Prior to curating your opinions last week, I ran down a list of the players that the Flyers should keep heading into next season. This week, I will take a different approach, stating not what should happen but what may actually happen.
The front office openly acknowledges there are many holes to fill but the restraint shown today is an indicator that Paul Holmgren is not going to overpay for players just for the sake of shaking things up.
That does not mean that big moves are not right around the corner.
This is the calm before the storm, the period where prospects like Oliver Lauridsen and Erik Gustafsson play for permanent positions on the big club and other players unwittingly showcase themselves as trade bait.
When the dust settles, here are some players who potentially might not return next season.
1. Ilya Bryzgalov
It can easily be argued that Ilya Bryzgalov has been one of the better and more consistent Flyers this season and that he found peace in his soul to play in this city. Even the outspoken Ed Snider had positive words for the curious Russian goalie.
Some, on the other hand, speculate that acquiring Steve Mason means that Bryzgalov may be on his way out. That seems like a bit of a leap, though. The Flyers need a backup who the team can trust. His numbers this seasons are far from spectacular but it is clear that the team trusted neither Michael Leighton, who was shipped to Columbus along with a draft pick for Mason, or Brian Boucher, to play a full sixty minutes behind this defense. Maybe the Flyers think Mason is much more accustomed to playing behind a terrible team?
So, why would Bryzgalov be a buyout candidate?
For starters, his contract is absurd and, no matter how much peace he finds in his soul, he will never live up to the contract he carries. Moreover, Paul Holmgren’s comments at yesterday’s post-trade deadline presser did not exactly exude optimism about Bryzgalov’s future in Philadelphia.
Homer said that Mason would be one of the team’s two goalies moving forward, and stating that he would leave it at that. When asked if he told Bryzgalov about the trade, he said he did not.
“His job is to stop the puck while he’s in net,” said Holmgren.”It’s not to worry about things like that.”
This is far from a vote of confidence for a player who signed to a nine-year, $51 million deal. This certainly does not spell doom and gloom outright but it is curious and, in my opinion, ominous.
2. Danny Briere
After Briere suffered a concussion and Jarome Iginla was traded to
Boston Pittsburgh, it came out that the Flyers had talks with Boston and, allegedly, Montreal about dealing Briere. He would have been an ideal trade deadline acquisition for a team needing some offensive punch. In the offseason, though, he may not attract as much attention.
If the Flyers can move Briere and he agrees to waive his no movement clause, the team likely will move him. However, the other 29 teams in the league realize that the Flyers are financially backed into a corner and need to clear cap space. No team will look to do Philadelphia any favors when they can wait until Holmgren has to buy out Briere and then other teams can try to sign him at a much lower rate.
3. Andrej Meszaros
In theory, Andrej Meszaros is an ideal part of Philadelphia’s blue line. He hits hard, he clears the crease, he has a blistering shot, and can eat up big minutes. In reality, he is as injury prone and riddled with bad luck as any defenseman can be.
It seems unlikely that the Flyers would want to buy Meszaros out. It would be better to let him recover in the offseason, take his time to get into shape, then shelter him and slowly work him back into the lineup. He can be a big part of the defense again, assuming the hockey gods comply. However, if push comes to shove and the Flyers absolutely need to clear salary but cannot/do not buyout both of the previously mentioned players, Meszaros could become a victim of his own bad luck.
1. Braydon Coburn
Here’s a laundry list for you: 1. The upcoming draft class is deep, 2. Defense comes at a premium, 3. Braydon Coburn is in the prime of his career, 4. The Flyers can leverage those first three points by acquiring additional picks or moving up in the draft, 5. The Flyers have been inconsistent on defense for a long time and Coburn, the longest-tenured Flyer, has been the most common thread throughout the years, 6. The three best games the Flyers played this season were the only three in which he did not play, 7. A change of scenery could do him so good (at the very least, it would do us good).
I could go on if you’d like.
2. Sean Couturier
Remember that time that James van Riemsdyk’s name popped up in trade rumors? You know, like throughout his entire career here? In Philly, where there is smoke, there is fire. If it sounds like a player is being shopped, he likely is, regardless of whether or not he should be shopped.
The cold, hard fact is that the Flyers need top tier defense and that is not easy to acquire. It will require moving a guy like Couturier to land a big name, elite defender.
Scott Laughton, a player of the “Mike Richards mold” is not too far off from the NHL and could make the decision to move Couturier more palatable.
Additionally, the Flyers could realistically end up in a spot to draft Jonathan Drouin or Nathan MacKinnon, two potentially elite forwards, but not highly coveted defender, Seth Jones. While Jones could theoretically step right onto an NHL team, it’s unlikely any other defender could stick right away. It’s more realistic that Drouin or MacKinnon, on the other hand, could contribute to a team immediately. That would also help make losing a high end player like Cooter easier.
3. Matt Read
Mr. Diamond-in-the-rough has been, well, a gem for the Flyers and attracted a lot of interest from other teams prior to the trade deadline and allegedly helped give Philadelphia a shot in the Jay Bouwmeester sweepstakes. It’s rough to trade a guy who gives you so much bang for the buck at $900k per year but adding one defender is not going to be enough to fix the defensive woes in Philadelphia. If Couturier is part of a package to help fetch the Chris Pronger replacement, Read can be the guy who is shipped out to replace Matt Carle.
4. Scott Hartnell
During the period in which Hartnell claimed to have his Twitter account hacked, he stated that he would never leave Philadelphia. The no trade clause that comes along with his contract gives him the power to enforce that. As we saw with Simon Gagne, though, if the Flyers want to move a player, they will — even if it means taking back a terrible player.
Assuming the Flyers had legitimate interest in Ryane Clowe and were not just trying to drive the price up for the New York Rangers, something is amiss. Adding Clowe to a roster that already includes Hartnell and Wayne Simmonds is redundant. Include the recent emergence of Tye McGinn and it is essentially pointless, unless one of those players is on his way out. Does his poor play and hefty contract extension indicate that Hartnell might be that guy?
What does it mean? Well, the Flyers need to add major pieces on defense while managing to simultaneously shed salary. It is nearly a given that the team will have to use at least one compliance buyout just to stay under the cap ceiling heading into next season. It also means that some difficult choices will need to be made this offseason and it could be very frustrating and disappointing in the short term to the fan base.
There are positives, though.
The bottom six forwards have come into shape nicely for the Flyers in the last month or so. The team should opt to re-sign Gagne, Ruslan Fedotenko, Zac Rinaldo, Hall — a good faceoff guy — and maybe even Mike Knuble this offseason. The players won’t cost much but they add a lot of character, help on the PK, and give the team some of the identity it has been missing.
As bad as the defense has been as a whole this season, even it has had its bright spots. Bruno Gervais has played well in a bigger role than he was expected to play. Luke Schenn has shown that he can eat big minutes and kill penalties. When healthy, Nicklas Grossmann has been a shot-blocking machine. Even Lauridsen and Gustafsson have stepped up to show they can perform at the NHL level. This group is not going to strike fear into opponents but some of the pieces are there to build a solid and deep defense. As many people have mentioned before, the problem is that everyone is playing a notch or two above where they should be playing. Once the top end of the defense is sorted out, the rest of the core should fall into place.
That will be the essence of the daunting task that will be this offseason: sorting out the team. Although valuable, some pieces may no longer fit and others may need to be sacrificed to fill other voids. Once that happens, the Flyers will be much better off and we will find out that this team was never as bad as it seemed. The pieces just did not always fit together properly.