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Off-Season Game Plan: Philadelphia Flyers

Scott Cullen
6/6/2013 11:37:15 AM
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After missing the playoffs for only the second time in 18 seasons Philadelphia Flyers are due to make some changes.

Off-Season Game Plan examines a Flyers team that will have to make some tough decisions in order to get under the cap for next season.

The Flyers are big spenders and some of that is coming home to roost this summer as the Flyers may be looking at a couple of compliance buyouts just to get their salary cap situation into a more manageable position.

According to www.capgeek.com, the Flyers have $69.8-million committed to next year's salary cap for 22 players. Considering the cap is $64.3-million, that's going to require some financial shuffling.

First off, the Flyers are likely to have defenceman Chris Pronger on long-term injured reserve, creating nearly $5-million in extra cap room, but if the Flyers are really looking to free up room under the cap, they have the option of using their compliance buyouts. Goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov and forward Danny Briere are natural candidates and buying them out would give the Flyers the kind of room under the cap to be as aggressive as they usually are in the offseason.

Even though the Flyers added Steve Mason, they will still need another goaltender if Bryzgalov is bought out.

The Flyers tried to address Pronger's absence last summer when they signed Nashville Predators defenceman Shea Weber to an offer sheet, that the Predators matched. It was a bold attempt by the Flyers but, since it failed, the Flyers are still left looking for, ideally, a number one defenceman. It's that kind of transaction that may require room to move under the salary cap and the impetus for those buyouts.

Thing is, especially for a team that didn't make the playoffs, the Flyers have lots of talent, particularly up front and that's precisely why the Flyers would take an aggressive approach to fix or upgrade their goaltending and defence.

Another thing about the Flyers is that they are never boring, so it will be fascinating to see how they address their needs this summer.

The TSN.ca Rating is an efficiency rating based on per-game statistics including goals and assists -- weighted for strength (ie. power play, even, shorthanded) -- plus-minus, hits, blocked shots, giveaways, takeaways, penalty differential and faceoffs. (Stats are listed in this format: G-A-PTS, +/-, PIM, GP). Generally, a replacement-level player is around a 60, a top six forward and top four defenceman will be 70-plus, stars will be over 80 and MVP candidates could go over 90. Sidney Crosby finished at the top of the 2013 regular season ratings with a 93.65.

Salary cap information all comes from the indispensable www.capgeek.com.

GM/COACH
Paul Holmgren/Peter Laviolette

Returning Forwards

Player Rating GP G A PTS +/- Cap Hit
Jakub Voracek 76.34 48 22 24 46 -7 $4.25M
Claude Giroux 75.66 48 13 35 48 -7 $3.75M
Wayne Simmonds 69.90 45 15 17 32 -7 $3.975M
Matt Read 68.09 42 11 13 24 +1 $900K
Brayden Schenn 65.55 47 8 18 26 -8 $3.11M
Scott Hartnell 62.33 32 8 3 11 -5 $4.75M
Danny Briere 62.05 34 6 10 16 -13 $6.5M
Maxime Talbot 60.87 35 5 5 10 +2 $1.75M
Sean Couturier 59.58 46 4 11 15 -8 $1.375M
Zac Rinaldo 56.14 32 3 2 5 -7 $750K
Jay Rosehill 52.58 11 1 0 1 -4 $675K

Free Agent Forwards

Player Rating GP G A PTS +/- Class '12-'13 Cap Hit
Simon Gagne 63.19 38 5 11 16 -1 UFA $3.5M
Ruslan Fedotenko 59.69 47 4 9 13 +8 UFA $1.75M
Mike Knuble 58.40 28 4 4 8 -4 UFA $750K
Adam Hall 54.96 37 0 4 4 0 UFA $650K
Jody Shelley 50.81 1 0 0 0 0 UFA $1.1M

Flyers Forwards Usage Chart from somekindofninja.com

23-year-old Jakub Voracek broke through in his fifth NHL season, nearly reaching his career-high of 50 points despite playing a shortened 48-game schedule. Though Voracek played a career-high 17:14 per game, that was still relatively low for his level of production. Among 32 players to score at least 0.90 points per game in 2013, only Toronto's Nazem Kadri has less ice time per game than Voracek, which is too bad because Voracek was a beast last season.

