The lock-out shortened season has come to a dismal end for the Philadelphia Flyers. The season featured different things, such as the season debut with Claude Giroux as the captain, as well as the coming out party for right-wing Jakub Voracek. But one thing stood out this season above all else: the defense.
The Flyers' defensive core was a complete disaster this year. Between the injuries to Andrej Meszaros, Braydon Coburn and Nicklas Grossmann, as well as the overall poor defensive team play, the Flyers' were exposed as one of the worst defensive teams in the NHL. Players such as Brandon Manning, Erik Gustafsson and Oliver Lauridsen had chances to show what value they could bring to the team in light of all the injuries. So where do the Flyers go now in the off-season? How can they get back to the post-season and make another push for the Stanley Cup?
Priority One: Fixing Defense
This has been an on-going story for the Flyers for way too long now. The defense is the constant cause for concern year after year. This off-season must be the time for Holmgren to finally fix the defense. For starters, Luke Schenn, Kimmo Timonen and Nicklas Grossmann should not be traded. Schenn showed that he could be an absolute work-horse this year, while Timonen signed a one-year extension and will probably play in his final season next year. Grossmann is an exceptional shot blocker who can play top-four minutes with a cap-friendly salary. Youngsters like Lauridsen, Gus and Manning should also be kept around to see what they can further bring to the table. These young defenders performed very well under the circumstances. Bruno Gervais should also be given a second chance next season. He played top-four minutes (which he performed admirably at) for much of the season due to injuries when he was brought in to be a number six or seven defense man.
We then come to who should be shipped out. Veteran defense men Kent Huskins, Kurtis Foster and Andreas Lilja are all expected to be let go this season. All were brought in to fill injury-caused hole on the back-end and have no further value to the team when everyone else is healthy.
We then come the Coburn and Meszaros. Mez should be shipped out while he still carries some value. He is injured way too much and he doesn't play at a high enough level to earn a four-million dollar cap-hit. Coburn has made himself expendable. Although he is rarely injured and can play big minutes, he is incapable of playing as a number one defenseman and could be used as trade bait to acquire a top-end defender. In no way should the Flyers completely edge Coburn out, but I would explore options to see what other teams would offer up.
The Flyers should then look to add a number one defense man at all costs. Although this may seem controversial, the Flyers should talk to Colorado about swapping picks. The Flyers' are no doubt in need of a Chris Pronger replacement, and who better than Seth Jones. Seeing how the draft is deep, an offer including the 11th overall pick and Coburn could maybe get a deal done. The Flyers need to explore this no matter what.
Priority two: Round Out Offense
The Flyers have always been a team with a high-powered offense. It has never been their Achilles heel. But the Flyers do have to round out some things up front. For starters, they have to subtract some players. You can expect players like Mike Knuble, Jody Shelley and Ruslan Fedotenko to not be brought back in the off-season. In addition to these veterans, expect former-all star Danny Briere to be bought out. It will be tough to not have Danny around anymore, but his play on a night-to-night basis was simply unacceptable this season for a player to has a 6.5 million dollar cap it.
The Flyers need to re-sign some free agents as well. The Flyers should re-sign veteran Simon Gagne. Although he has lost a step and is no longer a premier sniper, Gagne is still a very useful depth forward who can play on a top-line from time to time. Gags will also probably take a substantial pay cut, as he has said that playing in Phill is more important than money at this point. The Flyers should look to re-sign Gagne to a two-year deal worth 1.5 to two million dollars per season. Adam Hall is another player who impressed and should be kept around. He is a cheap, solid, bottom-line player who can kill penalties as well as play at center or on the wing.
After everything else is addressed, the Flyers' should look to see if they can add Bobby Ryan. Ryan would make the Flyers one of (if not the best) top offensive teams in the league. A deal including one of Scott Laughton or Sean Couturier could get a deal done. Let's face it: one of Laughton and Coots will eventually be traded, the Flyers simply have too many centers. If the Flyers could swing a deal for Ryan including one of the two (even Couturier), they should pull the trigger on it.
Priority Three: Address Goaltending
In all honesty, this shouldn't even be looked at twice. The Flyers have Ilya Bryzgalov and Steve Mason locked up for next season and should not touch it. Bryz was in no way at fault for the team's demise this season, and anyone who thinks he was is a fool and knows nothing about hockey. He stood on his head early on before burning out. Mason came in with something to prove and impressed many. If Holmgren is smart, he would let both goalies battle it out next season pushing one another and make a decision next off-season. If Bryz can't perform next season, then buy him out in the 2014 off-season. But this off-season is not the time to do it.
The Flyers should look to make two major deals this off-season: Acquiring the first overall pick and nabbing Bobby Ryan. Let's put two hypothetical trades out there:
To Philadelphia: 1st overall pick and Matt Hunwick
To Colorado: Braydon Coburn, 11th overall pick and 2nd round pick
To Philadelphia: Bobby Ryan and 3rd round pick
To Anaheim: Sean Couturier/Scott Laughton and Andrej Meszaros
Who know if these deals would really go down. Only those three general managers really know. But if these deals went through, the Flyers would have a roster that looks cup-run worthy to me
This would allow Gustafsson to play a whole season and see what he's capable of as well as Lauridsen and Manning being the call-ups behind Gervais. Above all else, we would grab Jones who would be a franchise defense man for years to come. Along with Timonen, L.Schenn and Grossmann, the top-four would be very strong. Ryan would add yet another weapon to the arsenal and make the Flyers a ridiculous threat offensively.