A triumphant Scott Hartnell after scoring one of his 37 goals last season.
Win now or win later?
Big-time scorer now or potential superstar later?
These are the decisions that Paul Holmgren has to make as general manager of the Philadelphia Flyers.
While there are more pressing issues on the table right now—such as whether the Flyers and their NHL brethren will actually play a 2012-13 season—Holmgren will have to make decisions about the makeup of his roster.
He may be better served making those decisions sooner rather than later.
Scott Hartnell scored 37 goals for the Flyers last season and showed the ability to put the puck in the net and make big plays when the Flyers needed them most.
Hartnell, 30, was scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season before he signed a six-year, $28.5 million contract extension with the Flyers in August (source: NHL.com through CSNPhilly.com).
Wayne Simmonds scored 28 goals in his first season with the Flyers after being acquired in a trade with the Los Angeles Kings. Simmonds, 24, skates far better than Hartnell, plays a tough game and is showing significant improvement. Simmonds signed a six-year, $24 million in August (source: Philly.com).
The easy decision is to say that the Flyers need to keep both players.
But that may not be realistic. The salary cap will almost certainly come into play in future seasons and the Flyers also have other needs that may be greater than signing two forwards who can put the puck into the net.
That attribute should never be overlooked but the Flyers have significant defensive problems. There are no guarantees they won't have to adjust goaltending at the end of the season.
Holmgren has to consult with head coach Peter Laviolette about which player fits the Flyers' needs better for the future and make a decision.
We advocate keeping Hartnell and perhaps trading Simmonds prior to the end of the season. Here's why:
There's little doubt when it comes to all-around ability and talent that the younger Simmonds has an edge on Hartnell. After all, Simmonds doesn't fall down several times each game, as is Hartnell's wont.
Simmonds also seems fully committed to playing the game hard on both ends. Hartnell doesn't slack on the defensive end, but he seems much more motivated to put the puck in the net.
Since Hartnell has reached the age of 30, wouldn't it seem likely he might start to slip while Simmonds is still getting better?
That's the logical conclusion but the feeling here is Hartnell is just coming into his own. While he is not a great skater, he understands how to get open in the offensive zone, how to position himself to get his shot away quickly and he has a knack for putting the puck in the net. That ability came to the fore in a game last January when Hartnell scored a natural hat trick against Tim Thomas in a game the Flyers would eventually lose (source: NHLSnipers.com).
He transformed himself from a good player (24 goals in 2010-11) to a big-time scorer last year. That's a jump that a lot of players can't make.
We're not saying Simmonds won't do it but there are no guarantees. He's a good, tough player who will stand up for his teammates and is improving. But since he has so many years in front of him, he would be a valuable asset for a potential Philadelphia trade partner.
Holmgren could get a solid defenseman for him and barring that, he could get a high draft pick.
Would Hartnell bring the same kind of talent that a younger player like Simmonds could now that he has signed a long-term deal? Quite possibly, but Hartnell may only appeal to a few teams.
Hartnell is an explosive scorer, who has found his niche in Philadelphia. Some other teams might not respect him as much as the Flyers.
However, a young asset like Simmonds would fit in just about anywhere.
Keep Hartnell and move Simmonds to make the best long-term move for the Flyers.