With the Flyers picking up their game after an abysmal start and catapulting into third place in the Metropolitan Division before the Olympic break, it was clear they were not going to be sellers this season. It is clear there is plenty of talent on this roster to win a sum of games, unlike inferior squads in Florida, Buffalo, and Long Island. However, they lack a few essential (and costly) players to round out their squad. While there is no shortage of scoring, and Scott Hartnell is contributing as much as anyone should expect right now, Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek could certainly stand to have an elite sniper on their left wing (or at least a power forward with greater skating skills, younger, and a higher ceiling scoring-wise). An extra scoring threat is a luxury to have, which is why the Flyers thought they were smart by bringing in Vinny Lecavalier (more on him later) to a 5-year deal, but they acquired a center, not a left-winger. This is of considerably low priority. Defense, as it has been for the better part of three years, has been a glaring concern for the Flyers and an area that has been looked to for improvement.
Beyond this season, the Flyers need to bring more diverse players to their blue line, like they had 2010-2012. A balance of puck movers/two-way defenders, defensive defenders, and stay-at-home defenders keeps their game fresh and also allows the Flyers to play smart in their own zone as well as setting up plays going the other way. Before the two trades they made before the deadline, they only had 3 active defenders (playing in every game) that have offensive skill. Kimmo Timonen is 39 years old and almost certainly in his last year. He is the two-way defender that while not elite, most teams would clamor for: he plays hard every shift, taking blocked shots to the shin and shooting from the point on the power play. His age, as mentioned, has limited his mobility considerably and it is easier to beat him than it was even 2 or 3 years ago. Contributing to offense also takes a hit here for any player as they are not able to join the rush as fast. Mark Streit is offensive-minded, and lately has been playing well in his own end, but he is suspect to defensive lapses (more often than Timonen anyway). He has a nice point shot that has net him a few goals and knows how to move the puck around. Andrej Meszaros likes to join the rush and knows how to show up on the stat sheet (at least in recent games), and was the Bary Ashbee Trophy winner a few years ago, not to mention being one of the team's plus-minus leaders. Like Timonen (although not nearly as aged), the physical toll on his body has made him immobile. Jumping in and out of the lineup doesn't help either, and he is a defensive liability, having his defensive partner make up for his lack of ability in that department. A few years ago, you could use him on your 2nd pair; but now his lack of defensive ability relegates him to a third pairing if and only if you have a stacked depth chart otherwise. In terms of defensive defenders, Braydon Coburn is the only one who perfectly matches that description. He moves pretty well for his size, is physical, and aside from some lapses plays pretty well in his own zone. He was one of the most effective players in the Flyers short 2012 playoff run. He even joins the rush sometimes, occasionally appearing on the stat sheet. When burdened with the task of making up for Matt Carle's offensive losses with his departure to Tampa, Coburn cracked in the 2012-2013 season (in which he did not play for 4 months during the lockout), and was unable to meet Laviolette's demands. With the addition of the offensively-minded Streit, Coburn's game has significantly rebounded this year, and I'm sure his confidence and skill will be steady for years to come. The Flyers have two stay-at-home defenders who hit hard and block shots, Luke Schenn and Nick Grossmann. While Schenn has considerable speed for his size, Grossmann is pretty immobile. Immobility causes you to get beat rather easily on plays, leaving plenty of room open for shots, which may be why some of those advanced possession numbers are high. And while I used to consider Schenn a defensive defender, he has frequent lapses in his coverage that make him somewhat suspect. If you're familiar with Bill Meltzer's pieces on defenders, you know every defender has some sort of deficiency that makes his game incomplete, which is problematic for fans in Philadelphia that do not realize this. There are few exceptions to this rule, such as Shea Weber, Duncan Keith, Drew Doughty, PK Subban, etc. These are all Norris Trophy contenders annually and they can pack an offensive punch with superb defensive commitment, which is why fans have been clamoring over the rumors that the Flyers would be trading for Weber. I digress however. My point is you can see the makeup of the pros and cons of the players on the Flyer defense.
