Flyers fans, including yours truly, have a tendency to overreact. Fortunately, this is an earmark of passionate fans. Now that I’ve had some time to process the offseason moves, I thought a more objective evaluation would be appropriate. The first half of this is directed at personnel and money matters. The second is an evaluation of where the Flyers stand at forward, followed by every other on-ice position. Without further ado…
2013 Entry Draft
One of the biggest concerns going into the offseason was how badly the Flyers brass could screw up the draft. While 11th overall isn’t exactly a plum position, it is the place where Ryan Ellis, Jeff Carter, Anze Kopitar, Jonathan Bernier, and Jarome Iginla went in their respective drafts; however, drafting a good player at the eleventh spot wasn’t as much of a concern as whether or not General Manager Paul Holmgren was offering some chaff when he said the Flyers would draft the best player available at his position rather than just fill the organizational need for a top defenseman. With baited breath, the Philadelphia faithful watched as the Flyers made Samuel Morin their highest drafted defenseman since Joni Pitkanen. Safe projections say that he’ll blossom much the way that Luke Schenn did with a ceiling as high as Zdeno Chara, provided his offensive game continues to improve. Realistically, he’s a giant on the blue line who has decent speed, improving footwork, and is fearless in clearing the crease and blocking shots. With a potential mentor like Chris Pronger, another 6’6″ behemoth who took some time to develop his complete game in the show, Morin may be exactly what the Flyers needed.
Perhaps more intriguing is the Flyers pulling off the steal of the draft by nabbing Robert Hägg 41st overall in the second round. Hägg was predicted to be a safe late first rounder, but the Flyers managed to nab him a third of the way through the second round. It might not be as huge of a pick as getting Mike Richards at 24th overall (he’s now considered the best player ever drafted at that position), but the Hägg pick is definitely a coup that will help displace one of the Flyers’ current overpaid defensemen in a few years. Hägg is sound in all areas of his game without being outstanding at one, but even if he only develops one or two traits he still has a very real shot at being a top-pairing guy. After all, no one predicted fellow Swede Nicklas Lidström would one of the best defensemen to play the game when he was taken at in the third round at 53rd overall.
Later in the draft, Tyrell Goulbourne became a lightning rod for controversy when he was taken in the 3rd round, largely because he was compared to Zac Rinaldo. As Anthony SanFilippo correctly points out in a biased article on the Flyers site, 3rd round picks are hardly guarantees. Goulbourne can absolutely brawl, but he also kills penalties, blocks shots, and will do whatever is necessary for his teammates. He may not have an astounding upside, but the Flyers have had a historically good track record of getting solid players in the third round with Bob Kelly, Joe Watson, Chris Therien, Vaclav Prospal, Patrick Sharp, Colin Fraser, Marc-Andre Bourdon, and Nick Cousins. Besides, with Giroux, Couturier, Brayden Schenn, Simmonds, Read, Voracek, Akeson, and Wellwood, is it really necessary to find more good young scoring forwards?
It’s impossible to grade these picks until a few years have passed, but in terms of addressing organizational needs, the Flyers pass with flying colors.
2013 Free Agency
While the biggest moves were made before free agency began, the Flyers nevertheless made the usual splash by picking up Mark Streit and Vinny Lecavalier before anyone else could. As I said before, the Mark Streit acquisition says a lot about the short-sightedness of the Flyers organization, but if he’s looked at as a replacement for Timonen’s veteran leadership and offense when he retires after next season, it’s not so bad, particularly when you consider how quickly the Flyers young D-men are growing up. Besides, if this season turns out to be another failed experiment, Streit will make an excellent bargaining chip at the trade deadline.
Lecavalier is a more interesting pickup. At first I was upset that Holmgren paid so much for a washed-up center, but Lecavalier was, at one point, one of the best players in the league, guiding his team to a Stanley Cup and winning the Rocket Richard Trophy as the league’s leading goal scorer. Stripped of his prior accomplishments, he’s still a great team-oriented leader who can score, kill penalties, and fearlessly scrap with any competitor. He took some flak for his fighting when he was supposed to anchor the top line, but, if placed in a support role, he is free to engage opponents without harming the team. Also, like Daniel Briere, he has something to prove after being bought out.
