Coming off a wildly disappointing season that saw Philadelphia miss the playoffs for the first time since 2007, we all knew that Paul Holmgren would have his hands full this summer. With the cap dropping $6M and the Flyers already needing to shed a hefty contract just in order to be compliant, Homer is stuck with a tricky deck to work with.
So what's in the cards with Philly's GM this offseason? Some of the needs are pressing and obvious (upgrading the blue line), while others certainly need addressing (secondary scoring, size up front) - this all having to be done creatively due to the aforementioned salary cap issues. I'll tell you what, I don't envy being in the big chair having to make these decisions. We all hear the whispers regarding the seemingly unavoidable amnesty buyout candidates - Daniel Briere and Ilya Bryzgalov come to mind and are widely speculated.
So what happens next? I think this summer will be busier than usual, and I believe Homer will use all routes - draft, trade, and free agency - in order to improve this team in the short and long-term.
One of the offseason issues has just been addressed this week - the acquisition of Islanders captain Mark Streit. The Swiss, smooth-skating blueliner has quite the pedigree and is an immediate upgrade for the Fly Guys as an elite puck-moving defenseman. As we witnessed last season, this is a team that struggled mightily with moving the puck out of their own zone and creating the breakouts that we were so used to seeing when Chris Pronger and (love him or hate him) Matt Carle were employed in the top four. This allowed Flyers forwards to not have to commit as much to aid the backcheck and use their speed to create an above-average amount of counter-rush chances and odd-man situations. We didn't see that as much last year, and, well, we saw the results with an inconsistent offensive showing.
Having Streit, who will turn 36 in December, will alleviate some of this pressure as creating transition is one of his biggest strengths. However, this makes you scratch your head about that cap dilemma. Streit, assuming he signs (probable in my opinion, but not a guarantee), will easily be a $5M annual cap hit. He is not the long-term solution, but is it really fair to assume replacing a Chris Pronger would come easy? Point being, he's a potential asset to this team that didn't cost the Flyers to part ways with its much-sough-after young talent. Albeit, an expensive one.
I do think Briere is a given to be bought out. I do think there's a good chance we'll also be waving goodbye to Mr. Universe. I also have a feeling that one of Braydon Coburn or Andrej Meszaros will be packing their bags. Although Coburn would command a bigger return, I think his unique skills set of size, skating, relative durability (sans 2012), and shutdown capabilities will keep him around. Realistically, you may have to trade Mez simply for cap relief, but I'd imagine there would still be a few takers for a small return.
If we assume these events take place, I also think the Flyers make another move for defensive depth. I could see Keith Ballard, who is likely to be bought out by the Vancouver Canucks, being an option here. With the health of the Flyers defense corps, you can never really have too many options back there to start camp with. Ballard would be a competent 5th defenseman and is worth a look if the price is right.
So with Danny B, Bryz, and Mez off the books, you have some cap room to work with. And it also means you need a replacement goalie. The two that immediately come to mine are Jacob Markstrom (a pending RFA with Florida) and Jonathan Bernier. I do not think the Flyers will sign a veteran goalie to a short-term deal, but more likely swing a trade to bring in someone with upside and a modest contract to compete with Steve Mason. While this is easier said than done, there have been some rumors regarding a Matt Read for Bernier deal. I try not to speculate too much on actual trades, but I don't see how there's any way that Bernier is resigned by the Kings, considering they have Jonathan Quick locked up through 2023 at a $5.8M cap hit. He will be on another team come September. Whether it's in Philly or not remains to be seen, but either way you have to think the Flyers would be getting rid of a Matt Read type for such a backstop.
Assuming it does take a Matt Read to net a young goalie making a reasonable salary, you now have two scoring wingers to replace (along with Briere). While I do not expect Philly to overpay for the top UFA's (Iginla, Clarkson) in what will be an outrageous spending spree among certain teams, I do think there are a few decent options that would help now and later. Bryan Bickell and Clarke MacArthur come to mind. Though Bickell's stock is quickly rising due to his torrid playoff performance, if he could be had for the right price, the 27 year old winger bring size (6' 4), physicality, and a little scoring punch to the top 9. MacArthur doesn't bring a lot of size (6' 0 192 lbs.) but is skilled and a good bet for 40 to 45 points while still bringing some grit to the wing position. Both players would realistically (one hopes, but I'd expect some crazy things in free agency this offseason) be in the $3-3.5M/year range and be able to replace some of the void left by Read and Briere. Or perhaps a cheaper, more physical option in Matt Martin?
Since we're such optimists, why don't we also bring the beloved Simon Gagne back? He has already indicated he'd be willing to take a pay cut to stay in Philly. This would give the Flyers a respectable top three lines in (choose your combinations) Giroux, Hartnell, Voracek, Schenn, Coots, Simmonds, Gagne, and Bickell and/or MacArthur or another UFA. Realistically, if they were to sign two free agents forwards in the $3M range, they'd be hugging the cap once again even after any LTIR movement with Pronger. But consider this fruit for thought for the time being. And let's not completely rule out guys like Scottie Laughton and newcomer Michael Raffl, who, if you read between the lines with some reports, the Flyers are hoping becomes a comparable (slightly watered-down?) version of Matt Read.
Finally, we have the draft. Actually the draft would be occurring before any of the external activity above but I chose not to interrupt our focus. My quick thoughts on the draft are that the Flyers SHOULD take the best available player with the 11th pick. Keep in mind that I firmly believe the best player available in that spot will be a defenseman, since this draft seems to be so deep with them. Personally, I look for Ryan Pulock at that spot if he's available due to his potential star-level offensive abilities and howitzer of a right-handed shot (a combination of two attributes the flyers haven't had since....?). He is also very adept, though not dominating, at playing a physical style of game. He'd be my pick at 11 if he is available, but the Flyers may have other things in mind.
Those other things - let's still include Pulock - could very well be defensemen Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov, or forwards Hunter Shinkaruk or Bo Horvat.
If they do go with a forward, which I prefer they don't unless Pulock and Risto are gone, I'd prefer Shinkaruk since he seems to be the only player projected around that slot that I feel can be a bonafide top line scorer. Then again, all prospects carry a risk of failure. Regardless, I prefer that the Flyers take at least one D man in their top two picks (though I'd be shocked if they took two). And I think they will.
This offseason can go in a lot of directions. And although there's a very faint chance that my predictions will go as any of us expect it to go, I think such a combination of events would be sensible for both the short and long-term.