This is a in depth look at what Flyers are signed, which are free agents, who should be back, who should not and who might be trade bait.
First a quick look and synopsis of who is signed and under contract for next season-and who have a realistic shot at NHL service with the Flyers in 2008-09.
Forwards: Danny Briere, Simon Gagne, Scott Hartnell, Mike Knuble, Sami Kapanen, Joffrey Lupul, Scottie Upshall, Mike Richards, Steve Downie, Denis Tolpeko, Claude Giroux, Kyle Greentree
Defensemen: Kimmo Timonen, Derian Hatcher, Lasse Kukkonen, Braydon Coburn, Ryan Parent, Denis Gauthier
Goaltenders: Martin Biron, Antero Niittymaki
Up front, the Flyers have the basis for what could be two strong scoring lines, especially if Gagne is fully healthy after missing most of this season with concussion issues. The Flyers have the Gagne-Briere-Knuble line that was dominant for the first seven games, before Gagne's injury.
The second line would be Hartnell-Richards-Lupul. Both wingers enjoyed their best play of the year flanking Richards, whose breakout campaign netted him a record 12 year extension. This line has speed, grit and heart to spare.
Kapanen is a speedy player with a lot of heart, but who seems to have lost his once potent scoring touch. Upshall is a top notch third liner, who can play either wing. Downie was a lightning rod, but when he was on his game, he showed tenacity, a nose for the puck, and very solid positional play.
Tolpeko and Greetree looked very solid in short NHL auditions, although I think Greentree is a better fit, because of his size. Giroux is a former first round pick, who tore up the QMJHL this year. He needs to get stronger, but he didn't look out of place during an emergency NHL call up.
On the blueline, Timonen was everything he was supposed to be and more. He has easily been the team's best defenseman since the heyday of Eric Desjardins. Braydon Coburn enjoyed a breakout season. His combination of size and skating is downright scary. What might be even more scary is how much better he could become.
Hatcher has been an inspirational warrior all year, playing on badly banged up knees. Parent showed great skating ability and a sense of the game and anticipation that belied his tender years. Kukkonen was often a healthy scratch, but played solid defense when he was dressed. His lack of size does limit him, though. Gauthier was farmed out to start the season, and had it not been for recall waivers, probably would have been with the team during Hatcher's LTIR visit. The Goat displayed a great attitude about the situation and it would not be a surprise if the Flyers rewarded that with a roster spot in 2008-09.
With Biron and Niittymaki in goal, the Flyers have two guys that can get red hot and literally carry a team for short stretches. Inconsistency remains an issue for both guys. That said, they seem to be a good fit, personality wise, as a tandem and as members of the team.
As with every team, the Flyers have key free agents, both restricted and unrestricted.
Jeff Carter. Carter's performance has been streaky, however, part of that is due to his role and linemates. He notched 26 goals(as of March 10th) playing mostly with AHL call-ups and in a third line role. Re-signing him is, in my eyes, vital.
RJ Umberger, The versatile forward has filled every role he has been asked to in his 3 years as a Flyer. He plays all three forward positions at a well above average level. He doesn't have Carter's potential, but Umberger is the kind of forward that all successful teams seem to have.
Riley Cote. Cote was seen as a weakness when the season started. Some might still see him that way. I don't. He works his tail off to improve his game and pugilistic abilities, and has become fairly adept. Sure, there are better fighters, but Cote is willing to drop the gloves with anyone, and he isn't a liability when he's on the ice.
Patrick Thoresen. A late season waiver claim, who has shown good hockey sense, guts and speed. He's also a pretty versatile guy, who has played center and wing. He does seem to have one major flaw-he can't seem to score a goal to save his life.
Randy Jones. He went from being an undrafted stiff to being a good, solid third pair defenseman. He's good good offensive tools, is a good skater and works hard. He is a good second unit PP guy. The biggest problem with Jones is, the more minutes he plays, the more mistakes he makes. He tries to do too much at times and that results in poor decisions with the puck.
Nate Guenin. He's a tough, steady, stay at home defender, who enjoyed a very solid AHL season. He has a shot at being the team's 7th defenseman.
