Last season, the Philadelphia Flyers finished third in goal scoring in the NHL, prompting most fans to conclude that the team needed to use the offseason to shore up its defense and goaltending situations.
After all, the Flyers have a plethora of young forwards, led by one of hockey’s rising stars in Claude Giroux.
But the Flyers could take their offense to elite status with the addition of a true goal-scoring winger, and the front office should spend the remainder of the summer listening to offers for players with 30-goal potential who could be had without breaking up the young offensive corps.
Last summer, GM Paul Holmgren acquired four valuable offensive tools in exchange for Jeff Carter and Mike Richards. Wayne Simmonds burst onto the Philadelphia scene as a talented front-of-the-net player, while Jakub Voracek’s setup skills and puck-handling ability show off the young Czech’s big potential. Rookies Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier became surprisingly pivotal two-way forwards for the Flyers.
All four players are taking the Flyers in the right direction, but none of them perfectly complement Giroux’s style of play.
In order to get maximum production from Giroux, he needs to be playing alongside a pure scorer.
Giroux played between Jaromir Jagr and Scott Hartnell last season. Hartnell had a career year, netting 37 goals, including 16 on the power play. Jagr scored 19 of his own.
But Jagr is well past his prime and suffered injury issues throughout the year, missing nine games entirely and leaving early or missing shifts in many more. Hartnell, for all his success, is no sure thing to repeat his 2011-12 performance.
He still irritates first and scores goals second.
Jagr’s absence leaves a hole at right wing on the first line, one that will likely be filled by Voracek if the Flyers make no additional moves.
But Voracek himself has never broken the 20-goal mark, and his East-West style of play is not ideal for a setup man like Giroux. Voracek has established himself as a pass-first player, while Giroux needs to play with someone who does not hesitate to pull the trigger.
Top setup men are most effective when playing with top scorers. Right now, Giroux is a Henrik without a Daniel.
NBC Sports is reporting that the Dallas Stars have put captain Brenden Morrow on the market. While the Flyers are not rumored to be interested, putting Morrow on Giroux’s left wing (and moving Hartnell to the right, or down to the second line) could make sense for Philadelphia if the price is right.
When healthy, Morrow is capable of breaking 30 goals on his own. With a player of Giroux’s caliber setting him up, Morrow could conceivably inflate those numbers near 40.
If both Hartnell and Morrow totaled 30-40 goals, the Flyers’ top line would become one of the most feared in the league.
There is no indication yet as to whether or not Holmgren would try to get in on the apparent Morrow sweepstakes, nor is there any sign of what it would take to land the Stars’ captain.
There is, however, no shortage of talk about the Flyers acquiring Bobby Ryan, with ESPN's Pierre LeBrun beginning the speculation prior to the 2012 NHL entry draft.
Ryan is likely the most ideal candidate for the position as Giroux’s wingman, as the former Cherry Hill, NJ native has scored more than 30 goals in four consecutive seasons and is only 25 years young.
However, Ryan does not have a no-trade clause, so his personal preferences will have little bearing on any decisions the Ducks’ brass makes.
Ryan and Giroux makes complete sense—one is a big-bodied winger with a wicked shot and a propensity for finding himself with an open shot, the other is a shifty playmaker whose ability to feed an open man is second to none.
Both are young and have ample time to build chemistry.
But the trade itself must make sense, too. With James van Riemsdyk and Sergei Bobrovsky departed from the City of Brotherly Love, potential suitors are largely interested in the services of Sean Couturier and Brayden Schenn, two players that Holmgren would be crazy to trade at this stage.
Both had impressive rookie years and showed the potential to develop quickly.
In all likelihood, if Holmgren hangs onto Couturier and Schenn, he will not be able to put together the most attractive trade package for Bobby Ryan.
Holmgren does have a responsibility to listen to Anaheim’s demands, though. The Flyers will be a better team with a pure scorer playing alongside Giroux.
The team’s dangerous offense will undoubtedly become elite if Holmgren can make a move. A combination of Hartnell-Giroux-Ryan would be the modern-day equivalent of the Legion of Doom line.
Giroux is already among the best in the business at what he does, but his potential goes to waste if he isn’t making his wingers the best in the business, too.