2011 NHL Offseason: 5 Ways for the Flyers to Improve
Following two weeks of blockbuster moves, the Flyers finally appear to have the majority of their 2011-2012 roster hammered out. The team still has a few housekeeping matters to take care of with restricted free agent Wayne Simmonds, long-term injured reserve candidate Ian Laperierre, and waiver wire candidate Jody Shelley.
However, its no secret that the team has been looking to improve its roster before opening day. What are some possibilities for Paul Holmgren and the Flyers? Is another blockbuster in store? Will Steven Stamkos be a Flyer in 2011-2012?
To find out more, read on. As always, comments are greatly appreciated!
Option No. 1: Re-Sign Nikolay Zherdev
Paul Bereswill/Getty Images
During the first two-thirds of 2010-2011 season, Nikolay Zherdev was probably not among Flyer fans' (or Flyer coaches', for that matter) favorite players. More or less every warning about Zherdev had come true to some extent: his work ethic was in question, he wasn't playing physical hockey despite his size, his defensive play was terrible on a good day and he was the most selfish offensive player on a team with Jeff Carter.
Then everything started to change. The Flyers put Zherdev on waivers, where he went unclaimed. Perhaps that was the reality-check the Ukrainian/Russian mini-star needed to realize he needed to make a change. Call it his Danny Briere moment. Call it tough less-than-love. Any way you spin it, Zherdev hit hockey's version of rock-bottom.
After that, Zherdev started to turn things around. He began to push himself to work harder, he stayed at practice longer, he worked on his defense, he started to buy into Laviolette's system. And the coaches started to notice.
By the end of the season and into the playoffs, Zherdev had become one of the only Flyers (along with JVR and Giroux) who was consistently able to create his own scoring chances. He played physically. He actually back-checked. He played something that resembled respectable defense. He finally looked like a player who belonged on a Flyers team.
And that is exactly why the Flyers should try to re-sign Zherdev at a modest cap hit ($1.5 to $2 million) and put him on a third line with youngsters Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds.
Both of those young players are likely to perform much better if they are on the ice with a playmaker. Simmonds' offensive success most often comes when he is able to get to the front of the net and pick up rebounds or quick passes. Zherdev is more than capable of getting his own shot and putting it on net with consistency. That, in turn, allows Simmonds to do what he does best: bang away at rebounds and loose pucks until they end up in the back of the net.
Schenn is best when he is given time to find open ice then either shoot or pass to the open man as the defense converges. Zherdev will distract opposing defenseman with his puck-possession abilities, thereby allowing Schenn to find a soft-spot and make a play.
Zherdev is not suited to a top-six role at this stage of his career. But as a third-line winger with limited responsibilities and defensively responsible line-mates, he can be a 20-25 goal scorer and a 40-50 point player. That is solid production at a very reasonable price.
Option No. 2: Trade for Keith Yandle
Dave Sandford/Getty Images
The one area of the Flyers roster that has yet to be addressed is probably the most glaring at the moment: defense. There are a lot of questions surrounding the Flyer blueline going into the 2011-2012 season: who can step in for Chris Pronger, should he be unable to play? Who will replace Pronger when he finally retires? Who can quarterback the Flyers second powerplay unit?
At present, the Flyers' defense corps lacks such a player. However, with rumors swirling that RFA Keith Yandle and the Phoenix Coyotes are having negotiation issues, the Flyers may be able to finally address this issue via trade.
As everyone knows, the Coyotes are being kept afloat by the NHL and a very generous subsidy from the City of Phoenix while they search for new ownership. In order to keep the franchise as attractive as possible for a potential buyer, Coyotes GM Don Maloney knows that he must (1) keep the franchise stocked with good, young talent and (2) limit the long-term contracts carried by the club all while (3) putting a quality product on the ice. Not the world's easiest job, to be sure.
All of this adds up to an ideal situation for both clubs. The Coyotes need a goaltender who can backstop the team to playoff contention and who won't cost them a fortune. The Flyers need a blueliner who is better than Matt Carle. It's like a match made in heaven.
The Flyers can send Sergei Bobrovsky, Matt Carle, and picks/prospects to the Coyotes for the rights to Keith Yandle.
Philadelphia gets the young defenseman it desperately needs, Phoenix gets a cheap young goaltender, a solid (if not spectacular) defenseman with a one-year contract, and more young talent to stockpile. Everyone wins.
