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The Flyers will win more games if they make these 4 fixes at forward

The Flyers roster isn't one full of all-stars, but their recent play has resulted in a lot of questions about the team's future. Could these quick fixes help in the short-term?

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

The Flyers definitely are not one of the top teams in the NHL -- let's get that out of the way right now. However, they aren't a bottom team either and are much better than recent results have shown.

By no means am I suggesting or advocating a knee-jerk reaction of firing Craig Berube, as he has done decently with the hand that he was dealt. Giving him the opportunity to finish out the season, and then go from there, would be the fair thing to do and would make the most sense.

I have given Berube and company the benefit of the doubt this season, but they have made some questionable decisions. This group of forwards haven't been used horribly, but there are a few changes that could be made to help optimize the roster to give the team the best chance of winning.

Use Jake Voracek more in the defensive zone.

Jakub Voracek is one of the best players in the league and one of the best possession players on the Flyers. However, he is receiving the most sheltered use of all Flyers forwards and is even one of the most sheltered forwards in the league.

This season Voracek has started 40.1% of his shifts in the offensive zone. This is more than any other Flyer, including the heavily sheltered Vincent Lecavalier.

This wasn't always the case however. Voracek was deployed in a more balanced manner early in his Flyers career, yet still managed to positively push possession. Since that season his usage has become more and more skewed. This year he has seen a 13.8 offensive zone start% relative and a 10.7 Corsi for% relative, the highest in his career.

Voracek showed in the lockout-shortened 2013 season that he is able to still drive possession and put up points no matter where his shifts start. His points per 60 minutes at even strength have remained relatively constant throughout his career. Dropping down slightly below two last season, but scoring 2.3 points per 60 minutes in less offensive zone starts in the 2011-2012 season. The same can be said the following year when he wasn't sheltered as much and scored 2.5 points per 60, the highest in his career until this season.

Voracek saw 30% offensive zone starts in both the 2011-12 and 2013 seasons and still put up over two points per 60 minutes. If he was deployed in a similar manner this year, rather than seeing 40% offensive zone starts, he would still produce close to the rate that he is now and it would allow for some of the other lines and younger forwards to see more offensive zone starts.

Give Scott Laughton more offensive opportunities.

Scott Laughton has been one of the Flyers prized prospects for a few years now. After seeing him in a trial run during the 2013 season, he played out his last season in the OHL for the Oshawa Generals in 2013-14. He scored 40 goals and 47 assists in 54 games, which is a 1.61 PPG pace.

This season he started in the AHL and scored nearly a point per game (6 G, 5 A, 13 GP). He was called up in late November and has been great ever since. He was placed in the middle of Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds to give the 2nd line some speed and scoring touch. Laughton has been able to control the puck fairly well in his 18 games thus far. Since his callup he has the fourth highest CF% on the team, behind only the top line (Raffl, Giroux, Voracek).

On the opposite end of the spectrum from Voracek, Laughton only has a 29.4 offensive zone start percentage. This is 11% than Voracek and is only higher than the shutdown line of RJ Umberger, Sean Couturier and Matt Read. Being a young forward in the NHL, it would be helpful for Laughton to see more offensive zone starts. Allowing the top two lines to see more similar deployment could do wonders for this team as a whole.

Give Couturier and Read a better winger.

The trade of Scott Hartnell for RJ Umberger is one that left many Flyers fans scratching their heads. Hartnell is enjoying success for the Blue Jackets while Umberger, um, isn't. Umberger received an opportunity to play in the top six but couldn't play well enough to stay there. This dropped him down to the third line, bringing down the play of Couturier and Read.

Couturier and Read already see the toughest usage of anyone on the Flyers, with just about a quarter of their zone starts being in the offensive zone and nearly 40% of them being in the defensive zone. Not only do they see difficult usage, but they are given a mediocre-at-best winger to play alongside them.

With Umberger, Couturier and Read have a CF% of 43.2 and 41.9 respectively. Without him these numbers jump up to 45.1 and 48.2, a difference of 1.9 and 6.3 respectively. Obviously there could be some outside factors influencing these numbers, but the difference is pretty significant in Read's case.

Jason Akeson has been playing well since his demotion to the Phantoms and has also played well on this line in short stints last season, including the playoffs. Given the team's recent tailspin it couldn't hurt to give him a shot on this line. Another possibility would be to give Pierre-Edouard Bellemare a chance on this line. Berube and management seem to not want to move him from his center position, but he has done very well in a top six position before and is very sound defensively. His penalty killing prowess makes me think that he would thrive on a shutdown line with this duo.

Bench Zac Rinaldo and play a competent 4th line.

Zac Rinaldo is a polarizing player for the Flyers. The casual fans seem to love him, while the more statistically inclined fans seem to hate him. Rinaldo has shown signs of being a competent hockey player in the past, but he makes too many boneheaded plays to really warrant a spot on this roster. It wouldn't hurt to have him as a 13th forward who can rotate in every now and again, but having him as a fixture on the 4th line is troublesome.

Berube has seemed to like the 4th line during the past road trip and healthy scratched Rinaldo for the last five games after an injury, which could be a promising sign. Nevertheless the point still remains, the Flyers are going to need to be able to trust their 4th line going forward, and with Ryan White getting healthy there shouldn't be a spot for Rinaldo on this roster.

Overall, this group of forwards has enough skill to get the job done. These few seemingly small changes could have the ability to drastically improve this team from a bottom dwelling "lowly" team back to a potential playoff contender.

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