I wanted to start this on draft day, but that wasn't in the cards, so I'll take it from free agency on out. I'm going to start with a quick overview of each contracted guy on the roster (and a few on the Phantoms) which will include chances he makes the regular season roster. Then I'll head into moves we could, should and have to make. And then finally, what the roster could (believably) look like.
Upon first glance, the outlook looks bleak from here on out in Philly. But, I'm a fan and you gotta keep it positive, so I'll try to do that. I love Paul Holmgren to death, but his contract negotiations put us in a very unique situation, in that right now, less than 24 hours from the start of free agency... we are BROKE. More than broke. It'll be hard to get out of that hole unscathed, especially considering between Bryzgalov, Briere (even Carts and Richie) and now possibly Vinny it's looking an awful lot like we have no organizational loyalty to the contracts we sign. That might be the biggest knock on the front office right now for me: not necessarily bad contracts but the stunning unwillingness to stand behind your men.
I'm not a cap wiz. I used to be, but things get complicated and this is a hobby. I don't have the time or energy to keep up with everything. But the internet is a beautiful thing. It looks like we are 200 thousand over the cap for next season. That'll change when Pronger's contract comes off the books, but still. This doesn't feel right, especially since we have needs to address - granted, less needs than you'd think, but they are needs nonetheless, and some of them are significant. And we have NO money with which to fill those needs.
However, the roster as it stands right now is not as weak as you'd think after hearing Flyers fans talk about it. It could get better, and hopefully will, but for now this is what we are working with:
Jason Akeson - I think his effort in the playoffs warranted a roster spot next year.
Tyler Brown - Undrafted free agent who's got some talent and a great shot; was not tendered a contract so he'll be a UFA; I hope he's back with the organization, but he may not be.
Nick Cousins - A young, talented C. (see also: trade bait.) Probably no room for him on the big boy roster, I do like him though.. aside from the alleged sexual assault.
Sean Couturier - Really think he should be on the wing, but he's rostered as a center. He's not gona get traded, because he's part of the future - a future we wagered two cornerstones of a (2-time) Stanley Cup champ on. So, let's calm that trade talk DOWN.
Claude Giroux - I mean..
Adam Hall - Not at all crazy about him, but I really have no reason to dislike the guy. He's serviceable and cheap, which is what we should be about right now. He's a free agent, but if he doesn't come back, someone similar will take his place.
Ben Holmstrom - Once upon a time, Ben Holmstrom was one of those high-energy young guys who played down on the lineup but did so effectively. It's hard to believe he's 27 - and not that 27 is old, but given some of the younger guys between Adirondack/Lehigh Valley.. if he's playing regularly next year, we are in bad shape.
Scott Laughton - I really thought he had a shot to make the roster last season; will be REALLY shocked if he doesn't this season.
Vinny LeCav - You gotta love Vinny. However, his shockingly low gear and unwillingness to play LW make it hard. But alas, we gave him a NMC and if he played half as good as anyone expected last year, his 4.5 million cap hit would be a bargain, but that didn't happen. Not even a little. He wants to stay at C and he's looking really overpaid right now. The popular consensus is to trade him, but we could live with him - because he can't possibly be much worse next year, can he? ...seriously, I'm asking you. If we can't fit him in anywhere, and he's not dealt (it's looking like he might not be) he's a candidate for a buy-out. Not a compliance one, like we know from Briere and Bryzgalov (because we don't have any more of those) but an honest-to-god count-partially-against-the-cap buyout.
Tye McGinn - I like Tye McGinn for the same reasons I like Tyler Brown. I think he's a candidate to play some minutes next season - and effectively.
Marcel Noebels - Maybe because he's a speedy European, I envision him as a winger, but he's a center.. which means he'll probably stay in the minors next year.
Michael Raffl - Raffl will be on the team next season. For me, finding him was a nice consolation prize for the loss of seeing what Tomas Hyka could have done with some actual regular season minutes in Philly.
Matt Read - Reader is the kinda guy you want in the locker room. Fans might not be 100% on board with him, but he's vocal, he's high-energy, he's gotta shot and a half ...and he wanted to play here. He turned down more money from the Blue Jackets out of college to play for us. He could be trade bait, but in my honest opinion, you gotta reward that kinda loyalty by keeping him around.
