Philadelphia Flyers: 5 Free Agents That Can Help the Team Win Now
With the majority of clubs winding down their summertime free agent shopping and preparing for prospect camps and training camps, there are still a number of quality players who are in need of a team for the 2011-2012 NHL season.
For the new-look Flyers, there are still a few holes to fill on the roster and there is still some money in the piggy bank.
If Paul Holmgren and Co. fail to land a restricted free agent prize in the trade market, which free agents make the most sense for the team going forward?
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Bryan McCabe (D)
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Aside from Chris Pronger, the Flyers do not have a defenseman capable of consistently quarterbacking a power play on their roster. With Pronger's health and durability now in question, the team needs to add another veteran defender who can provide a steady hand and a booming shot at the point position.
Bryan McCabe is the best power play quarterback still available. He had a down year in 2010-2011 with the Panthers and Rangers, but still has all of the tools to be a fine addition to the Flyer blueline.
Throughout his career, McCabe has played big minutes and come up big in clutch situations. He's demonstrated strong leadership qualities, he's aggressive on the defensive end, and he's not afraid to partake in the physical side of the game.
Even at age 36, McCabe would represent a major improvement at the point over younger Flyers Matt Carle and Brayden Coburn. The Flyers only have about $1.5M in available cap room, but after a down year and with a limited number of suitors, McCabe might consider taking a pay cut to play for a contender.
Alex Kovalev (RW)
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Aside from another defender and power play quarterback, the Flyers have a hole at only one other position: third line winger. As it stands, Max Talbot is likely to be on a third line with the newly-signed Wayne Simmonds and highly-touted rookie Brayden Schenn.
Talbot is certainly a capable player, and he filled in admirably on the second and third lines in Pittsburgh when stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin went down with injuries. But on a Flyers team that will be relying on its scoring depth to produce offense, Talbot is not the answer on the third line.
The Flyers need to acquire a play-making winger who understands how to get the puck on net with consistency. The aforementioned Wayne Simmonds is at his best when he's able to get in front of the net and cause chaos. Brayden Schenn is at his best when he's able to find open ice, receive the puck, and make a play.
Kovalev, despite turning 39, still knows his way around the offensive end of the ice. He can still make defenders look silly and he still has that deceptive shot that continues to fool netminders.
Ty Conklin (G)
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With the Flyers (reportedly) shopping goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, the team may soon find itself in need of a new backup. Ty Conklin is one of the best in the NHL at filling that role, and fortunately for the Flyers, he's still available.
But first, the bad news: Conklin is not a quality NHL starter. He never has been, nor will he ever be able to fill that role. But he has worked extremely hard to mold himself into one of the best backup netminders in the league. Conklin has the ability to jump into the game cold, stop the bleeding and allow the team in front of him to catch its breath and begin the comeback.
After the game is over, he's perfectly content to go back to the bench and wait for his next opportunity with no hard feelings and no drama.
With a workhorse goaltender like Ilya Bryzgalov, the Flyers are going to need a true backup goaltender—one who understands and embraces the fact that he is not "the guy" between the pipes. Should Bobrovsky be dealt, Conklin is the man Philadelphia fans should want behind Bryzgalov.
Chris Drury (F)
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The former Rangers and Sabres captain is a natural leader and a solid role player at this stage of his career. He owns exceptional defensive instincts, but his offensive skills have started to decline.
Drury would be a solid fit on the Flyers third line and a great presence in the Flyer locker room should Chris Pronger miss extended time due to injury.
On the ice, Drury is currently a major question mark. His health is certainly still in question, and his ability to remain healthy over the course of an 82-game season is in doubt. However, should he be cleared to resume his NHL career, he could provide a much needed boost to a young Flyers third line.
What Drury lacks in skill, he makes up for in smarts. Known around the league as a savvy veteran player and a clutch playmaker, he would have an opportunity to mentor younger playmakers Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds. He might not be able to produce offensively at the same level as Alex Kovalev or Nikolay Zherdev, but Drury brings other skills to the table that might make him more valuable than either of the aforementioned players.
If he's healthy, Drury is still capable of scoring between 30-45 points while playing limited minutes. He won't dazzle anyone with fancy moves, but he will work in the dirty areas of the ice to gain possession, and he'll generally make a solid play with the puck once he has control of it.
Drury's defensive acumen would undoubtedly help mask any mistakes by his younger linemates, and his team-first attitude will be invaluable in uniting a locker room with eight (or more) new faces.
Nikolay Zherdev (RW)
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For the first two-thirds of his tenure with the Flyers, Nik Zherdev looked like he didn't belong on the team. He avoided physical play like the plague, he usually didn't skate all the way back to the defensive zone (let alone play defense) and he didn't buy into Laviolette's offensive system.
All of that culminated in the Flyers waiving the supremely skilled but frustrating inconsistent Russian winger.
After going unclaimed through waivers, Zherdev began to look like a player who had hit rock bottom and finally gotten the message: he needed to change. He finally started working hard in practice, staying after to improve his conditioning and checking and making amends with Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette.
When another opportunity allowed Zherdev to once again play for the Flyers, he ran with it. By the time the playoffs rolled around, Zherdev was one of only a handful of Flyer forwards who was consistently generating his own scoring chances. He played something resembling respectable defense. He added a physical element to his game. He started to show that he was willing to play Laviolette's brand of hockey.
Zherdev's combination of slick skating, world-class offensive talent and newfound willingness to be a team player makes him an ideal fit on the Flyers third line. He has the ability to create his own shot, which should allow Simmonds to do what he does best: get in front of the net and cause mayhem. He knows how to attract attention in the offensive zone and find the open man, which should be a godsend for the young Brayden Schenn. And he can still score. A lot.
For the price, Zherdev is one of the best value players remaining on the market. Prior to last season, no coach had ever really gotten through to the enigmatic Russian winger. But somehow, someway, Laviolette did. And with Chris Pronger now firmly entrenched as the sole voice in the Flyers locker room, Zherdev's previous act will not be tolerated. And from the sample size that we have of the new-look Zherdev, he's finally started to "get it".