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Revisiting the offseason's 10 biggest Flyers questions heading into free agency

Back when the offseason began, we brought up 10 questions that we were hoping to see Ron Hextall answer for us. Let's check in on what's been done and what still needs to be done.

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Back in mid-April, days after the Flyers' season ended, we put together a list of 10 questions that Ron Hextall is going to have to find answers for this offseason. Today, two days prior to the start of free agency, we're going to check back in on those questions, and see how many of them we've made progress on. Cool? Cool.


Question 1: Can the Flyers move R.J. Umberger or Vincent Lecavalier?

What we said then:

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.

Where we stand now: Status quo. We've heard very little about Umberger, and odds are he remains here. Lecavalier, despite his mortal enemy Craig Berube being fired, is still on the outs with the team, and you have to imagine moving him is probably going to be one of Hextall's biggest goals for the rest of the summer.

Question answered? Nope.


Question 2: Is anyone gone from the defense?

What we said then:

Having a group that is not very talented and has no immediate means of improvement other than a trade is, well, suboptimal. ... 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.

Where we stand now: Progress! Progress has been made here, with the post-draft trade of Nicklas Grossmann to Arizona. Grossmann was only under contract for one more season, but his trade not only might just make the team better next year but also gives the team a little more short-term cap flexibility. (And Chris Pronger getting traded clears up some space, though he never factored into the roster.)

Of course, this was also written before the signing of Evgeny Medvedev and the drafting of Ivan Provorov. So there's a pretty good chance Hextall is still looking to move one more guy currently on his roster to make sure Medvedev has a spot (and maaaaybe to give Provorov at least a shot at making the NHL roster this year).

Question answered? Yes! But hopefully by the time the summer's over we've got even more to write about in this section.


Question 3: What does Michael Del Zotto's contract look like?

What we said then:

[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.

Where we stand now: Earlier this week, Frank Seravalli at TSN indicated that negotiations here hadn't gone very far, and that arbitration "is an increasing possibility". Hextall himself suggested this past weekend that there's still work to be done here. Arbitration is typically something teams and players both like to avoid, so getting to that point seems like a long shot, but it shouldn't be ruled out just yet. So all in all, not much has changed yet.

Question answered? Nah.


Question 4: Where do the Flyers find another top-9 forward or two?

What we said then:

[The] Flyers have seven top-9 forward spots more or less locked up next year ... 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?

Where we stand now: Well, in that aforementioned Grossmann trade, the Flyers picked up former Edmonton Oilers center Sam Gagner, who is at worst a solid third-line scoring center and may be even better than that. There are rumors that the Flyers may buy him out, but we think that would be a mistake -- in no small part because Gagner can give them a short-term answer to the above question. That'd be one. There hasn't been much in terms of rumors regarding any others, but those could ramp up between now and Wednesday afternoon when free agency begins.

Question answered? Tentative yes, though that changes if Gagner is bought out or waived. Some progress has been made, it looks like, but I doubt we're done seeing names added to this group.


Question 5: Will any of the team's prospects get NHL time?

What we said then:

[It's] very possible [Scott Laughton] 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.

Where we stand now: Again, it's hard to envision a scenario in which any forward in the pipeline other than Laughton -- the guy who, before this past Friday, was easily the team's best forward prospect -- starts this year on the Flyers. Travis Konecny, likely the team's new best forward prospect, has a ton of promise and potential but should definitely get at least one more year in the OHL, and maybe more.

As for the defense, the status of the "Big Four" prospects haven't changed -- it'd be pretty surprising to see any of them start the year with the Flyers and stay there. But there's always the possibility that one or more of them makes their way up later on in the year if they impress.

Question answered? Hard to know until training camp, but Ivan Provorov joining the fold means that the odds of a new young face breaking team with the camp are greater than they would've been a couple months ago. Speaking of which ...


Question 6: Who do the Flyers draft in the first round?

What we said 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.

Where we stand now: Despite already having four really good defensive prospects, the Flyers went and got the guy they had their sights on in Russian defenseman Ivan Provorov, and he likely walks right in and becomes the best prospect in the organization. It's still fairly unlikely that he, at 18, plays in Philadephia this coming season. But the talk surrounding him leading up to the draft was that he's one of the most advanced, NHL-ready defensemen we've seen in a while. So it's possible that he gets an extended look in training camp.

The Flyers also took Konecny, who as mentioned is probably their best forward prospect now. All in all, the first round of the draft could not have gone much better for the Flyers.

Question answered? Hell yeah.


Question 7: What is the outlook on Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier?

What we said then:

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".

Where we stand now: Hextall came right out in his first post-regular-season press conference -- two days after we wrote this original post -- and defended Couturier's work and production this year ("defended" him from the criticism from his own coach...), so it's pretty hard to see him moved short of something massive. As for Schenn, we haven't heard much about him, but he made it through draft weekend as a Flyer, which bodes well for him.

Question answered? Technically no -- we probably won't know for sure until much later in the summer -- but the fact that they're both here through the draft shifts the needle towards "they're probably not going anywhere".


Question 8: Is Jakub Voracek locked up long-term this summer?

What we said then:

[Voracek is] 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.

Where we stand now: Radio silence on this front so far. We haven't really heard or seen anything at all from Hextall or any of the beats or reporters regarding talks with Voracek yet. Meanwhile, since then, Voracek himself won an award for being the NHL's best Czech player of 2014-15 and was named first-team NHL All-Star at right wing, so ... just get ready to back the damn money truck up to his house, Ed. This should be Hextall's top priority once the early-July rush of activity dies down.

We'll try and dive into this a bit more and see what a fair contract would be for Jake in a couple of weeks.

Question answered? No. Let's hope that changes soon.


Question 9: Who is this team's head coach next year?

What we said then:

... 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.

Where we stand now: Time did tell! Berube was fired four days after we wrote that piece, with Hextall simply saying that he didn't believe he got everything he could out of the group of players on the ice. As you surely know by now, former North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol was brought in a month later in what was a near-unprecedented hire of a coach with zero professional coaching experience. While it's pretty much impossible to know how that will ultimately work out, we can safely say that Hextall sure did go and get "his guy".

Question answered? Yep!


Question 10: Is there a big move coming, or will this team look similar when camp arrives?

What we said then:

The team that we just watched stumble to 24th out of 30 in the NHL is almost entirely under contract again next season. ... 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.

Where we stand now: The team's one big trade so far this offseason cleared up cap and roster space, and speaking shortly after that trade, Hextall suggested that he knows there's more work to be done in terms of cleaning up the team's cap. With about $5 million in cap space now, the team could re-sign Michael Del Zotto, not buy out Gagner, hang tight otherwise, and trot out a similar lineup to the one it had last year ... if it wanted to.

But we know Hextall doesn't want to do that. And after what we saw this past weekend, would it surprise anyone if there's something big at work here? I mentioned in my defense of Sam Gagner that buying him out would make sense if the team really needed the extra $2.78 million they'd get from buying him out. Doing so would give them around $7.5 million in cap space, and if he's able to clear off another deal or two, that number will only grow. It'd be pretty interesting to know if Ron Hextall sees some big-ticket item out there worth about that much that he'd be willing to go after. What could that be? I have no idea. But it's fun to wonder, isn't it?

Question answered? Not yet. The one move was a reasonably significant one, but we haven't seen or heard anything that points towards a big, franchise-shaking move yet. After what we saw this past weekend, though? Who knows. Stay tuned.

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