As you can see, before the deadline trades, the Flyers had 1 offensive-minded defender with average speed, 1 aged and mobility-deficient two-way defender, 1 immobile offensive defender who is a defensive liability, 1 defensive defender, 2 stay-at-home defenders - one being inhibited mobility-wise, as well as a puck-mover with defensive responsibility and (compared to the other defenders) good speed who sits in the press box most nights recently (Gustafsson) in place of the immobile offensively-minded but defensively liable defender, and a depth 8th defender in Hal Gill. While there is a share of different abilities on the blueline, there are only two defenders I can rely on every night to play responsibly in their own zone: Coburn and Timonen (but Streit has proven he can hold his own if he commits). There is a severe lack of speed, as I can only rely on Coburn, Schenn, and Streit to give the necessary speed every night. Where Timonen differs from the other considerably immobile defensemen is his hockey sense, which is better than any of the other defenders. With his imminent retirement, it scares me that the team's smartest defender and only true two-way defender will need to be replaced sooner than later.
The trades Tuesday and Wednesday directly affected the blueline, as the Flyers sent 2 draft picks and Phantoms F Matt Mangene to the Islanders for Andrew McDonald and sent Andrej Meszaros off to Boston for a conditional pick in return. While his role for the Islanders was a top-pair shot blocking puck mover, his possession numbers were near the bottom of the league; but those numbers are suggesting he is another Nick Grossmann. In reality, he's a much quicker skater and has good puck-moving ability. In a reduced role against weaker competition, his advanced stats should improve and he should be effective on a team with more depth. McDonald is an upgrade on Meszaros, certainly; but my only disappointment with these is that Erik Gustafsson was not able to find his way back into the top 6 with Meszaros' departure. He needs his chance and has played well for the most part of this season, but just doesn't seem to fit into Berube's plans. Holmgren should have moved either Grossmann or Schenn as well to create room for him, or find Gustafsson a coach that will not waste his talent. Maybe the Flyers think he will take Timonen's spot after this year? That's awfully dangerous considering he's not getting the proper playing time to develop. Instead, the Flyers still carry eight defenders on their roster. With the McDonald acquisition, this seals Gus' fate; that he will not play another game for the Flyers this season barring injury.
Beyond this season, the Flyers have 4 defenders under contract. Adding Chris Pronger to LTIR brings the cap space up to $17.6MM, assuming the $71.1MM cap spike (could be $68MM due to decline in Canadian dollar). They will have to sign 3 defenders: two playing regularly and another depth defender like Hal Gill at around $700K. While it might not be Gill necessarily, that player is still necessary, so now the cap space is approx. $16.9MM for 2 defenders, as well as 1 backup goaltender, 1 second liner (presumably Brayden Schenn), 1 third liner (currently played by Downie), and 2 fourth liners (spots currently held by Raffl, Hall). Currently, the major holdup is Brayden Schenn's lack of a contract. It make it much easier to trade him right now. If they decide to resign Schenn with an AAV of $3.5MM, the team will be down to $13.4MM. You can see how easily this number dwindles. Surely, Paul Holmgren realizes this, and makes Cal Heeter backup as he is the cheapest option, resigning him at $900K. Let's say you resign Raffl at $1 million, which he deserves, and Adam Hall at $700K, and you bring up Scott Laughton. With 13 forwards, 2 goalies, 5 defenders (4 everyday, 1 depth guy), you have $9,905,833 to sign 2 more everyday defenders. Assuming Kimmo Timonen retires, this leaves 2 spots for 2 defensive free agents, Andrew McDonald and Erik Gustafsson. While McDonald turned down a 4-year/$16MM extension with the Islanders, he is not the top guy in Philadelphia like he was in Long Island. While I could see Holmgren being generous and giving him a $4.5MM AAV, I would expect he is paid around $4MM or potentially lower if Holmgren gives him the