Over the last three seasons, Claude Giroux has accrued 216 points, ranking fourth in the league (behind Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and Henrik Sedin). He wasn't quite as strong in 2013 as he had been the previous two seasons, but Giroux is an elite talent, one that is eligible to sign a big contract extension this summer and the Flyers seemingly have every reason to want to lock up their franchise player.

For a player who gets so physically involved, Wayne Simmonds has stayed remarkably healthy, missing a total of nine games in his first five seasons. Simmonds has thrived with the Flyers, playing a more offensive role, and he's one of four players to have at least 40 goals while racking up at least 150 penalty minutes over the past two seasons. Corey Perry, David Clarkson and Scott Hartnell are the others.

A versatile forward who moves up and down the depth chart while also playing centre or wing, Matt Read ranked second among Philadelphia forwards in ice time, with 18:01 per game. He's older, 26, for a guy with just two NHL seasons under his belt, but Read has proven to be a great signing out of Bemidji State in 2011.

It seems like it's taking quite a while for Brayden Schenn to start producing as befits a top prospect and last season's 26 points in 47 games represented a career best, but he's not yet 22-years-old, so there is certainly time and room for further development.

When considering Schenn's future, it could be noted that Scott Hartnell didn't break through, with a 60-point season, until he was 26. In his first five seasons with the Flyers, Hartnell had missed three games total, then he missed 16 games with a broken foot in 2013 and his production was way down, even though his possession stats were quite strong. One season removed from a career-high 37 goals and 67 points, Hartnell provides a rare combination of scoring and toughness.

Danny Briere will be 36 in October and scored 16 points in 34 games last season, his lowest per-game scoring rate since 1999-2000. With a couple years left on his contract, at a salary lower than his cap hit, Briere is a prime candidate for a compliance buyout.

He's well compensated for his efforts, but Maxime Talbot provides a measure of reliability among the Flyers' bottom six forwards. He took on tough assignments, with zone starts tilted towards the defensive zone and, despite fighting that uphill possession battle, managed to finish as a plus player.

Sean Couturier may not have scored as much as expected in his second season, and his minus-8 rating was a far cry from the plus-18 of his rookie year, but the 20-year-old takes on an incredible amount of responsibility, especially given his age. He's such a sound two-way player that he's always going to provide value, but he showed in junior and in half an AHL season (when he scored 28 points in 31 games) that there is still offensive potential waiting to blossom.

In 98 career games, Zac Rinaldo has 14 points, 20 fights, 318 hits and 317 penalty minutes. He's a wrecking ball that wreaks havoc on the fourth line, but can be overmatched if he's asked to do too much.

Jay Rosehill has six points and 22 fights in 83 career games, but showed enough in 11 games, playing a career-high 6:48, with the Flyers that he landed a two-year contract extension. He struggles with the non-fighting portion of his part-time role.

Free agent wingers Ryane Clowe, Nathan Horton and David Clarkson offer the combination of talent and toughness that the Flyers (among other teams) tend to find appealing.

Returning Defence

Player Rating GP G A PTS +/- Cap Hit
Kimmo Timonen 75.57 45 5 24 29 +3 $6.0M
Luke Schenn 69.11 47 3 8 11 +3 $3.6M
Niklas Grossman 64.27 30 1 3 4 -1 $3.5M
Braydon Coburn 61.85 33 1 4 5 -10 $4.5M
Bruno Gervais 60.12 37 1 5 6 -17 $825K
Andrej Meszaros 59.98 11 0 2 2 -9 $4.0M
Marc-Andre Bourdon             $613K

Free Agent Defence

Player Rating GP G A PTS +/- Class '12-'13 Cap Hit
Erik Gustafsson 67.24 27 3 5 8 -1 RFA $900K
Kurtis Foster 64.02 23 1 4 5 0 UFA $950K
Kent Huskins 58.87 19 0 1 1 -3 UFA $750K

Flyers Defence Usage Chart from somekindofninja.com

38-year-old Kimmo Timonen remains the anchor on the Flyers' blueline, for better or worse. Ideally, they would still have Chris Pronger, or their Shea Weber offer sheet would have gone through but, absent one of those top tier blueliners, Timonen is the guy and he's rock solid for 21 minutes a game, night after night.

