Philadelphia Flyers: Offseason Plan

Now that the Flyers are officially done for the year, I’d like to give a realistic examination of their potential off-season activities.As a preamble, I’d like to state simply that this was a phenomenal year for the Flyers. From the worst in the league to the Conference Finals is an incredible development for any team. Their deliverance from the previous year casts no doubt that, were there an NHL trophy for best GM, Paul Holmgren would be taking home the top honors.

So, now that the devastating final loss has taken place for the Flyers, they must turn their focus to what will end up being one of the most crucial post-lockout free agency periods they will ever face.

These postulations do not take into account the amount of unrestricted free agents available that the Flyers might sign or restricted free agents they might tender offer sheets. This is purely from within the organization up until July 1st.

Unrestricted Free Agents

Jason Smith – D – $1,976,000 in 07-08

History: This grizzled veteran was the other half of the deal that centered on the exchange of struggling prospects Joffrey Lupul and Joni Pitkanen. Philadelphia fans lauded the deal as genius, expecting heavy doses of punishment from the new captain and a reemergence from Lupul.

Status: What fans got were bone-headed penalties, the occasional shoving match, flat-footed transitions, and poor positional play. And to think that it wasn’t only coming from Hatcher. Though Smith proved to be fairly able, particularly in the playoffs, the defense corps only needs one big dumb player, and Hatcher has staked a claim in that spot by improving his positional play and cutting down on his penalties. Smith was also a particularly poor captain. Primeau was a tough act to follow, but everyone in the organization knows that Richards should have had a ‘C’ on his sweater for at least a year now.

Problems: At one point Holmgren said that Smith was the top priority after Richards got signed. A few months later, he made mention of resigning Carter and Umberger, and of Smith he only had to say ‘we’ll see’. A hockey analyst I spoke to some time ago said that what a GM doesn’t say is more revealing. As such, those two words spoke volumes about the organization’s dedication to Smith.

Bottom Line: I can’t see the Flyers resigning him. Parent is much more capable, as he’s proved by providing several games of fast-paced, intelligent positional play. The rumor mill spun out that New Jersey might be interested in him as sort of a proto-Stevens leader. If Holmgren plays his cards right (and he’s a stud at the table) he can trade Smith’s rights to the Devils and get something in return. I will be shocked if he plays another season in Philadelphia.

Vaclav Prospal – C – $1,900,000 in 07-08

History: Many fans were scratching their heads when Holmgren made this under-the-radar deadline deal, but the team’s defensive corps wasn’t going to be too hurt by Picard’s departure, they had just ended a 10 game losing streak, and both Richards and Gagne were out injured. Prospal was having public disagreements with Tortorella and having a career season, so Holmgren and his scouts must have seen something in him that made them think he would be what Gagne was supposed to be to Briere.

Status: Though he virtually disappeared in the latter half of the playoffs after an explosive first game against Washington, Prospal displayed instant chemistry with Briere and a consistently solid forecheck. Holmgren said he wanted to resign him as soon as he was acquired and that notion was only further enforced by his performance.

Problems: A career best on a contract year is never the recipe for smooth negotiations, as Gagne’s camp proved in spades not long ago. Guaranteed Prospal will be looking in the 2.5 – 4.0 million range.

Bottom Line: Career bests or no, his chemistry with Briere was clear and he was a balancing force on the Philadelphia offense. This team gets by on balanced scoring, so expect to see Prospal in orange and black for at least one more year, probably two.

Jaroslav Modry – D – $1,200,00 in 07-08

History: When Holmgren acquired Modry for a third round pick, it seemed like it might be on par with a Clarke-style band-aid move. Reports later surfaced that the Flyers were dangling Carter for Kaberle, but he wouldn’t waive to go to Philadelphia. That made this move seem more out of panic than anything else, and I could immediately see a toothless grin shining down from the front office.

Status: Since I’m not one to mince words, Modry played like an ailing horse that drank itself to death on Banker’s Club Vodka. He was worse of a turnover machine than Patrice Brisebois and Janne Niinimaa combined. When his father died, I entertained the idea that he had become a Flyers fan and committed suicide so Modry would leave the team and let the Flyers win a few games. Yes, morbid and classless, I know, but I’m being frank here.

Problems: He is a problem.

Bottom Line: Considering that keeping Modry on the roster is on par with giving the opposition a 5-on-3 on every third pairing (since his turnovers practically qualify him for a position passing on the other team), I’d say Modry is looking at Europe. I’ll be shocked if he’s in the NHL next year.

