4 Questions Facing the Philadelphia Flyers in the Second Half of the NHL Season

Michael Pizzutillo@@Mike_PizzutilloCorrespondent IIIMarch 15, 2013

4 Questions Facing the Philadelphia Flyers in the Second Half of the NHL Season

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    The Philadelphia Flyers are now four games into the second half of its season, and still have many unanswered questions begging to be addressed.

    At the beginning of March, Philly defeated the Ottawa Senators and finally reached the .500 mark for the first time in 2013. Since then, the team has lost four of its last five games and is heading in the wrong direction.

    The second half of the season will define Philly's character and expose its "contender or pretender" reputation. 

    With less games remaining than any other team in the NHL, it will be extremely difficult for the Flyers to crawl its way back into contention for a playoff berth.

    Here are four burning questions the Philadelphia Flyers must answer down the home stretch of the season.

1. Will Paul Holmgren Trade for a Blueliner This Season?

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    To trade or not to trade, that is the question.

    As the NHL approaches its trade deadline, Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren has quite the dilemma on his hands.

    According to Capgeek, Philadelphia has the highest salary in the league—largely due to Chris Pronger and Ilya Bryzgalov's inflated salaries.  Yet the team is not living up to its pay.

    If at the trade deadline the Flyers are out of playoff contention, Homer needs to consider revamping the payroll and moving players.

    Some viable options could be Danny Briere, Braydon Coburn, Sean Couturier and Scott Laughton. 

    Briere is the most interesting trade, as many teams could use his services in the postseason. But the veteran forward wants to stay in Philly and has the upper hand with a "no-movement clause" in his contract—allowing him to veto any trade.

    Additionally, Briere comes with an extremely high price tag and will prove difficult to move.

    Coburn is having a dreadful season, magnified by his 30 turnovers in 28 games. The 28-year-old can still provide depth for teams and a change of scenery may benefit both parties. Unfortunately, he has three years and $13.5 million remaining on his contract. Not many suitors will jump at this bargain.

    Couturier is also having a down season after an impressive rookie campaign. Couts, although a great defensive forward, has been non-existent on offense with seven points on the season. And with a manageable salary, teams around the league could take a fly on him.

    Last, Scott Laughton, the unproven forward, could be a expendable. The Flyers desperately need help on defense, and Laughton could be dealt in a package deal bringing a talented blueliner to Philly.

    Now if the Flyers are in contention by the deadline, a move may not be necessary. Whatever the case may be, Holmgren will be closely monitoring Philly's play over the next two weeks and taking many phone calls.

2. Can the Defense Improve with Its Current Roster?

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    Defense wins championships and right now the Flyers have no defense.

    The unit has played miserable hockey all season and has an overall record to prove it. With the Flyers sitting in 11th place in the Eastern Conference and losing four of its last five games, a immediate change is needed.

    Kimmo Timonen has played uncharacteristically sloppy hockey, yet is still considered one of the better defenders on the Flyers. His 28 penalty minutes in 28 games may be a sign of the veteran's age finally catching up to him. 

    Youngster and first-year Flyer Luke Schenn has both helped and hurt the team. He leads the league for defensemen with 103 hits, but has been also been a turnover machine. 

    Speaking of turnovers, Coburn is ranked in the top three for blueliners with 30 giveaways. 

    Needless to say, the Flyers' defense entered this season mediocre, at best, but has turned into one of the worst units in the league. Currently, Philly is averaging 3.1 goals against each game and showing little support for goalie Ilya Bryzgalov.

    Coach Peter Laviolette must now demand change and his players need to respond. If not, the Flyers can write this season off.

3. Will Ilya Bryzgalov Lose All Confidence with His Team?

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    Lately, Ilya Bryzgalov has been the most outspoken Flyer, expressing his disappointment with the team and season. Maybe a little too outspoken.

    Fellow B/R writer Nick Goss recently wrote an article asking if the goaltender is talking his way out of Philadelphia. If anything, he is being an unnecessary distraction.

    Bryz recently spoke with Sam Carchidi of the Philadelphia Inquirer  prior to the Flyers awful performance against the New Jersey Devils and predicted the team's future.

    You win both games, you are tied with them, and you have a good chance to continue to battle for the playoffs," he said after Tuesday's practice in Voorhees. "You lose both games, you are done. You are done. That's it. This is it. This is, probably, the reality. You're going to be eight points behind [after losing both games in regulation] . . . and not many games are left to catch up. It would be very, very difficult. It's not going to depend only on you. It's going to depend more on other teams than you. That's how important these games [are].

    With the Flyers poor play, staying positive is key to turning this season around and right now Bryz is playing a Debbie Downer role.

    On the upside, Bryz has played better in net than last season and with little to no support from his defense, but he is still an emotionally driven hockey player.

    And right now, his emotions are getting the better of him. 

    Bryz must focus his energy on helping bring the Flyers together and not apart. It's time for him to act like a professional athlete and let his play do the talking.

4. Will the Flyers Make the Playoffs?

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    Is there a more important question surrounding the Philadelphia sports region?

    Don't answer that Eagles, Sixers or Phillies fans.

    But for Flyers fans, this is the most concerning item on their minds and rightly so. For a team entering the season with high expectations, this year has been disastrous. 

    The last time Philadelphia missed the playoffs was during the forgettable 2006-2007 season, where they scored the fewest total points in the NHL. And before that was, as far back as, the 1993-1994 season. 

    For a team with a reputation of making the playoffs year after year, playing at this level is disheartening and shocking. 

    With only 20 games remaining and every team having a game in hand on the Flyers, it will be extremely difficult to turn this ship around in such little time.

    Yes, defense will have to improve, dramatically, but Bryz must be a stronger force in goal, Giroux must become a leader on and off the ice and coach Laviolette must light a fire under a team capable of playing better hockey.

    If all of these circumstances happen, then the Flyers have a glimmer of hope to make the playoffs. 

    Go Flyers.