Option No. 3: Sign Jamie Langenbrunner
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
Following their blockbuster deals two weeks ago, the Flyers management said they were likely only going to sign "character" and role players to fill out the roster. While I'm not sure if Jaromir Jagr counts as either of those, the fact remains they have more or less stuck to that statement.
Since the team is reportedly in the market for a third-line role player— preferably one with "character"—the long-time New Jersey Devil captain seems like a perfect fit. While he has lost a step offensively, Langenbrunner is still capable of scoring 40 or more points in a season, providing solid veteran leadership on and off the ice, and mentoring younger players.
The Flyers could probably sign Langenbrunner for around $2 million per season, which puts him well within the team's financial reach at present. He would undoubtedly be a solid locker room presence on a team that has turned over nearly half its roster in two weeks and he would certainly be able to help youngsters Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds on the third line. Overall, Langenbrunner would be a very solid addition to this Flyers team at a very reasonable price.
Option No. 4: Sign Jason Arnott
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Prior to the official start of the NHL offseason, the Flyers made it clear that they were never again going to be bullied the way they were in the 2011 post season. Since then, they have added considerable size and speed on the wings, a top goaltender between the pipes, and a healthy dose of toughness and grit throughout their lineup.
In fact, the only position where the Flyers haven't gotten bigger or stronger is down the middle. Claude Giroux and Danny Briere both stand at under 6 feet, and while both certainly play bigger than they are, there is a limit to how effectively a 5'10" player can match-up against an opponent standing 6'4".
Should the Flyers sign Jason Arnott, they would have their own 6'5", 225 pound behemoth for other teams to contend with. To make the deal even more appealing, Arnott is a very physical player who has no problem going into the nasty areas of the ice and imposing his will on smaller defenders. Sounds like someone Paul Holmgren would love to add, doesn't it?
In addition to his on the ice abilities, Arnott is known around the league as a solid veteran presence in the locker room and a great mentor for younger players. The Flyers could use some of that after the massive leadership shake-ups this offseason and the addition of youngsters like Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier, and Wayne Simmonds.
The only downside to signing Arnott are that it would likely involve prized prospect Brayden Schenn spending considerable time in the minors in order to keep the club under the cap. Not exactly the best situation for Paul Holmgren after he traded away fan-favorite and Captain Mike Richards for...Brayden Schenn. This whole situation goes away if Arnott decides to take a pay cut in order to play for a probable playoff team like the Flyers, but there are no guarantees there, especially after money flowed like water on Free Agency Frenzy Friday (July 1st).
Overall, Jason Artnott could be a great addition to the Flyers, provided the price is right. He's got the attitude, the skill, and the intangibles to help the team make good on its potential and contend for a Stanley Cup.
Option No. 5: Trade for Steven Stamkos
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images
Weeks after the initial rumblings of discontent in Tampa Bay, Steven Stamkos rumors are swirling faster than ever. The latest reports have Stamkos unhappy with the situation in Tampa and wanting a trade (or more money, of course). With tensions running high on all fronts, something is sure to give.
But one thing is for certain: it certainly appears that Steven Stamkos may be playing elsewhere in 2011-2012.
For the Flyers to acquire Stamkos, it would take a package of (at least) Brayden Schenn, Sergei Bobrovsky, and 2 first round picks or a package of Brayden Schenn, Andrej Meszaros, and two first round picks. In the first case, the Flyers would have to move another player, likely either Matt Carle or Scott Hartnell, in order to make room for Stamkos' $7 million-plus cap hit.
Stamkos would certainly add some offensive pop to a Philadelphia team that has lost over 100 goals from last year's team. His world-class shot would would undoubtedly make him a terrific fit on a line with young playmaking savant Claude Giroux and emerging power forward James van Reimsdyk. At only 21 years of age, Stamkos would be the crown jewel of young Flyers core that already features Giroux (23), van Reimsdyk (22), Jakub Voracek (21), Wayne Simmonds (22), and Sean Couturier (18).
While the price to acquire Stamkos will certainly be steep, his addition could put the Flyers over-the-top in a cutthroat and talented Eastern Conference.
With Flyers' Chairman Ed Snider reportedly enamored with the budding superstar, one thing is for sure: GM Paul Holmgren will be paying close attention to the situation in Tampa.