Rory Fitzpatrick – D – $550,000 in 07-08

History: Career Highlight – almost selected to the all-star team based on the insanity of Vancouver fans. Apparently still reeling from an unfulfilled Kesler addiction, he was signed in the off-season by the Flyers.

Status: He was a minus 12 in 19 games. Sent to the farm and never heard from again.

Problems: See Modry.

Bottom Line: The Flyers are more likely to rehire Clarke as GM than resign Fitzpatrick, unless it’s to an AHL contract. Wait, since the Flyers are likely to do the former, I’ll say they’re more likely to trade for Lindros again. Even though he’s retired.

Jim Dowd – C – $500,000 in 2007-2008

History: Tried out for the Flyers after having played for virtually half the teams in the NHL. When they realized he wasn’t simply trying to get another free jersey, they signed him to a one year deal.

Status: Though virtually invisible throughout most of the year, Dowd truly delivered in the playoffs. He took important face-offs, turned in solid fore checking, and killed penalties with aplomb.

Problems: He must be running out of gas at this point, and $500,000 is a lot to pay for fourth line minutes with the amount of young talent on the team.

Bottom Line: The Flyers get one of these guys about every year, but few distinguish themselves like Dowd did. I don’t expect the Flyers to re-sign him, but if one rental player earned his keep, it was most certainly Dowd.

Restricted Free Agents

R.J. Umberger – C – $1,250,000 in 07-08

History: When the Canucks and the Rangers failed to sign Umberger with exclusive negotiating rights, he hit the open market and signed near the rookie maximum with Philadelphia. He followed a decent rookie campaign with an abysmal sophomore slump on the worst team in the league (ending on a minus 32).

Status: After his sophomore slump, Umberger responded with a solid 5
0 point outing, then transformed into a monster in the playoffs, scoring a goal in every game against Montreal and ending with ten goals and fifteen points in the playoffs, proving without a doubt that he could show up in the clutch even when shuffled around to different lines.

Problems: This looks to be the biggest challenge of the off-season for Holmgren. Considering that Vancouver couldn’t sign him and traded him to New York, who also couldn’t sign him, I’d say cash is going to be a huge problem here. With a stellar playoff under his belt and a few sly remarks about his displeasure over being shifted around coded in hockey player speak, Umberger is going to be looking for big money that the Flyers won’t want to cough up. With the challenge of signing Prospal and Carter already looming, I’d say this town isn’t big enough for the three of them, even with a bigger cap.

Bottom Line: While ‘greedy’ might not be the right word, Umberger certainly values himself higher than at least two organizations have been willing to pay, and that was before he proved anything in the NHL. Part of me expects arbitration, but Umberger may be smarter than that. 50 points isn’t exactly worth big money, and the playoff performance, though great, probably won’t get much more in the modern NHL. If Umberger acts as his history suggests, he’ll wait that out. The other part of me expects him to be tendered an offer sheet by Edmonton, in keeping with their strategy, and the Flyers will lack the financial breathing room to match. Though I would miss him, I wouldn’t mind the compensatory picks or the package they trade him for out of desperation. If it’s between him and Carter, I don’t expect to see him back.

Jeff Carter – C – $942,000 in 2007-2008

History: Drafted, signed, and started in Philadelphia, Carter seemed to be on the fast track towards the likes of Simon Gagne, posting comparable stats in his first year. When the team took a nosedive, so did his statistics.

Status: I had personally felt that this was the make or break year for Carter. He shoots a lot, but tends to miss the net high and wide. By the time the trade deadline rolled around, he looked terrible, and I was seriously expecting him to be shipped off to Toronto for Sundin or Kaberle. When nothing came of the deal, Carter caught fire, ending the season just one marker shy of 30 goals and putting up career highs in nearly every statistical category. He followed this with a healthy playoff run when, at times, he looked like the most dominant player on the ice.

Problems: Though he still has some problems with shooting high and wide, he takes enough shots to balance it out. He’s made himself responsible enough defensively to be used frequently on the penalty kill, so no foreseeable problems here.

Bottom Line: Signing Carter to a healthy, long term deal could help ease the pain of losing someone like Williams in 2004. He should be the top priority, even before Umberger, so look for four years and, again, 2.5 to 3.5 million a year. Carter adds an interesting dynamic as a scoring center. Since he can’t play wing, he needs a passing winger. Enter Claude Giroux. Obviously chemistry is a weird thing, but I’d be giving the two of them a long, hard look, especially after Giroux’s playoffs in the QMJHL.

