Even before the final buzzer went off Thursday night against the Penguins, the rumors were swirling. Would the Flyers trade for Thomas Vanek to solve their scoring woes? Would they bring in Dustin Byfuglien to add skill to their dull blue line? What assets would it take to get one of these players? These questions were thrown around all weekend, but they seem to have been put to rest for the immediate future. Paul Holmgren is choosing patience.
When looking at the Flyers issues in the early season, two problems stick out. Obviously, they have not been able to score goals. They are averaging 1.375 goals per game while Giroux, Voracek, Read, and Couturier are still looking for their first goal of the season. The team also has a slow defense with little skill. Both of these problems could have been addressed by a blockbuster trade, but there is reason to believe that both problems can be fixed within the current line-up.
The offense will improve. The Flyers are getting plenty of scoring chances and will eventually convert. The Flyers players have been through this before. Last season Giroux had four points, and Voracek had three points, through eight games. They ended up with 48 and 46 respectively through 48 games. When they get going their ability to score is undeniable. This group of forwards is similar to the group that averaged five goals per game in a playoff series against Pittsburgh only a year and a half ago.
Another factor to remember is the age of these forwards. With the exceptions of Hartnell, Lecavalier, and Talbot the Flyers top nine forwards are all 27 years old or younger. Read is 27, Giroux is 25, Simmonds is 25, Voracek is 24, Raffl is 24 (and a rookie), McGinn is 23, B. Schenn is 22, and Couturier is 20. These players have shown that they have great offensive ability. There is no reason to make a knee-jerk trade that would send one or more of these young, promising forwards away in exchange for a more established player on the tail end of his prime. This group can figure out their offensive struggles now, and will be even more dangerous as many of them enter their prime over the next few years.
The defense has been an issue ever since the Flyers lost Chris Pronger and watched Matt Carle leave. They tried to compensate by trading for Luke Schenn. Although Schenn is a good player, he is no Pronger and does not have the same skill set as Carle. The team lacks a true #1 defenseman and has been trying to hide that with an abundance of huge, #3-#6 defensemen.
However, the Flyers defense is not as awful as they have been made out to be. With a few changes, they can be a decent unit that is not a liability. The first important change was made after the first five games. Erik Gustafsson is a 24 year old puck moving defenseman who was a healthy scratch for the first five games of the season. His speed and skill were lacking on the ice during the games he watched from the press box. Since coming into the line-up, Gus has added a goal and an assist in three games while averaging over 20 minutes TOI.
The Flyers also need to change the way they are using Mark Streit. He is one of the Flyers better puck movers and has decent speed. With the slow start and the age of Kimmo Timonen, it would be wise for the Flyers to put Streit on the first power play unit (reports today suggest that he has been promoted) where his skills will be better used.
With the addition of Gus and the unleashing of Streit, the Flyers defense will look much more mobile and dangerous. Players like Coburn, Grossmann, and L. Schenn can better use their skills when guys like Gus and Streit move the puck and make room on the ice. Gus and Streit also take pressure off of Timonen who is 38 and is struggling in the early going, much like he did last year.
Yesterday Claude Giroux stated that he believes this team will make the playoffs. I agree with him. They are currently six points back from a playoff spot with 74 games remaining. That’s right, 74 games. They have received stellar goaltending and are getting a lot of scoring chances. This team is much better than their 1-7 record indicates and is still a dangerous team to play. Coming off of a six day break the Flyers will be hungry to prove all of their critics wrong, and they have the ability with their current line-up to do so.