As presently constituted, the Philadelphia Flyers roster for the 2014-15 season looks awfully similar to last year's squad.
Salary-cap constraints and a batch of seemingly unmovable contracts have tied general manager Ron Hextall's hands to a certain extent. As a result, Philadelphia's offseason transactions have been limited to re-signing backup goaltender Ray Emery, adding depth defenseman Nick Schultz and signing a series of players who will join the Lehigh Valley Phantoms next year.
Still, the Flyers appear well-positioned to compete in the wide-open Eastern Conference. Claude Giroux, Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier give the Orange and Black tremendous depth down the middle, while Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds and Matt Read provide support on the wings. Kimmo Timonen is set for one final season on Philly's back end, while Steve Mason gives the franchise a stability in goal it hasn't enjoyed in over a decade.
But that doesn't mean this roster is without holes. Here's a look at the weakest link at every position on the Flyers' current roster.
Forward: Vincent Lecavalier
It's hard to believe that a four-time All-Star, former "Rocket" Richard Trophy winner and Stanley Cup champion would be Philadelphia's weakest link up front, but it's true.
With Giroux, Schenn, Couturier, the recently acquired R.J. Umberger and blossoming prospect Scott Laughton, the Flyers already have tremendous depth down the middle. In fact, with those five names alone, Philadelphia has more natural centers than any one team actually needs. But at least some of these pivots are capable of playing on the wing as well.
Lecavalier is not. The Flyers tried that last season, and it was a colossal failure.
As a result, the 34-year-old forward was assigned fourth-line center duties, which were hardly in line with the five-year, $22.5 million contract Philly assigned to Lecavalier last summer.
Efforts to trade the Quebec native have so far failed this summer. Now, it appears not only that Lecavalier doesn't have a role with the Flyers, but also that he, or maybe more accurately his contract, doesn't belong with any of the other 29 NHL squads, either.
With 20 goals and 37 points in 69 games last season, Lecavalier is clearly still a productive player at the NHL level, but that production will go nowhere but south as long as his role in Philadelphia remains undefined.
Defense: Luke Schenn
Speaking of players with undefined roles.
Nicklas Grossmann was a serious contender for this spot, but he is what he is. A 6'4", 230-pound stay-at-home defenseman, Grossmann finished second among all Flyers last season with 189 hits and 174 blocked shots and still managed to chip in a goal and 14 points in 78 outings.
Schenn, on the other hand, is still a bit of an enigma.
A 24-year-old defensive defenseman, Schenn paced all Philadelphia skaters and finished third among all NHLers last season with 260 hits but managed just 113 blocked shots during that time.
The former fifth overall selection in the 2008 NHL entry draft, Schenn produced just one additional point in 79 games last season than he did in just 47 contests during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign. What's more, his 12-point season from a year ago was the lowest in any full season of his six-year NHL career.
At just over 16.5 minutes per game, Schenn averaged the lowest ice-time total of any of Philadelphia's regular defenders last season.
With just 98 points in 436 NHL contests, he's not an offensive dynamo on the back end. Nor is Schenn a shutdown defender with a career minus-20 rating at the game's highest level. As such, he doesn't seem to have a defined role among Philly's defense corps, which clearly makes him the team's weakest link on the back end.
Goaltender: Ray Emery
This is far less an indictment against Emery than it is simply an acknowledgment that he's the second-best goaltender in Philadelphia.
After 33 wins, a 2.50 goals-against average (GAA) and .917 save percentage during the regular season followed by a herculean effort in the postseason, Steve Mason is clearly the Flyers' No. 1 netminder heading into next season.
But after signing a one-year, $1 million pact with the Orange and Black on the first day of free agency, Emery is set to return as Mason's backup after posting a 9-12-2 regular-season mark to go along with a 2.96 GAA and .903 save percentage last year.
For now, it appears as though Emery's days of being an everyday starting goaltender at the NHL level are behind him, but he developed tremendous chemistry alongside Mason last season, which was a big part of Hextall's decision to re-sign the 31-year-old goaltender.
His lateral movement isn't nearly as strong as Mason's, nor is his glove hand as dynamic as that of his 26-year-old counterpart. Still, Emery provides a solid secondary option in goal to spell Mason throughout the rigors of the upcoming 2014-15 season.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!