money over a long-term deal. No winning team in the unrestricted market will give him the kind of money he reportedly wanted while with the Islanders ($5MM/yr). It will come down to if he likes playing in Philadelphia and wants to be a smaller part of a winner or a big part of a loser. Anyway, assuming he signed at $4.5MM/yr, and Erik Gustafsson resigns for $1.5MM/yr at the most (in any short-term deal, which is what I'd assume both sides would go for), the additional $6MM spent on the two defenders leaves the Flyers with a $3,905,833 cap space. The Flyers could be done on defense, and allocate an extra $1 million to Brayden Schenn, taking a flight on him and signing him to a cheaper but long-term deal like they did with James vanRiemsdyk and hope it pays off. 6 years/$27MM or 8 years/$36MM is a good deal for your number 2 center, especially since that price will increase in years to come. This leaves nearly $3 million in cap space to maybe have another backup instead of Cal Heeter. The Flyers would not have to depart with any young core forward and would have a defense that is good enough to win games provided they follow Berube's system. As you can see by clicking on the link, the Flyers have a little wiggle room and could tweak some of those transactions, or save the money for a pay raise in future seasons. http://www.capgeek.com/armchair-gm/roster/6004
The Flyers could also chase a big restricted free agent, Norris Trophy winner PK Subban, if they are ambitious like usual. He reportedly wants $8.5, maybe even $9 million, and reportedly turned down a 7-year/$49MM deal, countering with an 8-year, $56 million. The Flyers and other teams will be scouting this situation for sure, and certainly if they need Subban could be willing to shell out around $9MM per year. If the Flyers aimed high here, they would have to get creative with the cap. Maybe they only give Schenn $3.5 MM a year, and max out on McDonald at $4 million and Gustafsson $1.2 million. They would also need to trade someone like Lecavalier, as well as a defender such as Grossmann. If they were only able to trade half of Vinny's salary and completely move Grossmann, they would have enough to sign him, but would need a cheap 2nd-line option. Raffl could be moved there, and a cheap 4th liner could be bought, or they could decide Jason Akeson's successful 2013-14 campaign is good enough to make the NHL roster and plug him into the top 6, which is reflected in the following link. http://capgeek.com/armchair-gm/roster/5998
Another option would be to totally buy out Lecavalier (I'm talking regular buyout, not compliance) and trade Grossmann, giving a lot more room to sign a forward like Dustin Penner to a $2.5-$3 million AAV, which you can see here. Though there is a cap hit that comes for 7 of the 8 years of a Lecavalier buyout, next season would give the Flyers a $125,000 cap credit, and as the salary cap increases the buyout space is increasingly negligent in terms of the cap. http://capgeek.com/armchair-gm/roster/5999
Subban is a big fish to fry, and it isn't likely the Flyers would get him. It is possible, however, as you can see with cap gymnastics. Though it may be difficult for some to give up Lecavalier, he is on a decline and will be less productive to the team in years to come. I wouldn't be disappointed if he were bought out, as the Flyers would be cleansing themselves of a contract they should have never entered in the first place. Really shows you that hindsight is 20/20. Regardless of your opinions on Lecavalier, the point in this exercise was to prove that with some cap maneuvering, Subban can be had at $9MM/year.
Given the financial situation, I feel good about the Flyers whether they bring in a big fish like Subban or lock up the guys they have already. They will certainly miss Timonen next year, but I am confident Erik Gustafsson can replace at least some, not all of Timonen's qualities. They can look ahead with confidence for future growth. If they were relatively inactive this summer, they are showing patience in defensive prospects like Sam Morin and Shayne Gostisbehere to grow into NHL regulars someday, and they will take the defensive pains that come with waiting while maintaining their core of forwards that remains dangerous. Thanks for reading, if you've gotten this far.