Zac Rinaldo - I love me some Zac Rinaldo. Many a fan wistfully yearn for the days when an enforcer is not a role on an NHL roster. But it's got to be.. Its a physical game and teams need guys like Rinaldo, because he's a fighter but he can also play the game. If anyone else was the coach, I'd say he was a candidate to leave, but Craig Berube is going want a guy like Rinaldo on his bench.
Brayden Schenn - Cue violin. The ONLY thing not making the gigantic Richards/Carter trade-a-palooza a success is Brayden Schenn's inability to break through and play like he deserved the 5th overall pick back in 2009; AND ease the all-too-fresh wound of losing Mike Richards (which may always hurt.) Regardless of what you think about him, A 2-yr deal @ 2.5 a season is a bargain. If he was going to hit the market, he'd have gotten more. Signing that deal means he's got to prove himself. It also means that he knows he's still got to prove himself. Watch for him to do that. At either the wing or at center.
Wayne Simmonds - The fact that Hextall would't send Simmer to Florida in a deal for the #1 pick shows you how much they expect from him next season, especially after the loss of Hartsy.
Petr Straka - An actual speedy European winger. I like him allot, and think he could be an asset moving forward if he continues to progress. He could also potentially see some big-boy minutes next season.
RJ Umberger - Cue the other violin. Many people seem to forget how much Umby was loved during his first go-round with us. Hartsy will be missed, but what Umberger brings to the table is much needed. He's a ton faster, he plays smarter, and the only knock on him is he'll put up less numbers, but the game isn't just about the stats. And any point difference between Hartsy and Umby should be made up by the younger guys on the roster. If they aren't, we have bigger issues on our hands than the loss of a fan-favorite. It was also speculated that Umberger could be flipped to another team via trade, because his contract is more tradable than Hartsy's, but I think that's ridiculous. Umberger gives us speed, smarts and versatility. Hexy didn't trade Hartsy JUST to have a shorter contract on the books. And if he did... Umby could potentially be bought out instead of Vinny.
Voracek - I mean...
Marc-Andre Bourdon - Did EVERYONE forget about Bourdon? I think he'll be in the running to make the roster this year (if he comes back. he was not tendered an offer and will be on the free agency market.) He's young-ish, he's got talent, not much ceiling - but he's cheap and any drop in talent from a current defenseman that they could deal and Bourdon isn't as big as you'd think.
Braydon Coburn - Coburn is both the most tradable defenseman, and the only one I think we need to keep.
Shayne Gotisbehere - Not ready. Soon. But not yet. I love the kid. Google him if you don't.
Nic Grossman - Second-most tradable defenseman. I could personally do without him, he's not awful.. but to me, he epitomizes what's wrong with the D. I actually would've liked to see him go at the deadline in lieu of Mesz, whom I love - and who makes his money doing what the defense lacked as a unit in 2014... puck movement.
Robert Hagg - He could play some big-boy minutes next season, but don't hold your breath. If not next year though.. DEFINITELY the following. I love Hagg, and you will too.
Oliver Lauridsen - I like, and I think most teams would like, having a rotation at the 6th defenseman spot. If we go that route, Lauridsen could split time between LV and PHI next season. He's still young, he's got some promise and he's a BIG dude.
Andrew MacDonald - I lied earlier about Coburn. He's not the only defenseman we need to keep. MacDonald can't go anywhere either.
Luke (per Richardson: THE DUKE) Schenn - Cue the third sad violin. How quick fans forget that JVR was dangerously close to a draft bust before a quick and short-lived flash of ballerdom. A trade to capitalize on that was speculated for a bit before it actually happened, so it wasn't a shock and still isn't a bust. Whether you agree or not, Luke Schenn is still young and could still pan out. I implore Flyer fans to give him one more year.
Mark Streit - This one actually IS sad. I've wanted us to go after Mark Streit for a few offseasons and when we did, we ended up overpaying for sub-par hockey. I still want to believe he's got some gas left in the tank, because in his prime, he was exactly what this defense needs. But If he bounces back though it still probably won't be hockey that's worth his cap hit. And if he doesn't, we are stuck with one of the more immovable contracts in the NHL.
