Ranking the Philadelphia Flyers' Top Offseason Priorities
The Philadelphia Flyers will have their hands full this offseason, after the team failed to make the playoffs for only the second time in its last 18 seasons. Granted, Philadelphia faced some tough luck during this abbreviated season with cumulative injuries, but the Flyers cannot ignore the fact they played poor hockey for most of the year.
The main goal after this offseason is to establish a playoff-caliber team and personality before the 2013-14 puck drops.
There are a number of issues the Flyers must address with possible solutions coming via the draft or free agency. Regardless of the method, it's imperative general manager Paul Holmgren executes the proper moves needed to bring glory back to Philadelphia.
Here is a ranking of the Flyers' top priorities this offseason.
4. Find a Sharp-Shooting Forward
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According to NHL stats, the Philadelphia Flyers averaged 3.17 goals per game last season ranking them second in the league behind the Pittsburgh Penguins. This season the team only equated 2.78 goals per game, ninth in the NHL.
Not a terribly bad stat, but magnified during the shorter season.
Philadelphia had some outstanding play from Jake Voracek and Wayne Simmonds this season, yet many others struggled putting the puck in the net. Scott Hartnell, who led the Flyers in goals last season, has totaled only eight goals in 31 games. A significant drop from his dominating run last year.
Another underachiever was Danny Briere, whose age may be catching up to him. The veteran forward played in 33 games, scoring only six goals this season. He was simply invisible when on the ice.
A few more offensive under performers in Philadelphia were Sean Couturier and Maxim Talbot, who was playing well before breaking his leg. Both finished their respective seasons strong but noticeably struggled for a majority of the year.
Last, the Flyers lost two goal scorers this past offseason trading away James van Riemsdyk and letting Jaromir Jagr test free agency. Two major holes Philadelphia was unable to fill.
In a recent interview with ESPN's Pierre LeBrun, team owner Ed Snider discussed the Flyers' goal-scoring woes this season.
"I look at our team, it's amazing that's where we're at with the power play and penalty killing near the top of the league; but five-on-five goals, we're way down. That's probably what did us in, more than anything."
Philadelphia must now resort to trading, free agency or the draft to find that replacement. The team currently has limited cap space to make any major moves in the market, leaving trades or the draft as the viable options.
Whichever route general manager Paul Holmgren decides to use, it's crucial for the Flyers to have a potential-scoring threat on their roster next season.
3. Address Goalie Situation
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Many speculations have been thrown around about the future of Ilya Bryzgalov in Philadelphia. Even when asking the eccentric netminder himself, a clear-cut answer is not provided.
Yet, the latest reports suggest Bryz will not be bought out this offseason, but will remain the man in Philly (via ESPN).
But is this true? Did the Flyers bring Steve Mason at the trade deadline to reserve Bryz or replace him?
According to an interview with CSN's Tim Panaccio, Bryzgalov welcomes the idea of having a second goalie on the roster.
“I think it’s a great for the team when you have two good goalies on the team,” Bryzgalov said. “During the season, I didn’t have much opportunity for rest during the long stretch. I was kind of exhausted. You have luxury of having second goalie who can play great, too, it’s wonderful for the team. You play another goalie and he can win the games, too.”
The Flyers have a dilemma in deciding the future of both goalies, while trying to reverse the negative goalie reputation of years past. If Bryz returns as the starter, Mason could definitely serve as an above-average reserve. But if he's played his final game in the Orange and Black, Mason may step into the spotlight.
Hopefully, the team will decide on some direction in net.
2. Utilize the Amnesty Buyout
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The Philadelphia Flyers will have to utilize their amnesty buyout with either Ilya Bryzgalov or Danny Briere this offseason.
It's still up in the air on exactly who the team will exercise the option, but Briere seems to be the likely candidate. According to Capgeek, the Flyers can save $2.2 million next season if they buy him out.
Briere, who has been outspoken about remaining in Philadelphia, may now have finally come to terms with his fate. After Thursday's game against the New York Islanders, where Briere scored a goal, he wanted to thank the Philly fans (via DelcoTimes).
“Thanks to the fans here in Philly,” Briere said. “Every year I’ve been treated awesome by the fans here. You couldn’t ask for a better place to play.”
Whether he is traded or bought out, Briere probably played his last season as a Flyer.
If Philadelphia does indeed exercise amnesty with Bryz, according to Capgeek it would save the team roughly $6.4 million next season. Obviously, this will have both a positive and negative impact for the Flyers.
On one hand, the team would have a significant amount of cap space to play with and on the other hand, they would be left with Steve Mason as the lone netminder.
The Flyers will likely retain Bryz for another season, but anything is possible.
As Philadelphia enters the offseason with zero wiggle room, utilization of a buyout is inevitable.
1. Address Defensive Issues
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Flyers' defense was below average all season long and a major reason for the team's poor play.
According to Man Games Lost, Philadelphia is second in the NHL with total man games lost through April 21. And the list of defenders who missed significant playing time is enormous: Chris Pronger, Andrej Meszaros, Braydon Coburn, Marc-Andre Bourdon, Nicklas Grossman, Bruno Gervais and Kent Huskins.
There were a few bright spots on the blue line this year, as Kimmo Timonen proved he still has some gas left in his tank and Luke Schenn proved to be a durable and gritty defender.
Unfortunately, the Flyers played at more of an AHL level this season and an upgrade is needed to revive the team's image. And with a limited number of attainable and quality free-agent defenders, Philly may look to the NHL draft to acquire a stud defenseman.
Two blueliners the team should target in the draft are Darnell Nurse and Rasmus Ristolainen. Both players have the potential to be major contributors at the pro level. But if the Flyers do not select a defender, trading away a valuable forward may be necessary.
A player like Sean Couturier or Brayden Schenn could be expendable, while searching for an experienced defenseman.
Again, whatever the method, the Flyers must address this issue in the offseason. Defense is too important in the NHL, and if Philadelphia wants to make it back to the playoffs—it must focus on the blue line.