The Philadelphia Flyers' biggest short-term problems are not easy fixes by any stretch. There are a few significant ones that need to be addressed, and quickly.
If those shorter-term problems are solved as best possible, that would significantly improve their long-term outlook, which is currently hinging mostly on what is done over the next 12 to 16 months.
Between this current offseason, the 2013-14 season, and next offseason, I believe that the Flyers are in a very crucial window.
There are five players that they need to build around, and somewhat unfortunately, they are all forwards. Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds, Jake Voracek, Sean Couturier and Brayden Schenn need to be locked up in Philadelphia for the long run.
After those five, the Flyers have a bevy of short-term problems, the most obvious of which is their defense, although there are specifics within the defense that can be discussed.
Just a few short years ago, the Flyers had one of the best top-four defensive corps in the league. They had two young, good (but not great) players in Matt Carle and Braydon Coburn, who performed superbly when paired with two of the best veterans in the game in Chris Pronger and Kimmo Timonen.
But now Pronger is effectively retired, Timonen looks old and is most likely going to retire after this upcoming season, while Matt Carle is in Tampa Bay.
Figuring out who the next top four is will be crucial. As it stands right now, Luke Schenn would be the only lock as one of those four moving forward.
Veterans like Coburn, Nicklas Grossmann, and Andrej Meszaros all could be the fourth guy, but have their own individual issues and are all expendable at this point.
Prospects like Marc-Andre Bourdon, Oliver Lauridsen and Brandon Manning could be a fifth or sixth defenseman best case, while Erik Gustafsson has the upside of a top-four, but that is not even close to a guarantee.
One possible way to bolster the defense is by looking to use the three veterans above in trades to upgrade. Package one of them, plus one of the young defensemen and a second-round draft pick, and that could net a pretty sold return.
The free-agency pool is thin this year, so there aren't any real solutions there. But with the cap lowering and potential for unknown buyouts occurring, some new defensemen could be available and others may get put on the trade block.
The Flyers also have the 11th pick in the draft, and need to add a top defenseman there. A few possible selections are outlined here.
To sum it up, the Flyers essentially have three decent veteran defensemen and three decent prospects. They need to somehow turn those six players into two very good defensemen.
As far as the forward talent pool, Scott Laughton, Tye McGinn and Nick Cousins actually make up a respectable top three, but the forward lines are going to be pretty jammed up already moving ahead.
If the Flyers could use some combination of them to get a top defenseman, that would make an immediate impact on the quality of the blue line.
While it's always nice to have a few good young forwards, they won't help much being on the bottom two lines, which is really their only hope for the next couple years.
The salary cap looks a bit iffy right now, but by buying out Ilya Bryzgalov, they will save a good chunk of space.
If they also buy out Danny Briere, that would save them even more room. And with the cap ceiling lowering this offseason, many teams will be strapped, so this is not a unique problem at all.
As far as the long-term problems go, they rest mostly on the defense and goalie situations, along with the overall character and direction of the team.
Who is the goalie of the future? Is it Steve Mason, or 2012 second-round pick Anthony Stolarz, or someone new? This needs to be sorted out by the start of the 2014-15 season.
How is Paul Holmgren going to attack the next 12 months? Is he going to be aggressive, or just make a few sensible deals and let his young guys develop? His next few decisions will dictate the direction of the organization.
Lastly, what is the makeup of this team? In their 2010 Stanley Cup run—with Pronger, a young Claude Giroux, Scott Hartnell, Mike Richards, Daniel Carcillo and Ian Laperriere—they had a tough, resilient squad who all knew their roles and played them perfectly.
Hartnell, Adam Hall, Zac Rinaldo, Max Talbot, Matt Read and Simon Gagne are all valuable in their own rights, and good players, but are they the right players? Their roles and how they play them could end up being the ultimate deciding factor in the Flyers' success.
If the other pieces fall into place around their forward core, they upgrade defensively, and find that ever-elusive franchise goalie, this is a team that could be very competitive over the next five seasons.