Philadelphia Flyers: Peter Laviolette's 4 Biggest Remaining Offseason Priorities
Much of the focus during an NHL offseason revolves around the general managers and what roster adjustments will be made to strengthen and improve their team for the coming year.
But GMs aren't alone in their offseason workload to improve an NHL squad from one season to the next.
While the general managers are tasked with adding or subtracting the right personnel, the onus remains on the head coach to properly and appropriately implement any new members with the existing tenants.
For the Philadelphia Flyers that assignment lands on the desk of Peter Laviolette who, in two-and-a-half seasons at the helm in Philly, has guided the Flyers to a 122-73-26 overall mark and three straight top-three finishes within the Atlantic Division.
With just a little over two months remaining before the start of another regular season, here are the four biggest remaining offseason priorities for Laviolette.
Replace Jaromir Jagr's Lost Offense
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This could also be viewed as finding the final third to the Flyers' top line currently comprised of Claude Giroux and Scott Hartnell.
When Jagr bolted for the Dallas Stars via free agency, he took with him 665 career goals and more than 1,650 career points. Most notably for Philadelphia, he heads west with the 19 goals and 54 points he accumulated in a Flyers' sweater a season ago.
Those 54 points were good for third-best on Philly's roster last season. His size, strength, incredible puck possession skills and nose for the net will sorely be missed.
Potential candidates to replace Jagr on Philadelphia's top line include Jake Voracek and Matt Read. Voracek finished tied for fourth on the team in scoring last season with 49 points and excelled in the season's latter stages notching 25 points (nine goals, 16 assists) in his final 28 games. Meanwhile, Read, in just his first season of NHL service, finished fourth among all Flyers with 24 goals last year.
Philly certainly has the depth at the forward position to replace Jagr, but it will be Laviolette's assignment to ensure he finds the right replacement to ensure the Flyers' top line remains one of the most feared in the game today.
Find Enough Ice Time for All of Philly's Young Forwards
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Speaking of forward depth.
The Flyers currently have seven forwards on their roster under the age of 27 years old that all figure to be in the mix next season.
Read (26), Claude Giroux (24), Wayne Simmonds (23), Voracek (22), Eric Wellwood (22), Brayden Schenn (20) and Sean Couturier (19) represent the tremendous job GM Paul Holmgren has done to restock Philly's offensive cupboard.
It's now Laviolette's job to find enough ice for all of those budding forwards to mature and development while still giving his team the best chance to win each and every night.
Giroux and Voracek (if re-signed—he's currently a restricted free agent) will receive top line minutes. Read, Simmonds and potentially Schenn stand to fall within Philly's top-six forwards. Couturier will center either the team's third of fourth line while Wellwood's speed makes him a valuable offensive tool.
Those seven combined with stalwart forwards Hartnell, Danny Briere and Max Talbot, along with recently acquired Ruslan Fedotenko, will make up the majority of Philadelphia's offensive corps.
In other words, there's a bevy of capable forwards vying for the same minutes. Laviolette will have the depth to roll four lines as he did a season ago but will have the rich man's problem of making sure each of his star forwards sees enough of the frozen surface to remain both productive and happy.
Establish the Flyers' New Defensive Pairs
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This could become an even more enjoyable priority for Laviolette if the Flyers land Shea Weber in the next 48 hours.
Regardless, there's been some movement along the Philadelphia back end (acquisition of Luke Schenn, loss of Matt Carle via free agency) that will force Laviolette to establish some new defensive pairs for the coming year.
Kimmo Timonen, Braydon Coburn, Nicklas Grossmann, Andrej Meszaros and Schenn round out Philly's top five on defense heading into next year. Should Weber enter the fold, the Flyers will have solidified their top six defenders while boasting one of the most vaunted defensive groups in the NHL.
Without Weber, Laviolette will have to determine who among Marc-Andre Bourdon, Erik Gustafsson or the newly acquired Bruno Gervais is ready to receive full-time NHL minutes and who will find themselves on the outside looking in.
Timonen and Meszaros currently represent the team's top offensive-minded blueliners while Coburn and Grossmann have proven to be two of the squad's top shutdown defenders. Meanwhile, Schenn will likely fall into Philly's bottom pair until he familiarizes himself with the team's defensive systems.
Philadelphia's team defense was its weakest attribute at the close of last season so finding the right defensive combinations will be critical for the team's success in the year to come.
Appoint the Team's Next Captain
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With current captain Chris Pronger unlikely to return as a result of post-concussion syndrome, the Flyers will be looking to assign the team's 19th captain in franchise history.
After his captain-like performance in last year's postseason, the logical choice is Giroux. He's led the team in scoring in each of the last two seasons and has established himself as one of the top players in the entire league. He's a skilled forward to who plays with an edge and that has ingratiated him to the blue-collar Philly fans.
At just 24 years old and with only 285 games of NHL experience under his belt, Giroux would be one the youngest and most inexperienced captains in Flyers' history. As such, there will have to be some other names that Laviolette at least considers.
Two strong potential candidates include the 34-year-old Briere and 37-year-old Timonen. A 14-year NHL veteran, Briere spent two seasons as a rotating captain in Buffalo from 2005-2007 and has served as an alternate captain for the Flyers in several seasons since coming to Philadelphia. Meanwhile, Timonen, a 13-year NHL pro, served as Nashville's captain during the 2006-07 season and like Briere, has served as an alternate captain for several years in Philly.
Again, Giroux seems like the most likely candidate to replace Pronger, but the decision doesn't appear to be quite so cut and dry for Laviolette as that. Briere and Timonen are incredibly qualified candidates as well and if the Orange and Black were to secure a certain Nashville Predators captain that would throw yet another qualified name into the mix.