Philadelphia Flyers: 5 Reasons This Offseason Was a Success
In years past, the Philadelphia Flyers have headlined the NHL's offseason, making trades and signing free agents as if Bobby Clarke and/or Paul Holmgren were running a desperate fantasy team rather than one of hockey's premiere franchises.
However, this year the Flyers front office showed restraint and exercised a more responsible organizational philosophy and still managed to improve a team that put up 103 regular-season points and scored the third-most goals in the league.
Was the Flyers offseason exciting?
Far from it.
There was no Peter Forsberg, Danny Briere, Chris Pronger or (gulp) Ilya Bryzgalov.
But to move forward with an eye on both short and long-term goals a "boring" offseason is exactly what the Flyguys needed.
Read on and be sure to tell me how much you agree with my masterful assessment of Philly's summer transactions.
Did Not Overspend on Overrated Free Agents
Would Ryan Suter have improved the Flyers much-maligned defense?
But is Suter worth $100 million?
I would be willing to bet he is not.
Suter is a solid defenseman, measuring 6'1'', 198 lbs with a career 43-plus rating and above average offensive skill.
But remember how good Matt Carle looked playing alongside Chris Pronger?
Suter, paired with a bona fide stud in Shea Weber with the Nashville Predators, looked like the answer for many teams who had defensive holes last season, but without a fellow all-star defensive partner Suter's responsibilities increase, as does the pressure.
I do not think Suter will be a huge bust, but there is no way he lives up to the fanfare or price tag (13 points, minus four rating in 39 career playoff games; just saying...).
The Flyers are actually operating from a position of strength with a bit more cap room than they are accustomed to thanks to moves last season that made the team much younger.
Philly did not panic when they lost out on the top two big names and sign a bunch of players simply because they could.
Rather, the Flyers saw where they stood, liked their young core and decided (so far, at least) it's a better strategy to go into the season with the roster as is and make adjustments once better players become available at the trade deadline or next offseason.
Signed a Backup to Bryzgalov
Because of the goal featured in the video I'm on record as saying I never want to see Michael Leighton in orange and black again.
Because many fans feel the way I do, signing Leighton to back up Ilya Bryzgalov is the perfect strategy.
Bryz had a tough first year in Philly. The charismatic enigma between the pipes struggled with the scrutiny and expectations of the city's media, fans and even teammates.
Making matters tougher for the $51 million Russian was the fact that his backup, Sergei Bobrovsky, enamored fans the year before as a 22-year-old rookie with a catchy nickname, under-the-radar personality and lightning fast lateral quickness.
What Bryzgalov's inability to deal with the challenge of a promising, young, fan-favorite backup says about his personality and toughness is what most fans already knew about Bryz and has been written about ad nauseam.
But keep in mind Bryzgalov made his name with the Phoenix Coyotes and in four years in the desert, Bryz averaged over 64 games played per season. In the 2009-10 season Bryz played a career-high 69 games, put up 42 wins with a 2.29 GAA and a .920 save-percentage.
Last season Bryzgalov played in 59 games, his fewest since becoming a starting goaltender when he was acquired by Phoenix during the 2007-08 campaign.
The Leighton signing was a clear indication to Bryz that he is the man in net and should see at least 65 games.
That vow of confidence (as if nine years and $51 million was not enough) has to be what the doctor ordered for the supposed franchise netminder.
With possibly the only goalie home fans dislike more than Bryzgalov signed as the backup there are no excuses as to why Bryzgalov cannot get the job done in 2012-13.
Now does this mean there has to be a parade down Broad Street sometime around Memorial Day 2013? No, but if there is not serious improvement in the orange and black's goalie play from last season it is time to begin considering a buyout of the goaltender touted as savior only a year ago.
While Ryan Suter, Shea Weber, Dennis Wideman, Justin Schultz and Matt Carle were considered the defensive prizes of the offseason, the Flyers were able to live within their means to improve a defensive unit that struggled in 2011-12.
The Flyers saw a position of strength (scoring depth at wing) and moved one of those pieces for a position of weakness (physical defenders).
Trading James van Riemsdyk for Luke Schenn made the Flyers tougher on the back end, not to mention deeper.
Barring any surprise, high-profile trades Philly goes into the 2012-13 season lacking one big-name defender, but still possess a lot of depth on the blue line.
Kimmo Timonen, although aging, is still a puck-moving veteran presence. Andrej Meszaros is a physical two-way player finally getting healthy after a late-season back injury and subsequent surgery limited him to 62 games last year after winning the Barry Ashbee Trophy as the team's top defender only a year before.
Braydon Coburn and Nick Grossmann are a pair of large-bodied stay-at-home defenseman who played well together after Grossmann was acquired in February last season.
Schenn lead all NHL defenseman in hits last season with 270 body checks. The closest Flyers were Grossmann and Coburn, each with 164.
The top five d-men are a solid group, despite the lack of that sexy name to excite fans.
