After news broke regarding the loss of Philadelphia Flyers forward Ian Laperriere to post-concussion syndrome, many observers assumed that the turn of events assured veteran Bill Guerin a spot on the team's opening day roster.
Not so fast, according to GM Paul Holmgren.
CSNPhilly.com writer Tim Panaccio reported that Holmgren and the rest of the Flyers' brass have been relatively unimpressed with Guerin thus far.
Holmgren's public evaluation of Guerin? "He's played OK."
Supposedly, the team is still debating whether Guerin, playing on a tryout contract, deserves a spot over three candidates: Mike Testwuide and Ben Holmstrom, both free agent signings fresh out of college, and Andreas Nodl, a second-round pick who has played a total of 48 games with the big club.
Holmgren's public comments may be mere posturing, intended to motivate Guerin or to force him to take a less lucrative contract in order to sign with the team.
But the comments could also mean that the Flyers are considering the possibility that the 39-year-old does not deserve a spot on the roster.
This would be a big mistake.
What Guerin Brings
Size, leadership, scoring ability.
Bill Guerin would aid the Flyers in each of these three areas.
His 6'2'', 220-pound frame would make him the most physically imposing forward on the roster not named Jody Shelley.
The Flyers lacked a big body presence in front of the net in 2009-10 after Mike Knuble left via free agency. Now, they have a chance to bring back that missing element.
Guerin's leadership was also cited by the Pittsburgh Penguins as a key contributing factor to their Stanley Cup run. With Ian Laperriere potentially lost for the season, the team could use another jovial, experienced veteran in the locker room. In addition, he could function as a mentor of sorts to James van Riemsdyk, a budding power forward who appears to have bulked up in the offseason.
Finally, Guerin brings offensive talent. He has a streak of 11 straight seasons with at least 20 goals, and is a significant threat on the power play as well. He scored 11 power play goals in 2009-10, and has 130 total in his career.
Currently, the Flyers have five 20-goal scorers in their lineup (Richards, Carter, Hartnell, Zherdev and Briere), and three players who very well could have the talent to join that club as soon as this season (Giroux, Van Riemsdyk, Leino).
Adding Guerin would give the Flyers the deepest collection of top-nine forwards in the NHL.
However, the best reason why Guerin needs to make this roster is his superiority to his present competition.
While Mike Testwuide has received an immense amount of hype during the offseason, and has been undeniably eye-opening in the preseason, he is not ready for the NHL.
His 26 goals as a college senior were impressive, but his overall statistics fell short of fellow collegian James van Riemsdyk's college numbers, numbers that he posted while only a sophomore.
Van Riemsdyk showed flashes of greatness in 09-10, but likely could have used more seasoning as he was inconsistent and lacked sufficient conditioning. Testwuide, as an older, less talented player, would likely be even worse. A year in the AHL should be a necessity.
Ben Holmstrom also is an undrafted 23-year-old collegian looking to make the team in his first training camp. He has impressed with his tenacity and hockey sense thus far in the preseason.
But the Colorado Springs forward's college statistics were even less impressive than Testwuide's, making it likely that his preseason offensive contributions will not be sustained in the regular season.
Like Mika Pyorala, who scored three goals and one assist in the 2009 preseason only to score only one point in his first 17 regular season games, Holmstrom seems the classic example of a preseason wonder. Not to say he does not have potential, but he is not a potential 20-goal scorer yet, by any stretch of the imagination.
The final competitor, Andreas Nodl, is the only one of the three to actually have a legitimate case.
Nodl has yet to show offensive upside in the AHL or the NHL. He has averaged only 0.38 points per game as a professional (0.52 PPG in the AHL, 0.10 in the NHL).
However, Nodl is a strong defensive forward who is capable of playing on the penalty kill. With the loss of Ian Laperriere, adding another forward who can kill penalties is an attractive proposition. Guerin surely will not be used in that role if he makes the team.
Plus, Nodl was impressive in his appearances during the 2010 postseason. While he failed to crack the scoresheet, he helped out on the PK (0:34 minutes per game) and earned the respect of coach Peter Laviolette, who praised his play.
But are his likely contributions enough to beat out a player who has become a near lock for 20 goals, and will contribute on the power play as well?
Nodl would be best suited on the fourth line at this stage of his career, and would be the ideal replacement for Blair Betts if he is unable to play at the start of the season.
If there is no space, he should spend some additional time in the minors, focusing on the development of his offensive game so he can eventually become a top-nine forward. However, his stats show that he is not at that level yet.
Guerin undoubtedly is.
The Flyers have an opportunity to dress the deepest offense in hockey by adding Guerin. They need to take advantage.
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