I want to start off by stating a few names and you guys guess what they have in common: Doughty, Chara, Keith, Letang/Gonchar, Lidstrom, Pronger. They are the top defender for each Stanley Cup winner over the past six years. Every single one of these guys is a legit 10+ year staple for a team as the top defender. The Flyers do not have one of these players. Kimmo, while having a great season can’t quite log the 30+ minutes per game in the playoffs that he could 2-3 years ago, and while Schenn and Coburn can, they are far from legitimate number one defenders. When I think of a number one defender I think of someone who quarterbacks the top powerplay unit, plays against the toughest opponents and leads the team in time on ice. Other than those listed above, there aren’t many more legit #1’s in the NHL (Suter is debatable, Subban is developing into one, Weber’s a no-brainer, Yandle doesn’t have true shut down ability, OEL is a few years away, Petrangelo is in the debate, and Phaneuf is a #1).
My point with that opening paragraph that has nothing to do with the Flyers or how they should deal with their offseason presents a fact: It is very tough to win a Stanley Cup without a true #1 defender. The Flyers don’t have one of them and there is very limited access to acquiring one around the league. I think that the Flyers reaching and overpaying on a #2/3 would be set the franchise back, but if they can grab one of the guys mentioned above, they seriously have to look into the deal.
Right now I see our forward unit looking like this:
A -Giroux- Voracek
B -Schenn- B
C -Couturier- C
A. Possible top line wingers: I want to start off by saying I don’t think it’s very difficult to play with Giroux and Voracek. Tye McGinn played really well on that line in his limited time, and I think he could be a very viable option for winning that role next year. Considering they’ve had some pretty good chemistry thus far and we’ve beaten some good teams with the line together, Simone Gagne said he would take a pay cut to sign here. I think somewhere in the 2-year, 2.5 AAV would be a very fair deal for both sides. Jaromir Jagr looks to be a rental in Boston, and while I think he’d be more expensive than Gagne, he could be an option to play here as well; I think he’d be of value at 3.25 million for one year. Scott Hartnell, Matt Read and Wayne Simmonds are all guys who played with Giroux and Voracek this year and would put up numbers with them going forward if given the opportunity.
B. Its no secret that the Flyers have forward depth. Tye McGinn played on Schenn’s wing while Brayden was in the AHL putting up point-per-game numbers during the lockout. If Hartnell doesn’t win the top line role, he’d be an obvious choice to play with Schenn on the second line considering he doesn’t really fit in on Couturier’s third line (aka. our “shutdown line”). Matt Read, Simon Gagne, and Wayne Simmonds all have the scoring touch to play with Schenn and the defensive ability to play with Couturier. Jaromir Jagr could fit in on this line if we sign him and we don’t think he can log the even strength minutes to play with Giroux over the course of the season. Jason Akeson has led the Phantoms in scoring over the last two years and is still young at only 22-years-old (he was signed as an undrafted free agent after he lead the OHL in scoring in his final season). Nick Cousins was the Flyers 3rd round draft pick in 2011 (the pick was acquired in the Carter trade) was in the top-5 in the OHL in scoring this year. While he is one of our top prospects he’ll most likely going to start the year in the AHL to get used to the professional game. His game is most often compared to Brad Marchand, he scores a lot with great hands and vision, in addition to being a very effective agitator.
C. Over the past two years Sean Couturier has started in the Flyers own zone at a higher rate than nearly everyone in hockey. In order to play his wing you must be very defensively responsible, considering you will be going up against the opposition’s best players night in and night out. As I mentioned in the last paragraph, Read, Gagne and Simmonds could all potentially fit in this role. Paul Holmgren all but confirmed that Laughton will be a Flyer next year in an interview recently, and this checking role fits him perfectly. I read an article today (it could have been yesterday) about how NHL scouts have told Ian Laperriere (now a Flyer scout for those who don’t know) that Laughton has been the OHL’s best player this year---a huge compliment considering the OHL is typically regarded as the top amateur league in the world. Laughton would give Couturier not only another great, young defensive forward to play with, but Laughton has tons of offensive upside as well (although his ceiling may not be as high as Couturier---most scouts think Laughton could top out as a good second line center, while Sean has legitimate top-line potential). Zac Rinaldo got a try out with Couturier earlier this year, although I would absolutely hate Rinaldo in a 12-15 minutes/per shutdown role considering he isn't any good at hockey (he's an agitator and they belong on the fourth line). Zac doesn’t deserve double digit ice time and would be best suited in a fourth line role. Eric Wellwood is another defensively responsible, young forward who has to have his eye on this job as well. The Flyers could always sign another 4th line center so Talbot could continue playing with Couturier, although I’d love for the Flyers to match Coots with someone with more offense in his game than Talbot.
