Planning for next season. It’s the phrase you have heard in recent days and will continue to hear after each excruciating loss and lackluster performance. It is a way of saying that season is beyond repair and that the organization will make no knee-jerk moves or hasty decisions.
Take, for instance, Peter Laviolette. Whether he is a fall guy or responsible for the poor play of the team is irrelevant at this point. As Chris Therien said on the radio last night, “Each coach has an expiration date. You get hired to get fired.”
It’s an inevitability, a foregone conclusion. Lavy is merely a placeholder at this point in time, waiting for the season and his time behind Philadelphia’s bench to expire. But there is no reason to fire him now. A new coach will not jockey the team into a playoff position and any hire will likely be temporary.
The Flyers will take their time to evaluate potential replacements for Laviolette and, if they do their due diligence, will go outside of the organization once again to hire an understudy who paid his dues and worked his way up the ranks through some successful organization. (Perhaps the same will happen to the general manager position, though it is much less of a certainty that Holmgren will not return.)
Like Laviolette, many of the current Flyers are going through the motions until they are traded, bought out, or go unsigned in the offseason. It is an inevitability.
In this down time for the Flyers, the popular opinion is that everyone is fair game, except for maybe Giroux. In planning for next season, though, it is imperative to determine who should stay and why. This post aims to do that by category.
1. Claude Giroux – The “best player in the world” is struggling in many facets. He is having a hard time adjusting to the burden that is wearing the C in Philadelphia. He is also not getting as much time and space on the ice without Jaromir Jagr and a healthy, focused Scott Hartnell on his wings. This offseason will give the Giroux a chance to assess the new challenges he is facing and rise above them. It will also give the Flyers a chance to find a more suitable linemate or two for the captain.*
2. Sean Couturier – This has been a very rough sophomore season for a player who had such lofty expectations thrust upon him coming into this season. After a solid start in the AHL during the lockout, Couturier failed to produce in many aspects of his game so far this but that is not reason enough to write him off. After a terrific rookie season and some brilliant play shutting down Evgeni Malkin during the playoff series agains the Pittsburgh Penguins, Couturier already looked like a veteran — but he is not. He is still just a kid who did not even turn 20 until a few months ago. Couturier is an important part of the future of this organization and, unless, some team is willing to pay through the nose to get him, he should remain a Flyer for the foreseeable future.*
3. Brayden Schenn – The younger of the two Schenn brothers has had an up and down season during which he showed glimpses of why he is such a highly touted young player and also why so many people questioned if he would ever make it in the NHL. Like James van Riemsdyk before him, he has been the most dominant player on the ice during some games and completely disappeared in other. However, it is hard to blame any single player for disappearing during this season when it seems to be penned into the Flyers’ game plan.*
1. Simon Gagne – Eight points in 22 total games is nothing to write home about but Gagne brings a ton of value to the bottom six forwards with his solid two-way play. He is an asset on and off the ice, where he can be a mentor to young players and has helped elevate the game of players like Max Talbot. It is entirely possible that Gagne could be traded at the deadline but that would not prevent him from returning as a free agent next season.
2 and 3. Max Talbot and Ruslan Fedotenko - One of this season’s few bright spots has been Philadelphia’s penalty killing and that is huge because Philadelphia certainly takes a lot of penalties. No team averages more penalties minutes per game than the Flyers do at 15.6 — nearly an entire period! Among all forwards, only Jay McClement has spent more time killing penalties this season than Talbot and Fedotenko is not far behind (6th overall). These two are undervalued workhorses who have managed to keep this season far worse than it could be. At a combined $3.5 million, the bang for the buck is undeniable.
1. Jake Voracek – Easily the best forward on the ice every night, Voracek would be on pace for 87 points over a full season all without about as much support as he got in Columbus. With a solid group effort and a full season, Voracek might have surpassed Giroux’s 93 point total from last season.
2. Wayne Simmonds – This man was born to be a Flyer and, now that he is, he isn’t going to let something as trivial as a crappy team or a mashed in face derail that train. The combination of energy, grit, and talent that Simmonds brings on a nightly basis makes him a vital component to any winning formula.
3. Zac Rinaldo - Rinaldo has shown more improvement in his game this season than just about any other Flyer, save for the two mentioned above him. He is a superpest who finally learned restraint and has soft enough hands to even chip in the occasional highlight reel goal. Yeah, I never thought I’d say that either.
(What Passes For) Defense
1. Luke Schenn – Albeit a relative term, Luke Schenn has arguably been one of the Flyers’ best defensemen this season. After paying a steep price for the hulking blueliner, Philadelphia will not giving up on him any time soon. With the right supporting cast and diminished responsibilities (read: a legitimate top two defenders in front of him), Schenn could be an important piece of the future defense.
2. Nicklas Grossmann – There’s nothing flashy or impressive about Grossmann’s game but he is a reasonably priced hard worker who is not afraid to sacrifice his body to help the team. Like Schenn, his play will benefit from a bolstered defense.
3. Kimmo Timonen – Let’s be frank here. Timonen was hastily re-signed earlier in the season and it quickly turned out to handicap the Flyers as soon as the level of his play dropped significantly. He is still a good defenseman but, if it was not for the contract extension, Paul Holmgren might beg Timonen to waive his no movement clause at the trade deadline.
No matter how bad the team is this season, it is unlikely the Flyers will completely gut the roster. Many of the players that went unmentioned will likely remain on the roster but are fairly interchangeable parts or might simply be unmovable or not worth moving.
According to Elliotte Friedman, Matt Read is drawing a lot of interest from other teams (h/t to Collin Mehalick and Dustin Leed) and could very well be used in trade to land a defenseman. Braydon Coburn could also draw interest at the trade deadline, as defense will be at a premium.
* There is a belief that the Flyers will be unable to keep Giroux, Couturier, and Schenn as they will all hit restricted free agent status in 2015. This is a misconception, in my opinion. Couturier and Schenn will only be on their second professional contract and are not guaranteed to get big bucks. P.K. Subban held out in Montreal before finally settling on a contract that has a lower average value than what Schenn is currently making.