Problems Philadelphia Flyers Must Address This Offseason
It didn't take the Philadelphia Flyers long at all to shift their attention towards next season.
Just one week after the club's grueling seven-game defeat to the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, the Orange and Black shuffled their front office when chairman Ed Snider promoted Paul Holmgren to president and Ron Hextall to general manager.
While Holmgren remains a key figure in Philadelphia's hierarchy, it is now Hextall who will have the final say in all matters related to the hockey team.
And even though the former Flyers netminder views this as his "dream job," he's by no means inheriting a dream team. Improvements were made this season from the club that missed the playoffs a year ago, but there are still deficiencies that must be acknowledged in the City of Brotherly Love.
Here's a look at the biggest questions the Flyers must address this offseason.
Get Much Faster
Philadelphia's overall team speed, or general lack thereof, is one of the biggest reasons the Flyers aren't still competing in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
It was apparent early on and became a recurring theme in Philadelphia's opening-round clash with the Rangers that New York was just a significantly faster team than the Flyers.
Forwards like Carl Hagelin, Mats Zuccarello and Dominic Moore routinely won races for loose pucks in the offensive zone resulting in waves of sustained pressure in Philly's end. Meanwhile, mobile defenders like Ryan McDonagh and Marc Staal not only helped to neutralize the Flyers' in-zone attack time but were essential in quickly transitioning the Blue Shirts from offense to defense.
What's more, Philadelphia's lack of speed affected its ability to put together cohesive offensive lines.
As the series progressed, it became evident that 32-year-old power forward Scott Hartnell simply didn't possess the foot speed to keep up with 26-year-old Claude Giroux and 24-year-old Jake Voracek. Potential odd-man opportunities for the Orange and Black quickly dissipated into even-strength scoring chances as all three forwards couldn't transition at the same speed.
And it wasn't just Hartnell.
Wayne Simmonds was a beast in and around the net but couldn't create his own offense on the rush. Nor could Brayden Schenn or Vincent Lecavalier.
As a franchise, the Flyers have been defined through the years by aggressive, hulking forwards. But they'll need to find some foot speed this summer to complement that size if they want to compete in today's NHL.
Must Improve Defensive Unit
As currently constituted, Philadelphia's defensive unit is fine. But fine doesn't win the Stanley Cup.
Heading into last season, the Flyers knew they needed to augment their defense and took the first step towards that with the acquisition of Mark Streit who quickly inked a four-year, $21 million pact with the Orange and Black.
Then, just prior to this year's trade deadline, Philly plucked pending free agent Andrew MacDonald from the New York Islanders and subsequently signed the 27-year-old blueliner to a six-year, $30 million extension right before the postseason began.
Those transactions absolutely helped the Flyers.
Streit paced all Philadelphia defenders and finished fifth among all Flyers in regular-season scoring with 44 points. He notched double-digit goals for the fifth time in the last seven years and chipped in another goal and three points in seven postseason outings.
Meanwhile, MacDonald managed just four points (all assists) in 19 regular season games in Philly but managed two (goal, assist) in the club's seven-game playoff series with New York while leading all Flyers in ice time during the postseason. In fact, the Nova Scotia native averaged a team-high 30.9 shifts per game during the playoffs and was the only skater on Philadelphia's roster to average better than 22 minutes during the postseason.
But it still isn't enough.
Streit and MacDonald are nice complementary pieces but they're not game breakers. Neither are Braydon Coburn, Luke Schenn, Nicklas Grossmann nor any of the other defensemen currently on Philly's roster.
It's still unclear if 39-year-old Kimmo Timonen will opt for retirement or another one-year deal with the Flyers but even if Timonen returns to the City of Brotherly Love, the Orange and Black are still shorthanded on the back end.
The club has a nice pool of defensive prospects in Shayne Gostisbehere, Samuel Morin and Robert Hagg but it's uncertain if any of those three will make the jump to the big club next year.
If not, a trade or free agency will be the only options for Hextall to improve the team's most glaring weakness.
Must Find a Role for Vincent Lecavalier
When the Flyers signed Lecavalier to a five-year, $22.5 million agreement last summer, they knew they weren't getting the same player who won a Stanley Cup back in 2004 or captured the Maurice Richard Trophy as the league's leading goal scorer in 2007.
Entering the year, the Quebec native was 33 and coming off an a compliance buyout from the Tampa Bay Lightning negating the final seven years of his pact with the only professional club for which he'd ever played.
Even knowing that though, Philadelphia couldn't have imagined it was getting a player who would see just one shift in the season's final period and have no clearly defined role within the team's top-12 forwards.
And yet, that was Lecavalier's fate by season's end.
After seeing just over 16 total minutes while serving as the team's fourth-line center through the club's first two postseason outings, Lecavalier was moved to the second line alongside fellow natural center Brayden Schenn and Simmonds. The move was designed to get the 34-year-old pivot more ice and thus more scoring opportunities.
Yes, he got more ice (averaged better than 13 minutes in Games 3 through 5) but managed just five shots on goal while posting a minus-four rating in the adjusted role.
With their backs to the wall, the Flyers moved Lecavalier back to the fourth line in Game 6 where the veteran remained for the series clincher as well. In fact, Philly's free-agent prize saw just 8:45 of ice-time in the season's final outing—his lowest total since Game 1 of the series.
Simply put, Lecavalier isn't a fourth-line center.
Yes, he's not the same offensive player he used to be but he still boasts better than 400 career goals on his NHL resume and isn't being paid $4.5 million per year to round the team's energy line.
The Flyers are tremendously deep at center but must find a more productive spot to justify the hefty contract given to Lecavalier just a summer ago.
Must Be More Disciplined
The Flyers were the most penalized team in the NHL during the regular season.
The Orange and Black committed a total of 430 infractions during the regular year producing a league-high 1,180 minutes in penalties, or 14.4 penalty minutes per game.
And that lack of discipline carried into the postseason.
During the season's most critical time, Philadelphia was guilty of 37 infractions in its seven-game set with the Rangers for a total of 87 minutes in penalties.
New York enjoyed 29 power plays during its clash with the Flyers while Philly had just 21. What's more, the Rangers enjoyed four or more man-advantage opportunities five times in the series while Philadelphia had more than four power plays in a single game just twice.
The penalty kill, which finished seventh overall in the regular season, rose to the occasion killing off the final 21 New York power plays in the series but that's little more than a band-aid to a much larger issue.
Under head coach Craig Berube, the Flyers want to play an in-your-face style of game but must learn to toe the line better moving forward if they hope to avoid being one of the league's most penalized clubs year after year.