How Philadelphia Flyers Should Fill Their Biggest Needs in 2014 Offseason
The Philadelphia Flyers are heading into the heart of the 2014 offseason with a bunch of needs that will need to be filled in a number of different ways.
Between free agency, the draft and looking into their own farm system, there are a few different avenues for new GM Ron Hextall to explore. Big trades aren't a great option at this point because the Flyers need to focus on both adding and retaining talent.
Shedding salaries like Luke Schenn's, Vincent Lecavalier's and Scott Hartnell's would be okay and free up more space, but overpaying for someone like Shea Weber would not be a wise move.
Here are the Flyers' four biggest needs and how they should fill them this offseason.
How to fill: Free agency
Even if Kimmo Timonen returns for another year, the Flyers are missing a high-quality defenseman from their roster. Braydon Coburn and Mark Streit are good for what they are, but more talent is needed ahead of Andrew MacDonald, Nicklas Grossmann and Luke Schenn.
The Flyers should have a decent chunk of space available heading into free agency, and they will have a huge chunk if Timonen doesn't come back.
They can use that money on a few different players. Nikita Nikitin wouldn't be overly exciting and isn't a dynamic player, but he'd be an upgrade over Luke Schenn. Matt Niskanen and Joni Pitkanen are two other good UFAs available.
If they really want to be bold, a couple elite talents are restricted free agents this year. Dmitry Kulikov, P.K. Subban and Justin Schultz could maybe be targeted.
First Line Winger
How to fill: Go after the "big two"
This is not necessarily a glaring need, but Scott Hartnell can't hang on the first line anymore and Wayne Simmonds is better suited for the second line.
Getting an elite goal-scoring sniper to play alongside Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek would make that line one of the best in the league.
This free-agency class isn't overly impressive, but there are two clear guys who fill that description and are actually somewhat similar players. Thomas Vanek and Matt Moulson should both be targeted by Philadelphia.
Vanek will command the bigger price tag, so Moulson could be looked at as the better "value" player, although Vanek is clearly the more dangerous player. It may be a long shot, but the Flyers could really improve their offense by adding one of those two guys.
Speed on Defense
How to fill: Promote youth
At this point, there's really no way around it: Philadelphia's defense is pretty slow. Luke Schenn and Nicklas Grossmann look like they're skating in mud, and Andrew MacDonald isn't exactly a burner either.
When your fastest defenseman is 36 years old (Mark Streit), that's an issue. There aren't any great offensive defensemen on the market, but the Flyers actually have some solutions within the system already.
Shayne Gostisbehere is the big name everyone knows, and he could easily be on the roster next season. But Robert Hagg is also a good skater and has the ability to surprise some people and step up next year.
Brandon Manning is also a step behind those two as a prospect, but he's a solid skater and offensive-minded player who has some AHL experience and could be the seventh defenseman in 2014-15.
Depth at Forward
How to fill: Draft
If you're just looking at the top three lines on the Flyers' roster, you would say that they have a really strong group. But the fourth line drops off a bit, and after that it gets kind of ugly.
Without Scott Laughton, who is a near-lock to make the roster next season, Philadelphia's farm system looks mighty weak. There is literally nobody else who is a future impact player in the NHL.
Nick Cousins, Taylor Leier and Michael Parks are all more of hustle players who, at the very best, may end up as decent checking line players in a couple years, but there are really no top talents waiting in the wings.
Luckily for the Flyers, the 2014 NHL draft (held in Philadelphia) is stocked full of forwards. The Flyers really don't need any more centers, but wingers Josh Ho-Sang, Alex Tuch, Nikolay Goldobin and Brendan Perlini could all be available at No. 17 overall, and they could also pick another one up in the second round as well.