Ryan Potulny, Stefan Ruzicka and Lars Jonsson. All three have shown flashes, but have been inconsistent in various areas-Ruzicka in his effort levels, Potulny and Jonsson in their attention to their own end. These guys could all be tendered, or not, because none has an especially good chance to make the Flyers. They could be moved to free up contract slots.
Jim Dowd. I think Dowd had an excellent year for the most part. He was a good fit as a fourth line center, won face-offs and killed penalties. If he's willing to stay for the same money, I'd hang onto him.
Jason Smith. Smith served as the team captain and played through broken bones, various bruises and nagging injuries and did whatever he needed to to stand up for his mates. Unfortunately, at times, he had to handle the puck. It remains to be seen if the Flyers can fit both Smith and Hatcher on next year's roster, due to cap limitations and other needs on the blueline.
Vaclav Prospal, Jesse Boulerice, Jaroslav Modry, Rory Fitzpatrick. None are likely to return to the Flyers. Prospal and Modry were deadline acquisitions. Prospal provided scoring after Gagne was shut down for the year, and Modry was added to bring stability to the blueline.
Fitzpatrick showed why he is a career bubble player and 7th defenseman on his best days. Jesse Boulerice is an utter waste of a NHL contract. He brings nothing to the table.
It is very possible that Derian Hatcher and/or Sami Kapanen could retire. Hatcher has gone to great lengths to play this year. He has very bad knees and has played in pain all year. Kapanen's skills have eroded to the point where Flyers fans sort of cringe when he goes in on a two on one or breakaway. He still fills a role, but not above the fourth line.
Trade Bait: I could see any of the following players dealt
Mike Knuble. He's a beast on the power play, a rock in front of the net. He's a good two-way forward, has very good size and can play either wing. However, re-signing Carter and Umberger might push Knuble out the door due to cap issues.
Scottie Upshall. Again, is heavily affected if the team re-signs Carter and Umberger. If both re-sign and Knuble is still on the roster, Upshall might be pushed down the roster. With guys like Greentree, Downie and even Kapanen around, Upshall might not have enough playing time to justify his contract. He's also oft-injured and is getting a reputation as a bit of a yapper.
Lasse Kukkonen. Very solid defensive defenseman, who has no fear of blocking shots or taking on bigger players, but he was scratched more than poison ivy and got pushed around by forwards that had a weight advantage at times. Kukkonen has too big a price tag to be the 8th defenseman again next year.
Antero Niittymaki. Has a lot of great bullet points on his resume-MVP of the Calder Cup playoffs, MVP of the Olympics. He's an incredible athlete. However, he seems to have issues maintaining his focus and he's streaky. He also seems slow to break certain bad habits. One cliche that fits is, when a team has two number one goalies, they don't have any.
Up front the Flyers will be loaded, assuming Gagne is healthy and other guys like Richards, Briere and Lupul don't have any lengthy injuries, like Lupul and Richards suffered this season. However, with the potential FA's, the third and fourth lines need attention. Keeping Carter, Umberger, Dowd and Cote, would answer a lot of the potential holes.
On the blueline, I'd like to see another puck moving defenseman, who is fairly young. Timonen, Coburn and Parent look like they could be three quarters of a very solid top four, and Gauthier would be a good starting point for a third pair. If Hatcher returns, he could resume pairing with Coburn. With Smith and Jones possibly leaving as free agents, this area could see flux.
In goal, I prefer a legitimate number one goaltender. However, not only do those not grow on trees, they are not the easiest thing to trade for. However, I wouldn't mind trading for a good young goalie, who might be stuck behind a stud elsewhere, who could push Biron and be the number one in a year or two.
As far as free agency goes, I'd rather see the Flyers hang on to their key RFA's and re-sign Dowd (and Smith if Hatcher retires), rather than going out and bidding on a RFA like Shea Weber or a UFA like Brian Campbell. Even though I love what both of those guys bring to the mix, especially Weber, I think getting Carter and Umberger in the fold is the key to the team's future.