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Flyers’ Forwards: Team Toughness, Leino, Carter, Versteeg, etc.

24 May

Another big part of the Flyers’ off-season will be the re-signing of their forwards. Ville Leino, Dan Carcillo, Darroll Powe, Nikolai Zherdev, and Andreas Nodl will all be free-agents on July 1st, and the Flyers don’t have the cap space to accommodate all of them. Not all of them will be re-signed, especially with guys like Wellwood, Rinaldo, and Holmstrom hoping to crack the Flyers line-up during training camp. The forwards this year were arguably as deep as any other team, but they lacked execution during the second half of the season and could not seem to fully sync for more than a game at a time in the playoffs. There are a lot of options this off-season to fix the team, and many overlook the play of our forwards because of the goalie situation this playoff. But there definitely was something missing from our forward corps this season, so how can they fix it?

Toughness
The Flyers were skating hard, getting on the forecheck, and playing physical during the opening months of the 2010-2011 NHL season. However, when you look at a team like the Boston Bruins who are built for the playoffs, it’s hard to match their size and grit when most of our forwards are under-sized. The Flyers were not only out-worked in their semi-final rematch with Boston, but they were physically beaten up and down the ice. For whatever reason, the spark from the beginning of the year and the previous year was gone, and the physical play never got going. Flyers hockey has a history of being tough and in-your-face, but even energy guys like Powe and Carcillo could not get the team going in the playoffs. Some attest this to the lack of Lappy’s presence on the ice this year, and there might be some truth to that. Maybe it was the injuries to our guys, mainly Mike Richards who always seemed to make a big hit last season to spark the team. For whatever reason, the physicality needed to wear an opposing team’s defense down in the playoffs was not there. If the Flyers do not go for a big-name, high-priced goalie this summer, I expect them through free-agency and trade to add some grit to their line-ups.

Scott Hartnell was battling a hip injury for most of the season and could not seem to get his usual blue collar work along the boards in the offensive zone down the stretch. It made it harder for Leino and Briere to find room, thus limiting the line’s effectiveness compared to last year. I’d like to see the Flyers add someone to line-up either from another team or bringing up a young guy who can be an effective checker for our third line. He doesn’t have to be huge, but he needs to want to play. Younger guys usually are more likely to play a more physical game since they are trying to establish themselves, and I see Zac Rinaldo replacing Dan Carcillo next year on the fourth line.

As far as guys on the market goes, there are some cheap options available, and it’s just a matter of who management likes if they feel they need to address the issue this off-season. Some fans have pointed to enforcer-type center Zenon Konopka from the Islanders who comes pretty cheap, but do we really want to add those penalty minutes to the roster when a guy like Shelley is still signed for another two seasons? Not to mention that Blair Betts is our fourth line center and I don’t see him going anywhere. I personally think Ruslan Fedotenko would be a welcome addition back to Philadelphia after enjoying stints with the Lighting and the whole Atlantic Division, including division rivals the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers. He only commanded a $1 million cap hit last year, and could be a nice addition to our second or third line. I could see him having some chemistry with Richards, but we’ll see. He made the Rangers through a try-out last year, and I think the Flyers might be able to get a good price on him if they wait till the dust settles after the first day or two of the free-agent frenzy. It’s all speculation at this point, but I think if the Flyers can address their grit with one or two players and still solve the goalie situation through bringing someone else in or getting Bobrovsky up to speed, we should be in good shape next year.

Ville Leino
The biggest free-agent the Flyers have this summer is unrestricted free-agent Ville Leino who came to our organization in a trade from Detroit last year. He only takes $800,000 off the cap currently, but will be looking for a substantial raise after proving to be an important cog in our playoff run and most of our season this year. He seemed to rejuvenate Danny Briere’s game the past season and a half, and he is one of our few true wingers on our roster with a surplus of centers. I think Leino needs to come back to the Flyers, but only if the price is right. He’s probably going to be looking for a salary around $3 million. I don’t see the Flyers going any higher than that. Giroux is getting $3.75 million, and he plays on both sides of the ice, penalty kill and powerplay. Leino is clearly an offensive player, but his defensive play improved greatly this year. I think a deal around $2.8 million would be sufficient for Leino after he saw a drop in production down the stretch. His spotty play this season because of his hip injury (sound familiar?) might have helped the Flyers sign him for a more reasonable price, and I’m sure he wants to stay in Philadelphia after having trouble playing in Detroit. The change of scenery worked very well for him, but if he tests the market, he could probably get paid more in another city. If he tries to raise his price up this off-season, I say the Flyers let him walk. Our cap space is too limited at this point to get in a bidding war with another team that might just be looking to hurt us.

