There are a few questions the Flyers will need to address this offseason and the future beyond the 2012-13 season.
Who will be the next Captain?
Based on the reports lately on Chris Pronger's condition that little improvement has been made, his playing time seems more and more likely, although still uncertain, to be coming to an end. This almost inevitable truth requires an appropriate response from the Flyers. Not only do they need to likely replace their top defender (I will discuss that later), but they need to find a new Captain for the team.
There are a few obvious candidates: Briere, Timonen, and Giroux.
There are also some such as Scott Hartnell and Max Talbot that are seasoned veterans that provide a good personality to the locker room. I will examine these five. It may not be any of these five, it could be someone else, or Pronger could make a comeback next year.
1. Danny Briere
The highest paid player on the team at a $6.5 million dollar cap hit used to be the captain of the Buffalo Sabres. He has the talent and appears to have a voice in the locker room. With the possible departure of Jagr, he could be the oldest forward that has consistent playing time at 34 years old (Jody Shelley is 36). However he is only signed for 3 more years to the team. While his age/tenure is suitable for that of a captain, the uncertainty of his duration in Philadelphia beyond three years is not good for the face/voice of the team. The Flyers will likely be assigning their third captain in three years this season, so the need for stability will definitely be considered. After the three years are up, he will be 37. Even if he got a 2 year deal, he'd probably be the captain for no more than 5 years. Mike Richards was signed to a 12 year deal extension in 2007, beginning in the 08-09 season, being named captain in 2008. The obvious hope is to have a long-term leader, which is not what Briere will bring at 34 years old.
2. Kimmo Timonen
He was the captain of the Nashville Predators when the Flyers acquired him in 2007. He is a more soft-spoken leader but still an older presence in the locker room. At 37-years-old though, his age is showing in his game, and because of his playing time and style of play, injuries are catching up with him. Not to mention, he is in the final year of his contract. Considering he will be 38 when his contract ends, this may be his final season. It would not make sense to have a one or possibly two-year contract.
3. Claude Giroux
He wore an "A" on his jersey after Pronger's injury, and started asserting himself as a captain. He is the superstar the Flyers need leading their team. He led the scoring surge and led his team to victory in the first round. Though weaknesses were shown in the second round elimination, at 24 years old, he is a good candidate for captain in a long-term situation.
4. Max Talbot
Max Talbot is a difference maker every team wants. Not only is he known for his solid defensive play, but he does have a scoring punch in some clutch moments. He was the unsung hero who won the Stanley Cup for the Pittsburgh Penguins by scoring both goals. His personality is a positive one for the locker room. At 28 years old, he is coming of a career year offensively, and is signed until he is 32. He should be wearing an A on his jersey in upcoming years.
5. Scott Hartnell
Like Talbot, Scott Hartnell is coming off a career year. He will presumably be on the top line with superstar center Claude Giroux. He is one of the fan favorites and is another great personality who always wears a smile on his face, similar to Nick Swisher for the Yankees. Definitely a dark horse at potential captain, he is still a big part of the veteran core at 30 years old, and should still be able to produce good numbers. You might find him wearing an A on his jersey as well.
How to improve defensive depth?
With Pronger's return seeming more and more unlikely, and Kimmo Timonen's possible retirement at 38 years old after the 2012-13 season, the Flyers will be without their top two defenders for likely 2013-14 and beyond.
If Pronger does not come back, the Flyers will have roughly $5 million in cap space to work with due to the LTIR salary credit, assuming no changes in the CBA.
Matt Carle is an UFA this offseason, and will probably try and get a salary around $5 million, up from the nearly $3.5 million he makes a year now. I don't know if he is worth that much though.
Nick Grossmann and Braydon Coburn will make $3.5 and $4.5 million respectively according to relatively recent contract extensions, and Andrej Meszaros is scheduled to be making $4 million for the next two years. I feel that Meszaros is slightly overpaid.
Andreas Lilja is signed for another year, but will probably be the #7 defenseman, maybe a third pair. Bourdon and Gustafsson tested the NHL waters this year and they could possibly make the team full-time next season.
Pavel Kubina, the rental acquisition from the Lightning in February, is virtually doubtful to return to the Flyers as he was benched for most of the playoffs.
The restructuring of the defense, if any at all, are contingent on the fact of Matt Carle being resigned or not. He could command serious money like Ville Leino did last year that the Flyers would not be willing to pay and walk off.
I think to improve defensive quality next year, it may be a good idea to find two top defensemen, or find one top D-man to pair with Coburn. He was one of the few Flyers who did his job in the second round against the Devils. I think a light reduction in Timonen's time on the ice could preserve him for a long playoff run in the dog days of April and May. Putting him on the 2nd pair with Meszaros or Grossmann could be a good solution for this. If Carle returns, there would only be the 6th defender in question, which the Flyers could plug Lilja, Bourdon, or Gustafsson in, or find someone more proven who can balance out ice team in the FA market.
The Flyers would like to have a top defender like a Weber or Suter, but it is possible both stay in Nashville or go elsewhere. I don't think Carle is a top defender, or worth the roughly $5 million he is reportedly going to net this offseason.
While I would like to see the team bring in a new, defining defensive force to replace what Pronger brought to the team, the team cannot do it in haste like the goalie mandate of last year.
Will Jaromir Jagr come back?
At the end of the season, although Jagr called the season one of his favorite years, seemed very uncertain about a return. At 40 years old, with injury and age definitely catching up to him, to resign him at the same salary with numerous raises already coming up this year is impossible without trades. Jagr wants to play hockey, and it's clear by playing for the Penguins, Capitals, then Pens rivals NYR and Philly, he will play where he's going to get a good opportunity to play hockey. It is not about money for him, but that doesn't mean he wants to be low-balled either. I think it will be too costly for the Flyers to keep him, and he will walk on July 1st.
What will happen to Sergei Bobrovsky?
With a long-term commitment to Ilya Bryzgalov as the starter, Bob's career as a Flyers starter is pretty much closed. His potential is weighed against his inconsistency/inexperience. At $1.75 million a year, his cap hit is high for a backup goaltender, unless the new CBA will have a bonus cushion, bringing it down to around $900k. Currently though, at such a high price, it might be smart to move him soon while he still has some value, instead of letting him walk next year for a draft pick, and then sign a cheaper, veteran backup like Biron.
These are a few questions fans, writers, and maybe the front office will ask themselves. These are possible answers, but are just the way I see it. Feel free to comment below.