As for the depth, veteran Andreas Lilja is under contract at bargain basement value and recent free-agent signing Bruno Gervais (two years, $1.65 million) is a 27-year-old third-liner with a bit of upside, size and skating ability.
Beyond the candidates to fill the sixth spot on the blue line, youngsters Erik Gustafsson, Marc-Andre Bourdon and Brandon Manning all earned valuable NHL experience last season and are suitable replacements in the very likely event of an injury to a Philly defender.
Also, after it became clear last season that Timonen has nowhere near the range or legs he once possessed (he will turn 38 in March 2013) resting the alternate captain and lightening his workload until the playoffs could be an effective strategy to save what little hockey the Finnish warrior has left for one last playoff run in what will probably be his last year with the Flyers (entering final season of a six-year, $38 million contract).
So the defense is better, even without adding an all-star, and that was and should have been the primary goal of this offseason.
Trimmed the Fat
Matt Carle was the Flyers worst player in 2011-12 and somehow got worse in the playoffs.
His defensive presence was non-existent, his positioning was atrocious, he is too small to go into corners and win a puck battle (remember how bad the breakout looked?) and unless he was confused as to which jersey he was wearing his sub-standard decision making lead to his becoming a turnover machine.
The Tampa Bay Lightning, bless their hearts, signed Carle to a six-year, $33 million dollar deal. After leading the Eastern Conference in goals-against (281), Tampa needed to improve their defense. Signing Carle did not achieve that goal. In fact, I guarantee Matt Carle is a minus-player in Tampa and the Lightning finish in the bottom three in goals against once again.
Had Philly added no defenseman and still lost Carle, not to mention his potential $5.5 million cap hit, I would still be confident the Flyers improved defensively.
Jaromir Jagr was a key acquisition last year for his veteran leadership, legend status in a locker room full of players who grew up playing with him in NHL video games. His hands/scoring touch still better than most of the players in the league.
However, Jagr missed nine regular season games with nagging, maintenance-related injuries that are sure to become more prominent as the former MVP moves further into his 40s.
Jaromir's ineffectiveness and decline in playing time through the playoffs showed that the Flyers would be better served to explore cheaper options for a team chock full of wingers who can produce points.
Jagr signed a one-year, $4.55 million deal with the Dallas Stars, a pay raise of $1.25 million from last year.
Dallas, apparently in desperate need to sell jerseys, overpaid for a 41-year-old who probably won't play more than 65 games this season.
Between two expendable, overrated players the Flyers saved themselves over $10 million in cap space for 2012-13 alone.
Also, in trading James van Riemsdyk, whose cap hit was to jump from $1.65 million to 4.25 million this season, for Luke Schenn ($3.6 million cap hit next four seasons), the Flyers were able to save a little cash, address a need and move a player who was never going to live up to the expectations of being a second-overall draft pick.
Van Rimsdyk just was not a Flyer. He wasn't tough, he didn't score enough to make up for his lack of interest on the defensive end of the ice and he's a New York fan. It sounds petty, but a player who grew up rooting for the Rangers and, even worse, the Yankees, will never get what it means to wear the orange and black.
In losing Carle, Jagr and van Riemsdyk the Flyers' front office was able to improve their team via addition by subtraction. Furthermore, the money saved in not holding onto those three players enables Philly to pursue higher-quality talent at the trade deadline.
Young Core Is Still Intact
The Flyers have been in win-now mode as far as my memory goes back.
In those years the Flyers were faced with decisions about young players and usually elected to trade them for veterans who could possibly put the orange and black "over the top" in pursuit of that year's Stanley Cup.
James van Riemsdyk, Sergei Bobrovsky, Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Luca Sbisa, Scottie Upshall, R.J. Umberger, Joni Pitkanen, Freddy Meyer, Patrick Sharp, Justin Williams, Ruslan Fedotenko, Rod Brind'Amour, Dainius Zubrus, Colin Forbes, Janne Niinimaa , Vinny Prospal and Mikael Renberg are a few of the names of guys who the Flyers never let live up to their potential.
Some of those names never lived up to their expectations anywhere, some exceeded them and have haunted Flyers fans dreams.
But this year, by deciding to hold onto Sean Couturier, Brayden Schenn, Matt Read, Wayne Simmonds, Erik Gustafsson and Jake Voracek (although he's a restricted free agent) as well as their first-round draft pick (selected 18-year-old center Scott Laughton 20th overall), GM Paul Holmgren and his staff seem poised to give this group a shot to see what they can accomplish long-term, despite quick-fix temptations in Shea Weber, Bobby Ryan and Rick Nash.
So, no, the Flyers did not make themselves instant Stanley Cup contenders with any of their offseason moves, but the team improved itself and the Flyers have a young, energetic and entertaining team that could be together for years to come.
If nothing else, that's something to wait for and look forward to during this brutally hot summer and even harder-to-handle Phillies season.