

 

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