Ok, we're only in the very early hours of July 3rd here, so this is very preliminary. I have been messing around with line combinations since the Briere signing was announced, and intensified that following the Lupul and Smith additions.
So far, I remain very happy with the maneuvers of Paul Holmgren and Peter Luukko. Here's a quick glance at what could be the opening night roster:
Simon Gagne-Daniel Briere-Joffrey Lupul.
Gagne and Briere are almost certain to be linemates, so that was the easy part. Mike Knuble has been on Gagne's line for most of his time in Philadelphia, but I'd like to see Lupul tried here to see if he can use his size and grit to free space for the two French-Canadian speedsters and perhaps get back to where he was as an Anaheim Duck, where he scored 28 goals prior to being traded to Edmonton in the Chris Pronger trade.
Scott Hartnell-Jeff Carter-Scottie Upshall
Carter and Upshall showed a great deal of chemistry last season down the tsretch and I like the snarl that Hartnell would add. The biggest concern is that there isn't anything resembling a true playmaker on this line. Still, the two former Preds could keep Carter's focus and motor running and perhaps help him take the next step forward.
Sami Kapanen-Mike Richards-Mike Knuble
Kapanen has been the Flyers Mr Everything since arriving five years ago. He brings heart and speed and guts. He doesn't have twenty goal hands any longer, but he's still an excellent PK guy and two way winger with speed. Richards will not get outworked by anyone. He's got the tenacity, smarts and ability to be a really good NHLer for a long time. The only thing that hasn't been consistent with Richards has been goal scoring. Knuble had some successes with Richards in the past and provides a solid veteran presence on this line who can score 20+ goals, giving the team what should be at least one solid scoring threat on each of the top three lines.
Ben Eager-RJ Umberger-Riley Cote
This line is more a collection of spare parts than a true line. Eager is a willing tough guy who has talent. Umberger is a good forward that simply hasn't found a steady position. He was excellent on the Flyers PK last year and played all three forward spots at various points. Cote is an average NHL enforcer. I'd honestly be looking at dressing seven defensemen on a lot of nights.
Kimmo Timonen-Jason Smith
Timonen provides a good all around defenseman. He can move the puck, skate well, play the PP, kill penalties...basically everything except be a physical force. Hence Jason Smith, a big defensive defenseman, who is a shot blocking machine. Smith is a smart defenseman, can bang with the best of them and skates well enough to not be a liability.
Derian Hatcher-Braydon Coburn
Both are big men. Hatcher is a stay at home guy, with limited mobility, who is a liability in a wide open game. But on the PK he is an absolute beast. There aren't many who work harder than Hatcher, or play a nastier game. Coburn is a slick skater for a huge man, and he's a good passer. He's still feeling his way, but he's working hard and seems to learn from his mistakes. He's got a good shot, too.
Denis Gauthier-Lasse Kukkonen
Gauthier, or Goat, is a big hitter. He's a borderline dirty player, and woe to the forward who enters the zone with his head down. The Goat also has the ability to make a good first pass and has a booming slap shot. The problems? He's apt to put himself out of position to make the big hit, suffers from untimely brain cramps and gets hurt quite often. Kukkonen is one of those guys that simply goes out, and never gets noticed because he just does a good job, rarely makes any mistakes and knows his limits and stays within them. He's a PERFECT partner for a guy who plays as undisciplined as Gauthier does at times.
Randy Jones-Ryan Parent-Alexandre Picard
There will be a race and why, right now, I'd lean to dressing seven defensemen a lot.
Jones is a decent depth guy. If you limit his minutes, he'll provide solid play and an occasional "Holy Cow" offensive play. But limited talent and a propensity to do too much leave Jones as a spare part on a good team.
Parent was a key piece to the Peter Forsberg trade last season. He's a lot like Coburn, but doesn't have the offensive ability. If he makes the Flyers, he'll get a regular shift, probably at the expense of Hatcher or Gauthier. In all likelyhood, Parent is AHL bound, but could make a strong push.
Picard is purely an offensive defenseman, despite his good size. He had a 5 assist game against the Devils last year, has an absolute cannon from the point and good offensive instincts. However, he is more raw than a little green tomato on defense. He could stick, maybe splitting time with Hatcher and as a PP specialist.
Biron gets a shot at starting for the Flyers. Most know he was inconsistent when he got his shot for the Sabres a few years back, but he was an immensely calming influence on this team after his deadline day arrival from Buffalo. If Biron plays as well as he did for the Flyers down the stretch, the Flyers will be extremely happy and set in goal.
Niittymaki is a strange case. A lot of fans love the little Finn. He did battle a hip injury, which he says didn't affect his game. Niittymaki struggled mightily behind a poor team last year. He wasn't the sole issue, but he did very little to help matters. His focus was lacking, his glove hand was awful, he tended to drop into the butterfly way too early and stay there, and just seemed to not be able to adjust.
His confidence isn't an issue and if he can bounce back and challenge Biron as he says he's going to, it's great news for the Flyers.
The only real concern I have is adding a puck moving defenseman, but even that is not a pressing issue now. A guy like Umberger, Gauthier or one of the team's prospects could be traded for one and there's still a few names in FA available.
Well, so far free agency has been worth the wait for me...