D. Talbot and Rinaldo need a third man as well, and while the Flyers did recently sign Jay Rosehill, I view him more as a 13th forward (especially come playoff time) than an every day guy. Tye McGinn could be stashed down on the fourth line, although I’d rather see him getting big minutes on a top line in the AHL. Cousins could also fit here due to his “agitator” title that he’s been given. Ben Holmstrom is a young forward who has been the Phantom’s captian for the past two years that has the mold of a fourth liner if needed. Eric Wellwood is another option that the front office has passed over for the better parts of two years. Rusty Fedotenko and Adam Hall could also be resigned, although I think Rusty is way over the hill. I wouldn’t mind Hall at all considering he’s a center and should Talbot need to jump up the depth chard, Hall could cover that spot for him.
I want to bring up the intro to this article again here. It is very difficult to win the Stanley Cup, let alone winning it without a true #1 defender. We don’t have that and overpaying via trade/free agency for a #2/3 is not the same thing as a true number one. Here’s how I view our current defense:
#1: no one
#2: Kimmo Timonen- He’s 4th in the league for defender points and he’s a huge reason why the Flyers aren’t dead last in the standings. He may be a little bit old to log the minutes he’d need to log to be considered a #1 but he’s easily still a top-pair player. His expiring contract was recently extended to the end of next season.
#3: Braydon Coburn- He’s having a rough year this year due to injury, but he still possesses ideal size (6’5”) with exceptional mobility for someone that big. He needs to be played with a puck mover whether its Timonen, Gustafsson, or a newcomer. I don’t love him and Grossman together due to the fact that I don’t like defensive pairs without a puck-mover in the duo.
#4: Luke Schenn- Before this year most people would argue that Luke wasn’t a top-4 player. There isn’t really much debate to that anymore as he’s had himself a very nice year. Early on he dominated the possession with Kimo Timonen, while recently he’s been the puck-mover on a pairing with rookie Oliver Lauridsen. Luke is best suited to play with a puck-mover, considering at this point in his career he isn’t one himself. He could be paired with Timonen, Meszaros, Grossmann, or Gustafsson (in addition to a newcomer). I highly doubt any of the above three defenders will be in any uniform except a Flyers uniform come next October.
#5: Andrej Meszaros and Nick Grossmann- These two guys are very different in their on-ice abilities although they’ve shown time and time again that they have a similar fatal flaw. While Meszaros is an offensive defender and Grossman is a shut-down guy, neither has been able to stay healthy for long. Last year Grossman had a knee injury before the playoffs and was hurt twice this year including a season ending concussion. Meszaros tore his achilles to end his 2012 season, needed shoulder surgery early this year and is out now for the season with a separate injury. If these guys could show the ability to stay healthy they are easily top-4 defenders, but due to their injury proneness, I bumped them down to #5’s. If I were making the moves I would be looking to move one, if not both of these guys in an attempt to get a top-four puck-mover that can prove to stay healthy over the course of a season.
#6: Erik Gustafsson- He’s been an AHL All-Star for the last two years and has had a very good recent stint in the NHL. He’s been playing along side of Kimmo Timonen during the Fleyrs recent mini-streak and has logged a ton of minutes doing so. He’s the Flyers best puckmover aside from Kimmo Timonen and to me it’s a no-brainer that he’ll be in our top-6 next year in addition to getting power play ice time. By the end of next season I wouldn’t be surprised if Gus was penciled in our top-4 for years to come---I think he has that kind of potential.
#7: Brandon Manning, Bruno Gervais, Oliver Lauridsen- Manning and Lauridsen are both young (22 and 24), currently getting an NHL opportunity, and fighting for their NHL futures. Manning has been a better prospect thus far in his career considering his 2013 AHL All-Star appearance and four game stint with the Flyers last year. However, it was Lauridsen that got the call up before Manning just a few weeks ago. Manning is a 2-way defender who probably tops out as a #5 down the road while Lauridsen is a defensive-defender who’s ceiling is likely only a #6. Manning has shown the ability to skate, shoot, pass, and defend while Lauridsen has really impressed with his ability to hit and defend as he’s really shown a serious physical game (he’s 6’6”). Instead of signing 35-year old corpses like Andres Lilja, Kirk Huskins, and Kurtis Foster this offseason, the front office needs to give these kids an opportunity to win roles at the bottom of the defensive rotation. Gervais is a two-way guy who can skate pretty well and hold his own on both sides of the ice. He’s a 6th/7th guy and no more than that as his contract is up at the end of next year.
