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Vincent Lecavalier signing: How does he fit in to the lineup?

The Flyers actually have Vincent Lecavalier. The Flyers also have a bunch of good forwards already. How does this acquisition change the lineup?

If nothing else, we can be pretty sure Lecavalier won't be on a line with Max Talbot.
If nothing else, we can be pretty sure Lecavalier won't be on a line with Max Talbot.

Vincent Lecavalier is a member of the Philadelphia Flyers and will be for the next five seasons.

You can argue whether it's necessary given the state of the team, or whether five years and a no-move clause are good things to give a 33-year old forward. What you really can't argue is that Vincent Lecavalier is currently a very, very good hockey player, and one that will definitely improve this team's already-good group of forwards.

But how does he fit in? Lecavalier's a natural center and has been for his entire career in Tampa. The Flyers do already have a few centers, with Claude Giroux and Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier and Max Talbot and Matt Read and Scott Laughton and crap that's a lot of them.

We'll make it work. The team's shifted centers to the wing and been successful in the past, so they can do it again. Let's assume no forward gets dealt in a trade and proceed.

First, here are the 11 forwards that we pretty much know will be on the Flyers next year.

Claude Giroux
Jakub Voracek
Vincent Lecavalier
Scott Hartnell
Wayne Simmonds
Brayden Schenn
Sean Couturier
Matt Read
Max Talbot
Zac Rinaldo
Jay Rosehill

Let's also assume that Rosehill is your healthy scratch who occasionally plays against the Leafs or whatever. Or that he's Kris Newbury, who does the same. He's your 13th forward. We're more worried about the 12 guys ahead of him.

In addition, we'll guess that -- given the fact that it'll probably be a tight fit on the cap -- the team isn't bringing in any more free agents and will use some internal options to fill those last two spots. If Simon Gagne is willing to take a deep discount, he may be an option, but at this point it looks unlikely. Sad.

But we'll move ahead with Scott Laughton and Tye McGinn taking those other two spots.

So your first option is the one that makes the most sense: that Vincent Lecavalier is your second-line center. Playing center is what he's done forever, it's what he just did in Tampa behind Steven Stamkos, and he's very good at it. So how does the lineup look from there? Let's examine (the wings are obviously guesses and up for debate):

Hartnell / Giroux / Voracek
Schenn / Lecavalier / Simmonds
Read / Couturier / McGinn
Talbot / Laughton / Rinaldo

Damn, is that a nice top-9. But it's not a perfect one, for a couple of reasons. Namely, it brings back some of the same problems we had this year, with Brayden Schenn on the wing (where he doesn't seem to be as comfortable as he was at center) and Sean Couturier on the third line (where he may not get as many minutes as we'd like him to). Scott Laughton only getting fourth-line minutes isn't ideal, either, but they could put him on third-line wing, move McGinn to the fourth line and shift Talbot over to center. (Or we could send him back to Oshawa and put Ben Holmstrom or someone like that in his place.)

Meanwhile, those other problems are also workable. On the third line, Read and McGinn are definitely capable wingers who can both hold their own on possession and chip in with scoring. As for Schenn on the wing, it's pretty much been a foregone conclusion that one of these young centers was going to have to make that shift if they were all going to stay around, so it's worth experimenting with anyways.

So that's one possibility -- and it's the most likely one. Shift a few wingers around if you'd like, but chances are that Lecavalier is going to be this team's second-line center. It makes sense, and when I posed the question of "what would you like the lines to look like?" on Twitter last night, just about every answer I got had a top line of Hartnell/Giroux/Voracek and had Lecavalier centering the second line.

I'm also not a huge fan of it. Though he's been surrounded by a pretty bad team for the past two seasons, Lecavalier's possession numbers in recent seasons haven't been great in that time. And while Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds both took steps forward in Corsi and such this year, they still aren't notably strong at it. I think that's a unit that could score, but could see a decent amount of time in its own end of the ice with the other team holding the puck.

So let's look at some of the other options. For instance: Lecavalier on the first line as a winger. In that case...

Lecavalier / Giroux / Voracek
Simmonds / Schenn / Hartnell
Read / Couturier / McGinn
Talbot / Laughton / Rinaldo

Lecavalier bumps up to Hartnell's spot, Hartnell to Schenn's spot, and Schenn to Lecavalier's. Not a huge shift, but it probably puts more offensive firepower on the top line (due respect to Hartnell, who I think will bounce back this year, but Lecavalier's a more dynamic offensive threat) and puts Schenn back at the center of the second line. Do those benefits outweight any possible problems with Lecavalier moving over to the wing? Who knows. But man, the thought of those three guys on the first line makes me really want to give this one a shot at some point.

From a possession standpoint, you're not as worried about Lecavalier with Giroux and Voracek (two strong possession players) on his line, and the second line gets a respectable possession winger in Hartnell to help out the two young guys.

Other ideas? Let's say the Flyers do, in fact, see Sean Couturier as more than a third-line center, and want to see his minutes reflect that. If they want him in the top-6 next year, I imagine the result would look something like this:

Lecavalier / Giroux / Voracek
Schenn / Couturier / Hartnell
Simmonds / Read / McGinn
Talbot / Laughton / Rinaldo

Switch Hartnell and Simmonds if you'd like. In any case, this one's interesting to me, and though I doubt it happens, it may be my favorite one out of all of these. It puts Couturier with two players who are both capable offensively and range from somewhat competent to good at possession. He likely wouldn't be doing as much defensive heavy lifting, but we'd get to see what he can do in terms of point production.

Meanwhile, the third line that features two guys (Simmonds and Read) who have scored a combined 78 goals over the last two seasons, along with a player who was a possession dynamo in limited minutes last season (McGinn). That's a line that could do very well against fellow third lines while the top two split the responsibilities against other team's top-six units.

For fun, here's one last crazy one:

Giroux / Lecavalier / Voracek
Simmonds / Schenn / Hartnell
Read / Couturier / McGinn
Talbot / Laughton / Rinaldo

OK: this isn't going to happen except for some time where Peter Laviolette is inevitably trying to shake up the lines to get them out of a slump. But Giroux used to be a winger ( still considers him one, in fact!) and this allows Lecavalier to take over as his natural position while still having Giroux somewhere where he can be successful. Rest of the lineup stays the same. Like I said, it won't happen except in certain moments or games, but it's a thought in the event that they want to get Lecavalier's talent on the top line without taking him out of position.


There are other possibilities. Laviolette has his work cut out for them figuring out what the best one is, not to mention there will be injuries and he'll have to mix it up at some point. Plus, we could also see some sort of trade or move that shakes up that personnel before the offseason ends, and we'd start this whole exercise over.

But we'll have time to worry about this all in the future. This exercise boils down to this: the pessimist would say that this move is going to lead to guys playing out of position and good players not getting enough ice time. The optimist would say that's a good problem to have and that there are going to be potent forwards on the ice almost every second of the game.

For now, I lean closer to the optimist's side. All of those combinations above, and pretty much any combination you can come up with, consists of three lines that have scoring threats and a fourth line that's responsible defensively and can probably chip in at least a little bit on offense. I'm also not too worried about chemistry or anything like that, given that everyone but Lecavalier was on the team at some point last year.

I understand concerns about making guys fit in certain places. But the amount of talent in that top-9 makes me not worry about it much. There are questions about the specifics of how they'll look, but this is going to be a very, very good group of forwards next year.

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