The Philadelphia Flyers' offseason begins, for all intents and purposes, today, as the Flyers clean out their lockers and do exit interviews with team staff. And thus begins three-plus months of all sorts of the hockey world's speculation about what will be done to improve a Flyers team coming off of one of its worst seasons in recent memory.
If you've been following along, you know that there's a whole lot of work to be done on this team and not a lot of easy ways for Hextall and Co. to do it.
So let's talk about some of the questions that face this franchise as they file into the summer, the draft, free agency, and all of the other silly season stuff. All of these are questions that we'll go into much further detail on in the near future -- consider this your introduction to the offseason.
Can the Flyers move R.J. Umberger or Vincent Lecavalier?
Whether you believe Umberger was acquired 100 percent for 2017-and-beyond cap considerations, or if you think that Hextall saw some value in him as a player, his play in his first season back in Philadelphia was not at an acceptable level. Meanwhile, Lecavalier's struggles and frustrations as a Flyer are well-documented by this point. These two players are the second- and third-most expensive forwards on the Flyers, and they don't currently fit anywhere on the team's top-9.
The Flyers will almost certainly try to move one or both of them this offseason in hopes of freeing up cap space. The odds of getting anything of much value for either one is slim -- but if they can move either or both without taking on any additional obligations, that's a win for Ron Hextall.
Is anyone gone from the defense?
The Flyers' defense is slow, expensive, kind of old, and really just not good. Almost every single defenseman on the roster for the team's final game is under contract again next season. Having a group that is not very talented and has no immediate means of improvement other than a trade is, well, suboptimal.
Nicklas Grossmann and Luke Schenn are guys that have been talked about as trade bait for a while now. Andrew MacDonald would maaaaaaybe be appealing to someone if not for his giant boat anchor of a contract. Mark Streit is easily the team's best defensemen, but can maybe get you some value in a deal. Clearing off any (seriously, just about any) of the defensemen on this roster and opening up space to try out someone new is something Hextall will surely be trying to do this summer. And if he's not successful, well ...
What does Michael Del Zotto's contract look like?
MDZ's eventful year
The skate cut on Del Zotto's neck is disgusting
•Broad Street HockeyMichael Del Zotto took a skate to the neck during the first period of the Flyers' New Years Eve game in Colorado. Click to see pictures of the injury. It's absolutely disgusting, so be warned.
MDZ's eventful year
...then fitting in one of the only good long-term developments from this past season will be a problem. Michael Del Zotto, picked up off the scrap heap in August, had a very solid year for the Flyers, who will certainly qualify him as a restricted free agent this summer.
However, what Del Zotto's ultimate contract may look like is unclear. It's a tough line to walk for the Flyers -- can they afford to pay him like a second-pair defenseman, knowing that despite a good year this year he has a history of inconsistent play? If they're wrong and he falls back next year, the Flyers could have another Bad Defenseman Contract, which is absolutely the last thing they can afford. This could be a very interesting negotiation -- later we'll look at his comparables to try and figure out what we think he should earn in the near future.
Where do the Flyers find another top-9 forward or two?
Unless one of them is traded, the Flyers have seven top-9 forward spots more or less locked up next year: Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Sean Couturier, Matt Read, Michael Raffl, Brayden Schenn, and Wayne Simmonds. That's a solid start. Still, the team could use some reinforcements in their forward ranks.
A big-name free agent is pretty much out of the question, given the team's cap problems. Could the team skim the bargain basket and pick up a contributor, similar to how it did last year on defense with Del Zotto and Nick Schultz last summer? Could a trade be coming? Will Lecavalier or Umberger be penciled in at these spots, much to the chagrin of many of the fans? Or will help come from ...
Will any of the team's prospects get NHL time?
... prospects! For the first time in close to a decade, it seems like the Flyers actually have some honest-to-goodness prospects to look forward to. Unfortunately for next year's team, chances are not many of them will immediately be NHL-ready.
The one likely exception is forward Scott Laughton, who showed flashes of potential at the NHL level this year but also showed that he still needs some work. Still, it's very possible he breaks camp with the team, though it's tough to say that about many of the team's other forward prospects. The same goes for each of the team's "Big Four" of defensive prospects -- all of whom have vast potential, but only one of whom (Robert Hagg, this past year in Lehigh Valley) has played much at the professional level.
Who do the Flyers draft in the first round?
Assuming the 93.5 percent chance that the Flyers do not win the draft lottery comes to fruition, then the Flyers will either pick seventh (more likely) or eighth in this June's draft. That's the highest pick they've had since the 2007 draft. And while being bad enough to have a pick that high stinks, this is a really nice draft to have a high pick, with by all accounts it being one of the deepest classes we've seen in a while.