Kimmo Timonen - Love him, love him coming back for one more year and I love the contract.
Steve Mason - We have a legitimate starting goalie. But check Bryz's stat line, beyond the W/L column, and you'll see we HAD a legitimate goalie not too long ago. Before that, not so much. Save for a brief playoff series from Leights, a few seasons from Chico Esche.. It's been a while. With Mase, It's nice to have some consistency at the position, and some consistency from the fans regarding their feelings on the man at the position.
Cal Heeter - He's not ready. I WANT him to be, and I think he'd make a great yang to Mase's yin, but after another season in the minors. If we need him to though, he could come up and provide solid back-up duties. Although he was not tendered an RFA offer. So he'll hit the open market, too.
Now to the off-season moving forward:
Both Schenn's get one more season to break through. Brayden gets a 2nd after this one, but Luke gets JUST this one and I really hope he does his thing. Cout, Giroux, Read, Rinaldo, Simmer, Umby and Jakub aren't going anywhere. That's 8 forwards out of a needed 12. Hall might be back, he might not. I lean towards a 1 yr deal, and if not for him, for a comparable FA veteran. So That makes 9.
Vinny would be 10, but that trade's gotta happen. I'm shocked by the report that Vinny, Brayden Schenn and the 17th pick weren't enough to pry #1 from Dave Tallon. I'm even more shocked that their counteroffer was to swap Simmer in for Schenn.
AND even more shocked that Hexy said no. Especially because there was talk that it was LeCav, Schenn/Simmer, #17 for #1 and Erik Gudbranson (whom I love.) Losing Simmer would've hurt, but that's a fair trade ALL the way around. It might even have been tilted in our favor. But alas, nothing happened.
So assuming we trade Vinny, and assuming we get the BARE minimum for him, which for me, is a mid-rd pick with no cap retention; or an earlier pick with some cap retention. In reality, i think we could manage to grab at least a mid-level prospect, too. One who wouldn't play NHL hockey next season. Which means MUCH needed cap space.
When Pronger's contract comes off the books, that'll take is from -200k to 4.3. If we get Vinny's contract off the books, that's almost 9 million total. Ideally we can clear one more contract out - I vote Grossman. If that's the case, we have 9 forwards, 5 defensemen and a goalie WITH 12.5 million in cap space to fill out the roster. That number includes McGinn, Akeson, and Rosehill. I dont like Rosehill, but he's cheap so you gotta think he'll be in the rotation between lower line and healthy scratch.
The consensus seems to be a push for (another former fan favorite) Michal Handzus or former-Sabre Derek Roy. Both of which, I've got to think would come semi-cheap. Zeus is old but i'm leaning more towards him because he was the 2nd line center in Chicago, so asking him to be the 3/4 line center here isn't outrageous. I predict wherever he goes, he'll go for between 1-3 million, mostly bc of his age. We'll cut the difference and say 2 even. If we lose out on Roy/Handzus, Olli Jokinen is a similar player and would come just as cheap, if not more so. If we are absolutely out of luck, Ville Leino is a candidate who'd command between 750k-1 million on a 1-year deal (any of these guys should only get 1-2 year deals. Preferably 1.) after being a big-money bust. The fun thing about Leino is, like Umberger, he can play at the pivot or at the wing. Which gives Berube even more lineup versatility.
That leaves us with a complete Forward unit, and between 10.5-11.5 to sign two D-men and a goalie.
Ideally, and I mean IDEALLY Matty Niskanen is a target if we can get this much cap space. He'd command around 5 a year, for 7 years. Which I'm okay with. He reminds me of a young Kimmo Timonen. Niskanen is my favorite option, but after that, it gets dicey. I think Erhoff is risky because of his age; he's not old, but the years and money he'd probably command make me nervous. If no one wants him (unlikely, because Detroit went HARD at him not too long ago) and we can take a cheap-ish flier on him, i'm game, but the FA defenseman class is THIN so bet against that happening.
