Complete Guide to the Philadelphia Flyers' 2014 Offseason
Assistant coach Craig Berube stepped in to assume the reins from Peter Laviolette just three games into the regular season, turning a moribund team into an energetic young group that's full of potential.
Along the way, the Flyers finally found their goalie of the future, locking up Steve Mason long term after a solid year between the pipes.
Now that the book has closed on this season, here's a look at what to expect from the Flyers heading into 2014-15.
- Flyers' captain Claude Giroux bounced back from a horrible start to his season, eventually tying his career high with 28 goals, finishing third in NHL scoring with 86 points and earning his first Hart Trophy nomination. The 26-year-old was the lynchpin of the team's turnaround and is set to be the heart and soul of the Flyers for years to come.
- Shifty playmaker Jakub Voracek has become a creative offensive force for the team. Voracek set career highs with 23 goals and 62 points in the regular season and was the Flyers' most dangerous forward during the playoffs.
- Goaltender Steve Mason returned from a concussion to give Philadelphia its most reliable playoff goaltending performance in years. In his five postseason appearances, Mason posted a 1.97 goals-against and .939 save percentage, often with little help from his teammates. His determined play in Game 7 against the New York Rangers kept the Flyers in the game and gave them a chance to win.
- Pricey veteran Vincent Lecavalier capped off a so-so regular season with a dismal playoff performance. After 37 regular-season points, he had just two points in the playoffs. His minus-five was the worst rating of the Philadelphia forwards, leading to a game-by-game decline in ice time throughout the series against the Rangers.
- Brayden Schenn has yet to live up to his billing. The 22-year-old set a regular-season career high with 20 goals and 41 points but almost disappeared in the playoffs contributing just three assists.
The Flyers took big strides this year moving from a team that missed the playoffs in 2012-13 to getting one goal away from advancing to the second round of the playoffs.
After a tough start to the season, Berube did a good job getting the most from his players. For the first time in many years, the goaltending situation appears stable, and the Flyers are grooming an impressive crop of young forwards for future stardom.
Biggest Storylines to Follow
- Must Get Faster: As Dan Rosen of NHL.com points out, the Flyers' lack of speed was glaringly apparent throughout their series with the Rangers. "One constant in all seven games was the Flyers' inability to keep up with the Rangers when they pushed the pace," Rosen wrote.
Though the Flyers roster is younger than it's been in years, the team still needs to improve its mobility in order to play better on both sides of the puck.
- Future Focus: Philadelphia took a big step forward this season, both in terms of the standings and their team identity. The only players left on the roster from the team that went to the Stanley Cup Final in 2010 are Giroux, Scott Hartnell, Braydon Coburn and 39-year-old Kimmo Timonen, who is likely retiring. The 2013-14 season birthed the next era of the Philadelphia Flyers, who should continue to tweak their lineup around this new, vibrant core.
- Chief Style: Berube was a hard-nosed player during his playing days, but he seems to have found the right tone to get through to his players. He still has a tendency to think old-school—witness, inserting Hall Gill on defense for Game 5 against New York—but has done more things right than wrong in his first season as the Flyers' bench boss.
Notable Players Hitting Free Agency
Kimmo Timonen (D)
Timonen signed a one-year, $6 million extension for the 2013-14 season after finishing up his six-year contract with the Flyers last summer. He's not especially fleet of foot, but he is reliable defensively and will be missed if he decides to retire this summer at the age of 39.
Adam Hall (RW)
Earning just $600,000 this season on a one-year contract, the 33-year-old proved his worth as a valuable fourth-liner in the playoffs contributing solid penalty-killing minutes and defensive play. The Flyers should look at bringing him back next season on another low-money, short-term deal.
Ray Emery (G)
Emery had a solid season as a backup and performed decently when pressed into duty at the beginning of the playoffs due to Steve Mason's injury. But his ugly fight with Braden Holtby earlier in the season was an unwelcome distraction, and at 31, his best days are almost certainly behind him. With Mason now firmly settled as No. 1, the Flyers can afford to let Emery go in favor of a lower-profile backup.
Top Free-Agent Targets
According to CapGeek.com, the Flyers have 17 players signed for the 2014-15 season at a salary of just over $64 million. That leaves about $6.5 million to spend on at least four or five players, which could preclude any big-money free agents.
