3 Biggest Holes Philadelpia Flyers Must Fill This Offseason
For more than half of the league, the NHL's second season is just getting under way. Playoff hopes abound for the 16 remaining teams, which all believe it's their turn to make that magical run for Lord Stanley's cup.
Meanwhile, for the 14 clubs not so fortunate to qualify for the postseason, the offseason has already begun. The draft lottery has ordered the first 14 selections, and teams are already assessing what changes need to be made to avoid this same predicament next year.
The Philadelphia Flyers may have finished strong (four straight wins and six victories in the final seven games), but it was too little too late as the Orange and Black missed the playoffs for just the second time in the past 18 seasons.
The Flyers may not have as much work in front of them this summer as other teams, but they still have holes to fill. Here are the three biggest.
Proven Veteran Goal Scorer
The Flyers received some nice offensive contributions from several players this season but lacked that veteran goal-scoring presence needed at key moments in critical games.
Jakub Voracek was a revelation, recording a career-high 22 goals in just 48 games. Claude Giroux is Claude Giroux. He notched just 13 goals but paced Philly in overall scoring for the third consecutive season. Wayne Simmonds finished second on the team with 15 goals, while Matt Read buried 11 conversions in his sophomore season.
Clearly, Philadelphia's offensive future is bright when you consider that Read is the elder statesmen of that group at a grizzled 26 years old. And that doesn't include 21-year-old offensive phenom Brayden Schenn and up-and-coming 20-year-old Sean Couturier.
But what the Flyers boast in young offensive talent, they lack in proven veteran goal scoring.
Who knew how impactful the loss of the now 41-year-old Jaromir Jagr would actually be?
After shelling out $3.3 million last season in Jagr's return to the NHL, Philly wasn't prepared to match the $4.5 million this year that the Dallas Stars offered the future Hall of Famer. That seemed like a sensible decision at the time, but it left the Flyers without proven goal scorers.
Scott Hartnell, who led the team with 37 goals last season, recorded just eight in 32 games this year. Meanwhile, with 286 career goals on his resume, Daniel Briere managed just six conversions in 34 games this season.
In the end, Jagr's leadership in the locker room and established goal-scoring presence were desperately missed.
Ironically, Jagr is one option the Orange and Black could turn to (again) to fill that void this summer. The active leader in goals (681) will hit the open market unless the Boston Bruins elect to re-sign him after acquiring the sniper at the trade deadline.
Jagr will be 42 next February, but another 16 goals and 35 points in just 45 games this year prove he's still dangerous.
Another alternative for the Flyers could be 35-year-old Jarome Iginla. Third among active goal scorers with 530 career conversions, Iginla isn't as dangerous as he once was but would be a phenomenal supplemental offensive piece amidst a blossoming corps of Philadelphia forwards.
The Pittsburgh Penguins snagged the 11-time 30-goal scorer at the trade deadline to load up for a cup run, but it remains to be seen if Iginla fits into their long-term plans. He'll likely command at least $5 million per season on the open market, but that could be money well spent by the Flyers.
Names like Teemu Selanne (675 career goals) and Patrick Elias (375 career goals), who are both set to become unrestricted free agents, would also work, but it's unlikely that either player is prepared to leave his current situation.
Big, Physical Defenseman
This is something the Flyers haven't had since the loss of Chris Pronger.
Philadelphia is built around the heritage and tradition of the Broad Street Bullies and will always be viewed as a physical and intimidating team. But the Orange and Black just haven't had that intimidation factor for the last season-and-a-half.
Players like Pronger don't come around very often. His hulking 6'6", 220-pound frame was enough to intimidate most players. They were never quite certain that he wouldn't cross check them in the teeth just for crossing Philly's blue line.
A leader and future Hall of Famer like that is irreplaceable, but the Flyers must find a way to add some size and physicality to their blue line.
Existing defensemen like Braydon Coburn and Kurtis Foster have a similar stature to Pronger (Coburn is 6'5" and 220 lb, while Foster is 6'5" and 225 lb), but neither brings an overwhelmingly physical presence to his game. Foster was brought in to be a right-handed shooter on defense, while Coburn does a lot of things well but hasn't developed into an exceptional defenseman in any one area.
Nicklas Grossmann can be physical when healthy. Unfortunately, the Stockholm native missed 18 games this season with a concussion.
Luke Schenn was a solid physical addition to Philadelphia's back end last summer, but the Flyers need more.
One way to bulk up on defense this summer could be through the draft, where Philadelphia holds the 11th overall selection. One player who could still be on the board with that pick is Rasmus Ristolainen.
At just 18 years old, the Finnish defenseman already checks in at 6'3" and 210 pounds and has displayed a willingness to play physically in front of his own net. Ristolainen won't dominate the highlight reel with bone-crushing open-ice hits, but he possesses a physicality and mean streak that would fit perfectly in Philadelphia.
If that doesn't work, the Flyers could always turn to free agency, where heavy hitters like Robyn Regehr, Douglas Murray and Rob Scuderi are set to hit the open market.
Not only do the Flyers need to get bigger and tougher on defense, they also need to get deeper.
By far, Philadelphia's most glaring weakness heading into this season was the team's defense corps. It lacked game-breakers, true shutdown defenders and depth.
Those deficiencies were exposed when injuries limited Coburn to 33 games, Grossmann to 30 and Andrej Meszaros to just 11 this year. In other words, three of the team's top-five defenders lost a combined 74 man-games due to injuries.
As a result, Kimmo Timonen was forced to play more minutes than his 38-year-old body could handle, while Schenn was forced into action far more than he should have been.
The long-term positive result that may have come from all the injuries is depth on defense, at long last.
Free-agent acquisition Bruno Gervais, who was brought in as a depth defenseman, logged regular minutes and could fill in on the team's bottom defense pair moving forward.
Kent Huskins was picked up at the trade deadline from the Detroit Red Wings and could also be a solid depth blueliner next year, should the Flyers opt to re-sign him.
In addition, youngsters like Oliver Lauridsen and Brandon Manning saw action at the NHL level. As a result, they could be ready to join the big club full time sooner than anticipated.
And then the team can look to free agency for more depth, where the likes of Mark Streit, Ryan Whitney and Jordan Leopold could be available come July 1. Even aging stars like Sergei Gonchar or Joe Corvo could provide a nice boost on the back end.
In any event, the Flyers know all too well where a lack of defensive depth can land a team. They won't make that mistake again.