Acquired from Toronto for James van Riemsdyk, Luke Schenn is going to be hard-pressed to give the Flyers equal value, but he was decent in nearly 22 minutes per game last season. He led all defencemen with 187 hits and had okay possession numbers considering he was often facing quality opposition.

Since he came into the league in 2006-2007, Niklas Grossman has been a steady enough defensive defenceman, with minimal offensive contribution. His 0.13 points per game (51 in 385 games) ranks fifth-lowest among defencemen to have played at least 300 games. He knows his role, does his job and it's up to coaches to accept his limitations because they are not going to change now.

Braydon Coburn struggled in 2013, quite possibly his worst year since arriving in Philadelphia, yet he played 22:37 per game, the second-highest time on ice of his career. He has good size and skates well, but turned the puck over too often last season. When he's on his game, Coburn makes a terrific breakout pass but, apparently, when he's not, the other team gets more of those passes.

Even in a depth role, Bruno Gervais took his lumps in his first year with the Flyers, his minus-17 rating in 37 games counting among the league's worst, even if his possession numbers were merely subpar. He's played 418 NHL games and has yet to have a plus season.

Shoulder woes limited Andrej Meszaros to just 11 games in 2013, and he was a disaster when he did play, but it can be attributed to injury because, when healthy, the 27-year-old has been a steady top four defenceman throughout his career.

Sidelined by post-concussion problems, Marc-Andre Bourdon still has a year remaining on his contract and he could fill a role on the blueline if healthy, but predicting concussion recovery, particularly after he's missed a full season already, is risky business. Hopefully, the 23-year-old will eventually have a chance to resume his career.

Erik Gustafsson doesn't have ideal size, but he can move the puck and does it well enough to hold down a regular spot. He handled more than 20 minutes per game last season and, given the characteristics of others on the Flyers blueline, his brings something different to the table.

Assuming that Pronger's myriad of injuries don't miraculously heal, then the Flyers are apt to keep looking for a top pair defenceman. An unrestricted free agent like Mark Streit could help, but the Flyers have a tendency to go bolder, whether that's via trade or maybe looking at another restricted free agent blueliner. Alex Pietrangelo, Zach Bogosian, Ryan McDonagh, Kevin Shattenkirk and Slava Voynov are some of the better RFA options that the Flyers could target.

Returning Goaltenders

Player Rating GP W L OTL GAA SV% Cap Hit
Steve Mason 72.09 20 7 8 1 2.59 .916 $1.5M
Ilya Bryzgalov 62.13 40 19 17 3 2.79 .900 $5.667M

There are few positions as maligned as that of Philadelphia Flyers Goaltender. Ilya Bryzgalov was supposed to be the answer to those problems but, in two seasons, has a .905 save percentage, which ranks 34th among 38 goaltenders to have played at least 50 games. It's not going to be cheap to buy out Bryzgalov but, with the opportunity to avoid a cap hit with a compliance buyout, it's the best way to get a fresh start at the position.

As noted above, Bryzgalov was 34th in save percentage over the last two seasons. His heir apparent, Steve Mason, was 37th with a .901 save percentage. Mason was stellar (1.90 GAA, .944 SV%) in seven games with the Flyers, after he was acquired from Columbus, but....it was seven games! Before that late surge, Mason had spent the better part of the last four seasons -- ever since winning the Calder Trophy in 2008-2009 -- as one of the worst starting goaltenders in the league.

The Flyers signed Mason to a contract extension, which is fine if they think they can turn around his career, but if they harbour hopes of being competitive next season, they can't just go with Mason and some random backup off the street. If they stick with their big and bold strokes, maybe the Flyers take a run at Buffalo's Ryan Miller via trade or try to lure Tim Thomas out of retirement.