The Flyers could use help on the blue line, but their trade-deadline acquisition of Andrew MacDonald followed essentially the same structure as a free-agent signing; it just happened in March.
Pittsburgh's Matt Niskanen is a young blueliner with plenty of upside. He'd be an appealing target, but the 27-year-old is in line for a fat contract and a big raise from his current $2.3 million cap hit. If the Flyers bring in a free-agent defenseman, it will likely have to be someone with a lower profile.
The list of free-agent goaltenders who could fill Emery's skates is long and budget-minded. They could bring back Cal Heeter, who helped out in a pinch at the end of the season, or look at San Jose's Alex Stalock, Boston's Chad Johnson and Carolina's Justin Peters—all capable young netminders who earned well under $1 million in 2013-14.
Best Options in the NHL Draft
Since the bottom four playoff teams were all eliminated in the first round, the Flyers will be picking 17th, based on this chart from TSN.ca.
The Flyers drafted hulking defenseman Samuel Morin 11th overall in 2013, but are pretty thin for defensive prospects otherwise. Aaron Ekblad is the lone defensive prospect near the top of this year's ranks, but he looks like he'll be a blue-chipper who could anchor a blue line for years to come. Paul Holmgren might want to see if he can trade up to get in on that action.
Further down the ranks, NHL.com shows defensemen Haydn Fleury, Julius Honka and Anthony DeAngelo among North America's top-20 skaters, while Swedes Markus Pettersson and Sebastian Aho and Czech Dominik Masin make the top 10 on the European side.
Players Who Should Be Put on the Trading Block
Holmgren has never been shy about dealing key players, even after he's signed them to lucrative contract extensions. With the progress that the Flyers have made this season, I expect this summer's moves will be more muted than usual.
Voracek would certainly attract interest from other teams, and has just two more years until becoming an unrestricted free agent. Sean Couturier is a useful two-way center who's just 21 years old and is signed for reasonable money—teams would be interested in him, too.
Schenn is an restricted free agent whose numbers are almost identical to Couturier's. If he proves difficult to sign, he could also be trade bait to help shake up the Philadelphia lineup.
Top Trade Targets
There was talk at the trade deadline the Flyers were one of several teams interested in the Vancouver Canucks' Ryan Kesler, with big Swedish defenseman Alexander Edler possibly part of the package as well.
The Flyers have shown explicit interest in the Kesler in the past. They signed him to an offer sheet back in 2006, which the Canucks matched, though that was eight years and one general manager ago on both sides.
Kesler's fiery temperament would fit nicely in Philadelphia, as would 28-year-old Edler's size and skating.
With the rudderless Canucks currently operating without a general manager or head coach, it may be awhile before they're ready to consider player personnel decisions. The Flyers would be well-served to check in once the new management team is in place.
Prospects Most Likely to Debut in 2014-15
Though he'll be just 19 next fall, the Flyers would love to see their 2013 first-rounder Morin be ready to step into the lineup.
Tight salary caps are forcing teams to start inserting young players into the lineup earlier than they have in the past. Defense is a tougher position to master, but players like Columbus' Ryan Murray and Winnipeg's Jacob Trouba have shown that it can be done.
Morin is huge at 6'6" and 202 pounds, and he plays on the edge. There will be some mistakes along the way, but the time is right for the Flyers to start developing a young defender with lots of promise.
At forward, 23-year-old Jason Akeson made a case for himself in the playoffs. Though he has played just one regular-season game in each of the last two seasons, Akeson acquitted himself well against the Rangers as he atoned for his game-changing double-minor in Game 1.
Projected 2014-15 Depth Chart
Scott Hartnell - Claude Giroux - Jakub Voracek
Michael Raffl - Vincent Lecavalier - Wayne Simmonds
Tye McGinn - Sean Couturier - Matt Read
Jay Rosehill - Brayden Schenn - Jason Akeson
Spares: Zac Rinaldo, Adam Hall
Mark Streit - Braydon Coburn
Luke Schenn - Andrew MacDonald
Nicklas Grossman - Samuel Morin
Goal: Steve Mason, Cal Heeter