Powe and Nodl; Carcillo and Zherdev
Daroll Powe and Andreas Nodl, in my opinion, are coming back next year. Their cheap price tag and ability to play on our bottom lines as defensive forwards makes them hard to pass up. Powe is a great penalty-killer and did great in replacing Betts when he had injury problems this season. Nodl found his offensive game this year as well, although that tapered off after the beginning of the season. I still think these guys deserve to be on the roster, and I don’t see them making much more money (if not the same) than they do currently.

Dan Carcillo and Nikolai Zherdev will probably not be back because of cap reasons and their value compared to their salary. I am a pretty big fan of Carbomb, but the Flyers are not going to offer him a contract that he’ll probably agree with, and I expect him to walk. The same can be said with Nikolai Zherdev, even though he scored a good amount of goals for his limited ice-time. We need his money to help pay Giroux and Carter’s new contracts. I’ll be surprised if Carcillo returns, but I will be even more surprised if Zherdev somehow re-signs with us.

Our Core Forwards; Carter and Versteeg?
As far as I see it, the following forwards are integral to our team and are not trade-able in the next season or so:
Claude Giroux, James VanRiemsdyk, Mike Richards, and Danny Briere. Maybe Jeff Carter.
Other top forwards such as Scott Hartnell and Kris Versteeg own some decent cap hits and might need to be moved in order to sign a goalie, other forwards, or defensemen in the coming seasons.

I am by no means a Jeff Carter hater, I think he has a lot of talent and is a decent two-way player. He’s one of our better face-off takers and scores a lot of goals. My main gripe with him is what everyone else says; his lack of “clutchness” and his unwillingness to use his size. When Jeff Carter plays a physical game, he is unstoppable. I remember a game against the Senators (I believe) this year where he was the best player on the ice. He was crashing the crease, strong along the boards, and was hungry for the puck everywhere. I wish that Jeff Carter showed up more often instead of the one that skates down the wing and shoots. In this salary cap age, the Flyers have too many centers and not enough wingers. Claude Giroux is untouchable, even though he can play wing. Richards is our captain, and has a no-movement clause kicking in next year. Danny Briere has a huge contract that not many teams will take, and he has a no-movement clause. Carter, even though he’s a good player, is the odd-man out in this situation with his new contract giving him a raise from $5 million to $5.27 million until 2022. That contract is going to be hard to move, and I don’t know why Holmgren decided to give him that many years. What happened if he gets injured or something goes wrong with the team? The price tag isn’t terrible, but the length is. I can only see a few teams being interested in taking on that much weight. Carter and Richards are too comfortable with each other and have been playing on the same team since juniors. I think splitting them up might go a long way in helping Richards develop into a more mature captain. If his drinking buddy isn’t around, maybe he can limit his nightlife activity? I’m not saying it’s a huge problem like some media members like to make it out to be, just a theory.

Scott Hartnell also has a no-movement clause with two years left at $4.2 million. Some teams might be interested in him and his cap space could be cleared to sign a goalie/other players, but he’d have to agree to be traded. Nashville would probably love to have him back, and I’m sure he wouldn’t mind going there. But I don’t see him wanting to leave with our team so close to the Cup. Kris Versteeg was a failed experiment this year but I’m not giving up on him yet. He was adjusting to the new team and system after being shipped around a few times since he won the Stanley Cup and terribly rapped. I think a full off-season with the team after recovering from his abdominal injury/surgery could do him good. That doesn’t mean he’s untouchable, though. He has one year left on his contract and will be making a little over $3 million against the cap. That space could be useful as well, but who knows what Paul Holmgren will do.

Some have speculated a package deal with Hartnell/Versteeg with Matt Carle, or Carter thrown somewhere in the mix. I doubt Holmgren will actively shop Carter, and many teams are going to ask for VanRiemsdyk or Giroux if the Flyers are going for a big name player. The lack of draft picks makes it hard to make a trade, so maybe the Flyers trade one of these guys to stock on picks to help fill our dwindling prospect pool? If the Flyers do not sign/trade for a goalie in the coming months, I fully expect them to add a forward or two. What do you think the Flyers should do?

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