As the dust begins to settle from the chaos of the NHL Entry Draft and free agency, most NHL teams have a good idea what their rosters will look like at the start of the 2012-13 season, save for a few players still holding out and a few trades still in the works.
The Philadelphia Flyers, after a dramatic summer in 2011, have been much quieter in 2012, confident with the young, energetic base that they can build upon in the coming years.
There are no Richards and Carter trades to assess, no nine-year contracts to critique, no glaring mistakes threatening to cause the Flyers to tank. This summer was all about the little things.
Let’s break out the grading rubric and see how GM Paul Holmgren did this year, one move at a time.
Two years ago, Sergei Bobrovsky seemed to be the future of Philadelphia goaltending. Last year, he became expendable when Ilya Bryzgalov signed a long-term, virtually unmovable contract. This summer, Bob was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets for three draft picks.
Bobrovsky’s out-of-the-gate success made him attractive to other teams, and he had the potential to be a valuable piece in a big trade. The fact that the Flyers only managed to get a few draft picks for Bob is frustrating because of that value, but in the end, having Bobrovsky and Bryzgalov on the same squad made things crowded.
The Flyers will be better for having moved on from Bob, but it’s hard not to think that they could have gotten more.
Like Bobrovsky, James van Riemsdyk was long thought of as a trade asset for the Flyers. The team has an abundance of offensive depth and potential, and JVR, a former No. 2 overall pick, is yet to develop as the Flyers would have liked.
This summer, Holmgren pulled the trigger on a van Riemsdyk trade, sending the New Jersey native to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for defenseman Luke Schenn, who had similar struggles to reach his potential in Toronto.
Schenn will be playing on the same team as his brother Brayden, and will likely fill the slot as the Flyers’ No. 5 defenseman.
In theory, the move works. Holmgren traded his offensive surplus to shore up the defense. But like Bob, there exists the notion that the Flyers could have gotten a little more for one of their true trade assets.
The Flyers were sitting pretty at No. 20 during the draft, and while many of the draft’s more coveted defensemen were gone by the time the Flyers were on the clock, there were still a number of highly-touted forwards available.
Philadelphia instead went for Scott Laughton, a pick that was surprising to many. Like most draft picks, Holmgren’s moves cannot be fairly assessed so soon, but given that bigger names like Brendan Gaunce and Malcolm Subban were still undrafted at the time, Laughton is going to have a little extra to prove in order to back up Holmgren’s decision.
Technically, Michael Leighton never left, but it sure feels like he did. Leighton infamously lost Game 6 of the 2010 Stanley Cup Final for the Flyers and then virtually disappeared, following up a back injury with a long stint in Adirondack and very little face time at the NHL level.
With Sergei Bobrovsky gone and Ilya Bryzgalov the sort of goalie who starts 65 or more games in a good season, the Flyers don’t need an expensive contingency plan for a backup. They need cheap reliability in the form of a goalie who isn’t going to tempt Peter Laviolette to shuffle back and forth between Bryz and backup.
At $900,000 for one year, Leighton is as good an option as Holmgren was going to find.
Zach Parise and Ryan Suter were the ultimate prizes of free agency this year, and like any highly competitive team, the Flyers made a play for both of them.
Suter could have strengthened the blue line and replaced Kimmo Timonen at the end of the season. Parise would have put up ridiculous numbers playing alongside Claude Giroux.
But Holmgren offered them both major contracts (according to NBC Sports, Parise’s deal would have hit the $110 million mark), money that could have been better spent in some other place, or at some other time.
The Flyers are fortunate that Parise and Suter landed in Minnesota instead, out of the conference and off of Philadelphia’s books. Holmgren’s big contract offer is concerning, but the end results are, overall, good for the Flyers. It is possible that the Flyers drove the price of these free agents up enough to keep other rivals’ hands off of them.
In the end, hometown discounts won out.
Last offseason, Jaromir Jagr was a surprise signing for the Flyers, coming in to influence the culture of the team at a $3.3 million price tag.
Jagr’s work ethic was invaluable, and it appears that the Flyers have quickly transitioned from the hard-partying days of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter to a team that treats winning as the most important thing of all. However, Jagr’s on-ice contributions waned in the second half of the season as he began to show his age.
Holmgren got what he needed from Jagr, and when the Dallas Stars offered a bigger contract to Jagr, there was no need for Holmgren to match it. Moving on was the right move.
Aside from Ryan Suter, Matt Carle was the most talked-about defenseman on the free agent market. The Philadelphia fan base was a bit wary of bringing Carle back, feeling that his numbers were inflated by years of playing with Chris Pronger and turnovers were too big an issue.
Tampa Bay ended up offering Carle $33 million over six years. With cap hits of $3.5 million or more already tied up in Kimmo Timonen, Braydon Coburn, Nicklas Grossmann, Andrej Meszaros and Luke Schenn, there simply was no room for an inflated Carle contract in Philadelphia.
Holmgren signed former Lightning defender Bruno Gervais to a two-year, $1.65 million contract. Even at only $825,000 in cap space per season, the move is questionable at best.
The Flyers have five defensemen in the lineup in Timonen, Coburn, Grossmann, Meszaros and Schenn, with five major options to choose from for the sixth spot.
Erik Gustafsson seems to be NHL-ready, Andreas Lilja still has some gas in the tank, Marc-Andre Bourdon impressed last year and deserves a second shot if he remains with the team and Oskars Bartulis and Brandon Manning also have futures in the big leagues.
So why bring in yet another option, at any price? Gervais doesn’t bring significant size (6’0”, 188 lbs) or point production (81 points in seven NHL seasons), so his signing seems difficult to explain and only complicates the battle for the sixth defensive spot.
After trading James van Riemsdyk, the Flyers took a slight hit to their offensive size and depth, leaving a spot open for a third-line left winger. Holmgren signed former Flyer and two-time Stanley Cup winner Ruslan Fedotenko to a one-year deal for $1.75 million.
Fedotenko has 20-30 point potential and brings size and experience to a line that will likely feature sophomores Matt Read and Sean Couturier. He comes cheap, he fills a void and he’s well-liked by the fans already.
Bringing in Fedotenko was a simple yet smart move on Holmgren’s part to round out the roster while leaving the young players room to flourish.