If not, picking a free agent that can compete with Mason and even take over if Mason falters is imperative. Ray Emery, Jose Theodore, Nikolai Khabibulin and Anton Khudobin are a few of the more intriguing options available in free agency.

Top Prospects

Player Pos. Team/League Stats
Scott Laughton C Oshawa (OHL) 23-33-56, +22, 49 GP
Brandon Manning D Adirondack (AHL) 6-15-21, -28, 65 GP
Shayne Gostisbehere D Union (ECAC) 8-18-26, +19, 36 GP
Anthony Stolarz G London (OHL) 13-3-2, 2.29 GAA, .920 SV%
Tye McGinn LW Adirondack (AHL) 14-12-26, -9, 46 GP
Nick Cousins C Sault Ste. Marie (OHL) 27-76-103, +19, 64 GP
Oliver Lauridsen D Adirondack (AHL) 1-5-6, -2, 59 GP
Marcel Noebels C Adirondack (AHL) 13-10-23, even,43 GP
Jason Akeson RW Adirondack (AHL) 20-33-53, -6, 62 GP

Last year's first-round pick, Scott Laughton started the year in Philadelphia and then had a strong season once returned to the Ontario Hockey League. He's a gritty two-way centre who could play a hard enough game to potentially handle fourth-line duty next season.

A battler who has 216 penalty minutes in 111 AHL games, Brandon Manning has played 10 games with the Flyers over the past two seasons and may not be far off from getting a chance at a more permanent spot.

A skilled, and small, blueliner who was born in Florida, Shayne Gostisbehere was a third-round pick last summer and continues to excel for Union College, not exactly a traditional hockey powerhouse. He can use at least one more season in college to keep getting stronger as he prepares to make the jump.

6-foot-6 goalie Anthony Stolarz was a second-round pick in 2012, and ended up leaving the University of Nebraska-Omaha to join the London Knights of the OHL. The Flyers need help in net, but the 19-year-old needs time to develop at his own pace and get into more game action.

Tye McGinn is a rising power forward who played 18 games (five points, even rating) for Philadelphia last season. With a little more speed, he would have a better shot at climbing the depth chart.

A scrappy centre whose point totals increased every year in the OHL, Nick Cousins was a third-round pick in 2011 and is ready to take his game to the next level. Some time in the AHL will help determine how quickly he's ready to challenge for a spot among Philadelphia's deep forward ranks.

The 6-foot-6 Dane out of St. Cloud State, Oliver Lauridsen, played 15 games (three points, even rating) for Philadelphia last season. He has limitations when it comes to puck skills, but has the size to at least work in a depth role.

Forced to start the season in the ECHL, while the likes of Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier were playing centre for Adirondack, Marcel Noebels moved up for the second half of the season and showed some skills. The German-born forward, who played in the Western Hockey League, could use more time to develop.

Undrafted out of Kitchener in the OHL, Jason Akeson just keeps scoring (108 points in 138 AHL games) so the Flyers have been forced to take notice. He may not be more than a good scorer in the minors, but he scored a goal in his only NHL game and might warrant a longer look at some point.

A second-round pick of Columbus in 2010, Petr Straka wasn't signed, but then he ripped through the QMJHL as an overager and landed a contract with the Flyers. He's one of the spring signings -- along with QMJHL defenceman Maxim Lamarche, collegiate playmaker Kyle Flanagan and Swedish wildcard Michael Raffl -- that the Flyers have added to bolster their prospect pool.

DRAFT
11th - Max Domi, Nikita Zadorov, Ryan Pulock

FREE AGENCY
According to www.capgeek.com, the Flyers have approximately $69.8M committed to the 2013-2014 salary cap for 22 players.

Check out my possible Flyers lineup for next season on Cap Geek here.

Needs: One top six forward, one top four defenceman, goaltender.

What I said the Flyers needed last year: One top four defenceman, veteran backup goaltender.

They added: Ruslan Fedotenko, Luke Schenn, Bruno Gervais.

TRADE MARKET
Danny Briere, Andrej Meszaros.

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.

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