Note: Please welcome Kevin Christmann to BSH, joining us from Flyers Faithful. Follow him on Twitter.
As the Philadelphia Flyers enter their toughest stretch of games of the season, things are looking a bit bleak. They've lost four in a row and seven of their last nine. It's not going to get any easier with Detroit, Anaheim, Los Angeles, San Jose, and Colorado on the horizon.
I don't think the Flyers are as bad as they've appeared during this current losing streak, but I also don't believe they are as good as they were in November or parts of December. The fact of the matter is that this is a fringe playoff team currently sitting at fourth in the division, ninth in the conference and eighteenth in the league.
Games against some of the league's best -- like we just saw with Boston and are going to see with Anaheim, Los Angeles, San Jose, and Colorado -- are great in the sense that they serve as a measuring stick. If the Bruins game is any indication, the Flyers are flawed and they just aren't on the same level as these teams.
The question becomes, what can the Flyers do to get themselves there? Unfortunately, the Flyers are quite committed to this current roster.
If we look at the current crop of forwards, all but five of them are under contract beyond this year. Only Steve Downie, Brayden Schenn, Michael Raffl, Adam Hall, and Chris Vandevelde are not. However, it's not a stretch to assume the Flyers would like to retain Schenn and Raffl, who are both restricted free agents, as they have been two of the Flyers better forwards on the season.
The team's top seven forwards are all slated to return next season, and that same top seven is actually committed to for 2015-16 as well. If you include Raffl and Schenn, which we should, that's the entire top-nine that is presumably under contract for the next two seasons. Really, only the fourth line is a question mark at this point in time.
The forward group has plenty of talent, but is it the proper mix of players? For example, the Flyers seem to be having a hard time figuring out where to play all of their centers. Both Schenn and Lecavalier appear more comfortable at center, and unless one of them starts playing on the fourth line, they can't all play the position.
I don't need to convince anybody that the current group of defenseman is poor. Only Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Coburn have played respectable defense for the majority of this season. So how does it look moving forward?
Timonen, Andrej Meszaros and Hal Gill are all slated to become unrestricted free agents after this season. Erik Gustafsson will be restricted. That leaves Coburn, Mark Streit, Nicklas Grossmann and Luke Schenn that are not only under contract for next year but also the following year.
That's quite a bit of expiring money on our blue line, but you're still currently committed to returning four of the six defenseman that are presently a problem. Not to mention that those four consume $16.85 million in cap space.
While the Flyers could try to spend (even more) money on a free agent defenseman, there aren't any overly exciting unrestricted free agent names. Dan Boyle and Timonen are probably the biggest names, or a younger option like Dan Girardi. But I don't see how even adding two of those to the returning crop of four would greatly improve the position.
The Flyers have already committed themselves to Steve Mason for three years and $4.1 million per year. The backup goaltender may change, but on the whole, Steve Mason is going to be the guy.
So what am I getting at?
The Flyers already have a glut of forwards that don't necessarily seem to mesh well. Adding a free agent to that mix would only serve to bump existing players to the fourth line. The free agent defenseman are not dynamic enough to mold the returning four defenseman into a respectable three pairings.
While the Flyers do have a few promising prospects in Scott Laughton, Shayne Gostisbehere, Samuel Morin and Robert Hagg, only Laughton is presumably ready for the NHL. If I wanted to be pessimistic, I'd point out that that would add yet another layer of complexity to the Flyers' glut of centermen.
These are your Philadelphia Flyers. With them already being committed to their seven best forwards (and more realistically, their entire top-nine), four of their problematic six defenseman, and their starting goaltender, the only method of improving this roster is via trade. And that's an entirely different can of worms.