First let me state that at the beginning of the year, I figured that this team would start slow, get things moving in December and make a frantic push for the playoffs. If they made it, they would be a stepping stone for the top seed. How wrong I was. This was a team that came together quickly, started fast, had a bad time in February and made a frantic push for the playoffs and got all the way to the #6 seed.
For any team that missed the playoffs the year before, making the playoffs is considered a large step forward. But this team not only qualified, but they won 2 rounds before being defeated by the deepest team in the Eastern Conference. The Penguins have so much world class talent, they were always the favorite to get out of the East.
Congrats to the Penguins and get rested up. The western team will be battle tested and ready to battle you for puck possession. Something that no team in the East was equipped to do. Philly was the underdog before losing their top defense pair. They only had 1 of the pair for 2 games total.
Holmgren now has the task to fill in the weaknesses that were exposed. Here is what I saw were weakness on the Flyers:
1. Defensemen. Timonen, Coburn, Jones, Parent. These guys will be 4 of the defensemen for the Flyers next year. I would love to add one more guy that is high caliber and having Jones/Hatcher as a 3rd pair would be great. Kukuonen is a good 7th man or maybe Gauthier.
2. Offense. They need to add a winger that can score. It seems as a very high percentage of the goals came from the center position. I know Gagne was out, but adding a winger that improves puck possession in the offensive zone is a must. This will be evident when the Flyers can score off the cycle consistently. I remember a large percentage of goals coming off the powerplay or the rush. These types of goals are harder to score in the playoffs.
3. Team system. I hope that with the continued improvement of the young players, the Flyers start playing a more puck possession style and stop letting the opponent outshoot, outhit, and control the game.
Assessments for this year and next
Additions for next year:
Parent and Gagne will be added to the team by training camp.
Part of the Plan: These guys did exactly what was expected of them and are bright spots in the future of the team.
Briere, Richards, Carter, Umberger, Lupul, Hartnell, Timonen, Coburn, Jones
Role Players: These guys played well but need to improve in some areas.
Upshall - avoid the silly obstruction calls. He is learning to be a 1st class agitator that can score
Knuble - needs to score 5 on 5. He needs linemates that play a puck possession style. He is not a score of the rush kind of guy.
Thoresen - bury the opportunity. He gets quite a few chances for a 4th line guy, but he shoots directly into the goalie logo every time.
Cote - continue to learn to be a complete player. He is fearless, just learn to create havok not only by fighting. Look at Laroche from the Pens.
Time to improve of move on:
Hatcher - if his mobility cannot improve, he must drop to a 3rd pair kind of guy.
Kukkonen - must be more consistent. He is a tenacious player, but can make the bad play very quickly.
Gauthier - let the big hit come to him. Maybe he learned this with the Phantoms this past season.
Potulny - time for him to become a NHL guy. That means scoring at this level - he is not a checker.
Tolpeko - needs more seasoning.
Downie - needs to play meaningful minutes. Maybe a year with the Phantoms where he can learn to dominate is all he needs. Don't bring him up unless he plays one of the top 9 spots up front.
Giroux - hopefully he is the playmaker to play with Gagne and Knuble next season.
van Riemsdyk - at least a year away. Don't rush him.
Won't be back next year:
Smith, Prospal, Dowd, Kapenen, Rathje, Modry
This group is time to let go. They cannot move fast enough to play this new style and Sami just cannot finish any opportunities any longer.
Possible Lines for Next Year. Looking to create 4 deep lines that can all play meaningful minutes.
Briere - Richards - Hartnell
Danny looked great on the wing and should have a better 5 on 5 offense with these guys.
Lupul - Carter - Upshall
A nice 2nd line that can play at both ends of the rink.
Gagne - Giroux - Knuble
A line that can get the puck and keep it away from you in the offensive zone.
Cote - Umberger - Thoresen
A high energy line that can score with RJ as the leader.
Parent - Timonen
Coburn - (needs to be filled here) - not necessarily a star - but a RIGHT handed guy that can play is needed.
Jones - Hatcher
Biron and Nittymaki are set as the tandem.
What could happen
Carter or Umberger or both, could draw offer sheets if left unsigned. I would not let Carter go if this happened, however while I love the tenacity that Umberger plays with, if there was the option of #1 draft picks, I would let him go. My first preference is to sign both quickly. Carter is a beast and RJ is the engine that makes the Flyers 4 lines deep next year. Plus he can play on any line!