Shayne Gostisbehere, D, Union College- He’s been a mainstay on Union’s blueline since his freshmen year last year. He’s an offensive defender projecting as a potential #4 defender with power play upside. He was a part of the United State’s 2013 WJC title playing on the second power play unit. He’s got at least a season or two before he’s got a realistic shot at being a Flyer. He was drafted in the third round of the 2012 draft.
Anthony Stolarz, G, London Knights, OHL- After only eight games played for the University of Nebraska Omaha as the backup goalie its no surprise that Stolarz left UNO to become the goalie of the London Knights---a powerhouse in the Ontario Hockey League. He posted a 2.29 GAA and a .920 save percentage, best among London goalies over the course of the regular season. Those numbers catapulted him to the starting goalie for the playoffs. The Knights are in the conference semi-finals right now after using only nine games to roll through the first round of the playoffs. Stolarz’s numbers are right behind those of Malcolm Subban for the league lead through two playoff rounds: 1.76 GAA and a .946 save percentage (Subban is at 1.31/.950 and was widely regarded as the top goalie prospect in last years draft---he was taken by Boston in the first round). While Stolarz will most likely be in juniors for another year and then a full year in the AHL after that, he’s the closest thing the Flyers have had to a “goalie of the future” in a long time. It might take 2-4 years, but with a Bryz buyout looking very likely over the next two years, his path to playing time looks a lot cleaner than it did just a few months ago.
I don’t want to touch upon the goalie situation as there are a lot of variables and I really haven't formulated a full opinion on that as of right now. What I do know is that this team fits under the salary cap with room to spare:
CAPGEEK.COM USER GENERATED ROSTER My Custom Lineup FORWARDS Simon Gagne ($3.500m) / Claude Giroux ($3.750m) / Jakub Voracek ($4.250m) Scott Hartnell ($4.750m) / Brayden Schenn ($3.110m) / Wayne Simmonds ($3.975m) Scott Laughton ($1.138m) / Sean Couturier ($1.375m) / Matt Read ($0.900m) Zac Rinaldo ($0.750m) / Maxime Talbot ($1.750m) / Adam Hall ($0.650m) Jay Rosehill ($0.675m) / DEFENSEMEN Kimmo Timonen ($6.000m) / Luke Schenn ($3.600m) Braydon Coburn ($4.500m) / Nicklas Grossmann ($3.500m) Andrej Meszaros ($4.000m) / Erik Gustafsson ($0.851m) Bruno Gervais ($0.825m) / GOALTENDERS Ilya Bryzgalov ($5.667m) Steve Mason ($1.500m) OTHER Buyout: Oskars Bartulis ($0.100m) Buyout: Danny Briere ($0.000m) Buyout: Chris Pronger ($0.000m) Buyout: Marc-Andre Bourdon ($0.000m) ------ CAPGEEK.COM TOTALS (follow @capgeek on Twitter) (these totals are compiled with the bonus cushion) SALARY CAP: $64,300,000; CAP PAYROLL: $61,114,667; BONUSES: $3,012,500 CAP SPACE (22-man roster): $6,197,833
There’s no doubt that the Flyers will make changes this offseason. The purpose of this post is that there doesn’t need to be a complete overhaul of this roster. There is talent up and down the depth chart and even some more talent in the AHL/juniors. The Flyers have a young forward core that should be easy to build upon. We have forwards that are very expendable due to the talent we have underneath them. We have some depth among #3-#6 defenders that we could move for a #1/2 considering the eight or so guys who will be fighting for a job. As I finish writing this the Flyers are officially eliminated from playoff contention and the front office is preparing for a vital offseason. While we may not be in the elite class of the East (Boston, Pittsburgh, New York Rangers) I think we still match up very well with Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, New Jersey, and Washington---the teams I regard as the next grouping in the East. With the right move (or two) by this time next year the Flyers should be in the playoffs looking to win a cup, although I don't think they have a shot of being a cup favorite for a few years.
PS. It would be so “Flyers” to trade our first (probably around 4-8), second, Meszaros/Grossmann, Matt Read, and Nick Cousins for the first overall pick in the draft to select the one and only Seth Jones.