The Flyers re-signed Adam Hall, who proved more than capable as a penalty killer and face-off man late in the season, and provided they mesh, he and a healthy Maxime Talbot should form a top-flight penalty killing duo. In terms of filling holes up front, the only remaining spot is on the second or third line wing, and provided the Flyers can come to terms with Simon Gagne, that should be sewn up easily. On the backed, Eric Gustafsson and Oliver Lauridsen were retained with a very reasonable deals that keep them both Restricted Free Agents at the end of their deals; this is the first truly savvy set of moves in regards to defenseman in years. In the net, Ray Emery has a great season with Chicago and brings a Stanley Cup-winning resume to the team, and along with Steve Mason provides the best one-two punch the Flyers have ever had in net.
The Flyers may not have fixed some long-standing problems created by the absence of Pronger, but the team definitely looks better than it did at the start of last offseason largely because Holmgren didn’t take any unnecessary risks.
There can be little doubt that the Flyers have once again screwed themselves in the financial department. Briere was not meeting expectations, and frankly, his offense-first mentality didn’t mesh with the Flyers and it showed in his regular season numbers, so buying out his $6.5 million cap hit was a necessity. I liked Bryzgalov and didn’t think he should go, but his relationship with the media turned him into too big of a liability and he was here too long for too much. $5.66 million went off the books. The Flyers replaced this with Streit, $5.25 mil, Lecavalier, $4.5 mil, and Emery, $1.65 mil, eating up almost all the space opened by buying out Briere and Bryzgalov. Of course Pronger will be put back on LTIR at the start of the season, but the Flyers are still right at the limit and will have to make a deal. Meszaros or Coburn look like the two most likely candidates.
Regardless of how you feel about moving any given player, forcing yourself to do so by overspending isn’t smart business practice.
For awhile, this segment seemed like a barren wasteland. Holmgren didn’t get fired, and neither did Laviolette. Unfortunately, the same can be said for goaltending coach Jeff Reese, who has stood pat while the Flyers goalies continue to flounder.
Then, the Flyers lured former franchise goaltender and front-office all-star Ron Hextall back into the fold.
Hextall may have been a mercurial goaltender, but he’s possibly the best assistant executive in professional sports. His tenure as a professional scout provided the Flyers with a lot of solid prospects, even a few goaltenders; Brian Boucher could never find consistency, but shutting out 5 straight games isn’t the work of a scrub. Roman Čechmánek wasn’t the answer, but getting a Vezina nod out of a 6th round pick isn’t bad either. However, Hextall came into his own in Los Angeles, joining forces with Dean Lombardi to reshape the team from a perennial success-skirter into a playoff powerhouse.
Hextall is well aware of the situation in the Flyers clubhouse and the impact of his acumen should be felt immediately. His resume is flawless, he commands nothing but respect in Philadelphia, and has a lot in common with both of the team’s goaltenders; Emery is known for his hot temper and Mason is one of the better stickhandling goalies in the league. Considering what Hextall did for Bernier and Quick, this can be nothing but good. It’s just a shame he didn’t get here earlier in the summer.
In any case, if this season is another bust, Holmgren will very much be on the hotseat, and having him displaced by Hextall would disappoint no one.
Overall Grade: B-
As far as the front office, salary cap, draft, and free agency are concerned on the whole, the Flyers did better than average without wowing anyone or winning over any new fans from the national media. In Philadelphia, we fans are used to dramatic tactics to improve the team every offseason, and after a particularly bad year (re: missed playoffs) the expectations simply could not be met. Starting off with the Streit deal looked worse than it actually is, but it’s hard to deny that the Flyers are significantly improved.
As the grade suggests, few people are disappointed with a B, but everyone has a bad taste in their mouth left by that minus.