Randy Jones – D – $525,000 in 07-08

History: Came up through the ranks after being signed as a free agent, posting steadily better numbers. His improving play was one of the few bright spots for the 06-07 Flyers.

Status: Continued to prove himself as a solid all-around defenseman with 30+ points and a plus 8 rating at the end of the year, and continued to develop in the playoffs, leading the team and, for a time, the league in plus/minus.

Problems: Still occasionally suffers from defensive lapses in transition and can’t be relied upon as a full-time power play quarterback due to difficulties holding the line.

Bottom Line: He’ll never be Paul Coffey or Larry Robinson, but guys that give you this kind of performance and eat minutes effectively are excellent stabilizing influences on the back end. Losing him would be a mistake, and Holmgren knows that. Won’t command more than Coburn for obvious reasons, but could pull between 750k and a mil, probably for two years to prove his worth.

Ryan Potulny – C – $643,000 in 07-08

History: Potulny came up for a cup of coffee in 06-07 and offered up a respectable 12 points in 35 games while remaining a plus on a defensively weak squad.

Status: After posting another strong season on the farm, it seems to be make or break time for Potulny.

Problems: Since he’s making more than some of the Flyers, it might be tough to convince him to keep playing in the minors. He may want to jump ship and play more minutes on a lesser team. The Flyers also have a logjam at center.

Bottom Line: Potulny seems destined to leave the team. Barring a breakdown in talks with some of the other lower-line players and Giroux not being ready, Potulny likely won’t settle for another contract to play on the Phantoms, and I can’t say I blame him. It’ll be tough out there, though, as Peter White found out the hard way.

Stefan Ruzicka – RW – $525,000 in 07-08

History: Along with Sami Kapanen, he is the last remnant of the Lindros trade, having been a third round selection in the 2003 draft.

Status: See Potulny.

Problems: See Potulny.

Bottom Line: Well, I hate to keep referring to Potulny, but that’s about the size of this. They were taken in the same round of the same draft and keep putting up similar numbers. They remind me of Vaclav Pletka and Tomas Divisek of the Phantoms several years ago; talented, but not enough so. For some reason, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Ruzicka still on the Phantoms next year.

Patrick Thoresen – LW – $542,000 in 07-08

History: Snatched off the waiver wire from Edmonton.

Status: After taking one in the groin for the team and returning only two games later, Thoresen can do no wrong in the orange and black. His forechecking would make Eric Lindros blush, and it’s clear that he can develop further.

Problems: Can’t see any that don’t revolve around almost losing a testicle.

Bottom Line: Ed Snider loves tough guys that give it their all, and Thoresen most certainly qualifies. I expect a two year deal in the 500 to 600k range, which should give him enough time to prove what he can develop into.

Speculation

This is a Flyers team that’s shown it’s never too stingy to spend on free agents, and I don’t expect it to be any different this year. The Flyers have had a habit of attracting the best free agents available in previous years (Roenick, Forsberg, Briere, Timonen), but to speculate as to who they’ll be looking for is fairly moot. As I typed that sentence I immediately thought of Hossa, but I promised myself I wouldn’t make specific guesses. The Flyers have plenty of secondary scoring, and the lineup will be instantaneously bolstered by the addition of a healthy Gagne (maybe Gagne-Briere-Prospal?), but I wouldn’t be shocked if the Flyers added another scoring winger and puck moving defenseman and subtracted a center and a physical defenseman.

Probably the most imperative thing this off-season is retaining the core of player
s that made it as far as they did. The last time Philadelphia made it to the Conference Finals, they went about dismantling their lineup and adding three huge defensemen who ended up being ludicrously ineffective. Don’t expect the same mistake twice. I won’t offer specific contracts and potential cap numbers because there are too many variables to make even an educated guess, but rest assured, Holmgren will make it work. I also won’t be so crass as to guess which restricted free agents they will tender offer sheets, make suggestions about trades, or guess who’ll be retiring. Maybe when the rumor mill spins with more force.

Overall Outlook

I’m anticipating the loss of at least one major restricted free agent, but retaining Prospal and Carter, at least, is key. After that, the lineup won’t undergo too much of a shakedown with several able-bodied Phantoms ready to step into a support role and a vast array of free agents. Clearly, going from the bottom of the league to fighting for a spot in the Finals means they did something right and Holmgren will be looking to keep the group together and perhaps add the final piece to the puzzle.


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