So with the Pronger trade now in the books, like it or not, the Flyers have a VERY different look about them. Number one, they acquired another 6-million-dollar defenseman. Number two, the most consistent linemates up front last season, Hartnell, Carter, and Lupul, will not be playing together. Number three, the cap looms larger every day.
So what could possibly be happening in a few days, once free agency begins? What needs do the Flyers still have, and how can they address them?
Concern #1 is how close to the salary cap they already are. So we can pretty much assume that unless someone gets traded for a minor-leaguer and some baseball cards, Knuble, Alberts, and Niittymaki are gone. There just isn't justification to keep them - which sucks, because I actually like all three. Knuble will still score his 20 goals next year, Alberts actually came on strong at the end of the season, and while Niitty isn't a starter, he's sure a good backup. But the void in the Flyers team right now is one that none of those guys can fill adequately. The hole in the Flyers squad currently is ... at center.
You're saying, "What? Are you *^*&%$!!!! nuts?!?! CENTER? The Flyers have so many centers they'll be playing them as wings next year!" Which is absolutely true, in my opinion. Consider this - the one thing that killed the Flyers in the playoffs was the lack of a defensive centerman. Faceoffs were lost, pucks were kept in the defensive zone, goals were given up. What the team needs most right now (now that the back end hole has been MOST adequately shored up by Pronger) is a faceoff man with defensive skills, something missing since Mikael Handzus was in Orange and Black (no offense to Glen Metropolit, but he was still learning to play that role when we lost him). Do you see any such player, either with the Flyers now or in the system? NOPE. In fact, the closest thing to a defensive center is the "throw-away" player they got with Chris Pronger, Ryan Dingle, who played last year for Iowa in the AHL but bounces between that level of play and the ECHL.
The Flyers centers may have two-way ability, or even decent defensive skills when properly motivated (Richards and Carter, respectively) but none have defensive specialization. Briere? No way. Giroux? Not really bad in his own zone, but not a real defensive center either. Powe has the defense but can't win a faceoff to save his life. And Jared Ross is just too damn small. So what is a powerfully-offensive team to do???
Allow me to blow your minds. Listed as his natural position, Claude Giroux is, in fact, a right wing. So, rather than trying to find room for him as a center or wasting his talent on the third or fourth line, let him play right wing! If Knuble can't be signed (or we choose not to) then move Giroux up to the first line right wing! So Gagne is the shooter, Richards is the all-around player, and Giroux is the playmaker. Sounds like a balanced line to me!
Point number two - putting a several-million-a-year player like Briere on the third line is simply a waste as well. But Carter is definitely the second-line center, so ... let Briere play left wing! Hartnell gets to move to right wing, his more natural spot, and be the mucker for this line. Briere on the left becomes the playmaker in the zone and the mobilization out from the goalie, while Carter gets even more help than ever feeding that wicked wrist shot. Can you see Carter posting 60 goals with someone like Danny Briere feeding him??? Sick!
SO what then becomes of the third line? I think Darrell Powe has definitely earned a spot, with his smart and physical play. Carcillo has enough skill to play third line winger, if he can just mature a hairsbreadth and stop taking stupid penalties (and if not, Asham will happily play more minutes). And here is the open center position! So, why this free agent center rather than a winger? A top-six winger commands a much bigger salary than a third-line center! I mean, Lupul was a 20-goal scorer and was due $4.25 million this season! Enter Samuel Pahlsson, Free Agent, recently of the Chicago Blackhawks and paid a whopping $1.4 million last year. In 65 games last season, he had only 18 points. BUT he also won 54% of his faceoffs, and only got hit for 34 menalty minutes. He's 31 years old, reliable, and FILLS THE NEED. And there are a few players out there in the market like that - heck, maybe swiping John Madden from the Devils is worth the extra cap money!
And just look at the Flyers lineup then ...
Gagne - Richards - Giroux
Briere - Carter - Hartnell
Carcillo - Pahlsson - Powe
Cote - Ross - Asham
Timonen - Coburn
Pronger - Carle
Parent - Jones
Emery - uh, still looking. How 'bout Scott Clemmensen? :)