There has been talk since last years playoffs that we are overloaded and jammed up on centers. Two years ago we put Danny Briere back into his accustomed center position with good results. This year we took Jeff Carter out of his and he still led the team in goal scoring. We also signed Carter to a long term contract, and gave Giroux his first payday. Now, the soonest time one of our top 4 Centers should be even thinking about leaving the city of brotherly love is 2014. This creates some challenges but also some possible solutions, as in more recent months I noticed another logjam apart from centers in the Flyers forwards, a jam up on penalty killers.
If you follow the Flyers regularly, the first two names that usually come to mind of PK specialist from the 10-11 season are likely Blaire Betts and Darroll Powe. With the injury to Ian Laperriere, you also saw Andreas Nodl step into the penalty kill specialist role at times.
In a rotation system of the Flyers playing specialists and stars you saw the tandem of Mike Richards and Claude Giroux play with one another on the kill most of the season. A late season trade added Kris Versteeg into a rotation shown often late in the season and the playoffs, removing Richards at times.
Now, in the off-season, the topic of roles is often generated. Not only who plays where, or on what line, or in what situation, but also of what importance to the team. This may, in fact, be where things get tricky in the beginning of this line of thought. As the team deepens in terms of talent, when do you break out of traditional roles?
To put it in context here, should a team captain ever play a fourth line role? Writing this at a time where there have been many comments challenging Richards leadership, I want to be clear I do not want to do so. At the same time, I argued against trying him out at wing at seasons start but admit to entertaining the idea of "demoting" him to the 4th line at seasons end. The big question in this is, can your Captain be taken seriously on a 4th line?
All teams look to make themselves deeper and more competitive, and the Flyers have done so in ways that celebrate two-way play. I agree whole heartedly with this. But it means their talent fits into roles that most teams hold for specialists. Also that the men who excel on the PP units also excel on PK.
Unsung heroes and specialists are a great thing, and often times in a salary cap world, a vital thing to have. But I find myself examining the team make up and trying to decide if they are truly the best thing for the current make up of the Flyers.
Looking at a penalty kill situation of two forward units, and the style of play and system our coach has in play, wouldn't the best combinations be Giroux/Richards and two of Versteeg/Nodl/Betts/Powe? This is not what we had at the end of the season, as Giroux or Richards was rested in place for Versteeg and the Betts/Powe tandem was not tinkered with.
Now entering the off-season and looking at our free agents one thing popped out at me. Immediately I had a sudden gut reaction that we have to resign Darroll Powe. Hes inexpensive, hes a role player, and him and Betts were fantastic together all season. But as I have looked and poked around and thought about it, it may or may not be the best move for the team.
For the ease of creating as little extra extrapolation as possible I am going to say, for the moment, that the first 3 lines in our lineup are set, deals are made, and we are only examining 1 line and the Penalty Kill. These top 3 lines would be as follows. Arguments about Phantom call ups, Leino, or Zherdev re-signing are not meant to add to this argument.
I believe, if the team was held as much intact as possible, all parties are happy, theres money to go around, etc. These are good lines. Maybe a wing moves around, and you do have a rookie in there, but this is a salary cap world.
This brings up the fourth line. And again, our captain not being on the top 3. Which raises more issues. First, glaringly, it means you have Blaire Betts banished to the press box. I do not dislike any Flyer, but Richards is obviously a better talent, and if you are deep enough to roll 4 lines of equal minutes, why not? This also brings up the who wings Richards controversies, and again for simplicity I would like to keep options to current rosters, or resigned players.
Option 1: You go with the most economic pairing, cost of raises to Leino/Zherdev, or replacing Boucher by going after an expensive goalie have left you close to the cap:
Powe is cheaper to resign than Carcillo or Nodl, and any way around it, unless you banish him to the AHL Shelley is already signed for next year. Also if Carcillo pulls what he did last year with arbitration he likely costs more than Shelley, regardless, for the year. In terms of lowest hit to your cap your healthy scratches are Blaire Betts and Zak Rinaldo, who combined are barely making more than Shelly.
Your PK lines become Richards/Giroux and Versteeg/Powe, injury allowance you still have a Betts safety net.
Option 2: Respectable line at respectable price.
Resigning Carcillo and Nodl will be more expensive than Powe, but none of the players is going to be making in the multiple millions next season. You have the added benefit of a 4th line that is led by one of the best two-way defensive hard hitting centers in the league and has had at least some chemistry with both his wings, both of which have had second and third line opportunities in the past. Shelly and Betts become your healthy scratches.
Your PK lines become Richards/Giroux and Versteeg/Nodl, injury allowance again falls to Betts.
Any of this creates problems. Why is your Captain a fourth line center? Why do you not have a single traditional specialist on your playing roster, other than Nodl? How can you run a grueling up-tempo system playing your best players at even strength, penalty kill, and power play? But in respect to other questions, money concerns, and removing the growing overlaps of talent on this team and the roles they play, it might be worth taking a hard look on if those questions. Are they relevant if the changes make the team stronger and better prepared against the competition?