Otherwise, I like Derek Morris, I like Willie Mitchell, I like Stephane Robidas, I like sami Salo. In lieu of Nisky, if we can get any of them for 2 years (or less) and 4 million (or less) - I'm all over it. Danny Boyle can't possibly be an option, he made 6 a year on his last contract even at his age, and I've got to think it's smarter to give that money to Niskanen instead, given his age. Fun fact: Mesz is also a free agent, and again, i woulda rathered we dropped Grossman and kept Andrej, but we didn't. We probably wont go after Andrej again.
Let's, because i want to - for fun - say we get that cap space and manage to get Nisky for 5-6 million a year. He's young, he may be a little underrated, and he could get even better if given the chance. We give him 5-6 and we'd still have between 4-6 million in cap space to sign a backup goalie. That's a NICE cushion considering right now we are over the cap. And it'd get the league off our back, because technically Pronger's contract will count against the cap until opening day and every team needs to be cap compliant at that time.
So as for the goalies, I like Heeter, Miller, Brodeur, Dubnyk, Nabby, Bryz, Vokoun, Khabibulin, Lindback, Giguere, Clemmensen, LaBarbara, Montoya, Peters.
Miller, Brodeur and Nabokov will probably get starter money, so let's get them out of the way right now.
My ideal scenario based off of that list is Dubnyk/Lindback (either would command a cap hit between 1-1.5 million) OR Clemmensen/Montoya (who could probably be signed for 750k-1 million.)
My plan B's are Vokoun, Khabibulin, Giggy, Labarbara - who are all old but serviceable and will command less than a million a year. But Giguere will probably be retiring, per reports, so nevermind on him. Justin Peters is a dark-horse guy who I really like even though he never got a chance to prove himself in Carolina; he'd also come in for about as much as Clemmensen or Montoya would.
So the roster is set and we have 3 million in space. If we have to buy Vinny out though, we'll probably have between 900k-1.5 million though. Which isn't a lot, but it's significantly better than being in the hole.
As far as putting that roster into practice, this is what the lineup would look like:
1: Simmer - Roo - Vorachek
2: Schenn - Cout - Reader
I like Cout at LW, Schenner in the middle. But i'm going off of where they played last season.
3: Umby - Zeus/Leino - Raffl
I think bringing back Zeus AND Leino is a tall order. One or the other would probably suffice. If it's Zeus, he'd be the pivot - if it's Leino, he'd be the LW here and Umby would be the C. Or if you lose out on both, you could plug Akeson in on the wing and have Umberger center them. There'd be a bit less talent, but a higher gear and the added bonus of potential. And if Laughton is playing well, you can move him up here to center Umby and Raffl; and have Akeson center the 4th line. Which...
4: Rinaldo - Laughton - Akeson/McGinn/Rosehill
You start Laughton down on the 4th line just to ease him into playing everyday in the NHL, get him some big boy minutes. The good thing about this roster is the number of guys who can play either down the middle or on the wings.
Defense (in no order):
1: Niskanen - Schenn
If Luke Schenn is ever going to be a consistently solid player, let him get there with a new guy who will complement his hulking frame with speed and puck movement. If he flops, move Coby up here and play Schenn with Timmo. Ideally this is the top 1 or 2 pairing.
2: MacDonald - Streit
If we lose out on Nisky, MacD can play on the top pairing but right now he's down on the 2nd with Streit. If Streit looks awful, move Timmo up here. Ideally this is the 2nd or 3rd pairing.
3: Timmo - Coby
If Timmo looks good at 39, this might be our top pairing. If not, it could be the 2nd or 3rd.
Mase is my starter and I want Clemmensen as his backup, but really if it's any of the guys I mentioned, I'd want in enough to win 10-15 games. With this team, the backup isn't going to go 17-0 like emery did in Chicago two years ago but If he goes 10-10... I'm happy. Because Mase could conceivably win 35-40 himself.
If that's the case, 45-55 wins is a playoff spot. And even if we creep into the post-season, anything can happen. The moves we made here allow us to remain semi-competitive without taking minutes away from younger guys who need to prove themselves. In giving older guys 1-2 yr deals, we also get flexibility in the next offseason and beyond. And after the last two drafts, and any assets we can get in return for Vinny, Hextall can field a competitive team next season while concurrently building for the future.
Best case: 48 wins; 2/3 seed
Worst case: 40 wins; no playoffs