In each of their last three drafts, they've gone a little off the board a bit to get the guy they like in the first round. There's sure to be a lot of talent on the board at every position when the team heads to the podium on June 26, and that's pretty exciting. We'll take a closer look at several of the team's options over the next couple of months.
What is the outlook on Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier?
Brayden Schenn has frustrated a lot of people at a lot of times over the past two seasons and very well may have reached his ceiling as an NHL player, but 47 points this past season is a career-high for him and isn't bad at all for a winger in this relatively low-scoring era.
More on Coots & Schenn
More on Coots & Schenn
Sean Couturier has also drawn ire from fans for what seems like underwhelming offensive performance, but his defensive value is immense and undeniable, and just under a half-point-per-game for the second straight season given his usage (and, at times, his linemates) is actually pretty impressive.
So here we are, again, for the fourth straight offseason, trying to figure out what we have in these two players. Are they core pieces and key parts of the team's foundation, or just good role players?
If it's the latter, the question shifts to whether or not you can find a team that values him as more than that -- and if so, can you swing a trade for somebody more valuable? If it's the former, then the question becomes "do we sign him to a contract extension this summer once we're allowed to".
Is Jakub Voracek locked up long-term this summer?
Jakub Voracek is coming off of the best year of his NHL career, in which he was atop the league scoring race for months and finished second in the NHL in assists. He has become every bit the player the Flyers were hoping they were getting when they traded Jeff Carter four years ago, and he's legitimately one of the best wingers in hockey. He's also a year away from unrestricted free agency, which means he's a year away from getting paid like one of the best wingers in hockey.
That payment should come from Ed Snider and the Flyers, who surely know that they have to do whatever it takes to keep Voracek. Jake is eligible to sign an eight-year (or shorter) contract extension on July 1 of this year.
Will it play out like it did with Claude Giroux, where his contract was signed the very first day he was eligible? Will it drag a bit longer into the summer? Or will Jake stay unsigned into training camp or even the season itself? It goes without saying that the Flyers would prefer to avoid that.
Who is this team's head coach next year?
Evaluating Craig Berube isn't easy. Granted, that's true of a lot of NHL coaches -- from the outside, trying to pinpoint the things that a given coach is good and bad at which really matter can be difficult. But it's especially tough for a coach that's been given a lineup of players that probably just doesn't have enough talent.
Still, Berube's abilities are very much up for debate two years into his career as a head coach. He makes some iffy lineup choices on a nightly basis, he can be a bit unforgiving when it comes to players who make mistakes, and it seems evident that he and his starting goaltender are just not on the same page.
One could argue that, just a year removed from finishing sixth in Jack Adams Trophy voting, Berube has shown enough to stay behind the bench while the team figures out its pressing personnel issues first and foremost.
But it seems like there may just be too much going against Berube. The pressure to make a move after a poor season, the Flyers' traditionally-short patience, Ron Hextall wanting to bring in "his guy", several appealing head coaches being available this summer, and (as Charlie mentioned in Saturday's recap, perhaps most importantly) his alleged feud with Mason. Time will tell if he's back come October.
Is there a big move coming, or will this team look similar when camp arrives?
Hextall and Ed Snider are both preaching patience with the team's prospects and young talent. That's a good sign.
However, Snider is pretty much on the record as saying that he doesn't care much for this whole "sit around and wait for the Flyers to be good eventually" plan that fans seem to be coming to terms with, and Hextall doesn't seem to be thrilled at the thought of another year like (or worse than) this past one, either.
On the surface, none of that should be controversial. Hextall and Snider are both very competitive guys, and they're not used to seeing the Flyers drag their feet through mediocrity because it's literally never, ever been something this franchise has done. And that aside, no one should really want to sit around and wait for a team to play poorly while it wears out its bad contracts. That's especially true with the Flyers having an elite center and an elite winger in their primes like Giroux and Voracek currently are. We should want leadership that wants to win now.
Except ... they can't win now. The team that we just watched stumble to 24th out of 30 in the NHL is almost entirely under contract again next season. We all have known that this was coming for quite a while now. And while some key areas should be better next year, others will likely be worse, and it's hard to imagine the Flyers as a whole being much better than they were this year if they're trotting out largely the same roster.
Which means that if Ed, Ron and the team upstairs has its sights set on eschewing patience in hopes of winning now, there are going to have to be some significant moves this offseason that drastically shake up this team's short- and long-term outlook. Some significant gambles will need to be taken. Is that the most prudent course of action for the franchise's long-term health? You can guess where we stand on that.
Is it something we can rule out regardless? Come on. It's the Flyers we're talking about here. Anything is possible. Welcome to the offseason.