The Philadelphia Flyers enter the (potential) 2012-13 season possessing significant scoring punch, but also with concerns over their defense and goaltending depth.
Their strong forward lines led the Flyers to a tie for second overall in goals-per-game (3.17) and the fifth-best power play last season.
One significant reason was the returns GM Paul Holmgren received for trading away star forwards Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. The addition of younger, affordable forwards Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier significantly bolstered the Flyers forward depth.
A pleasant surprise was left winger Matt Read, emerging from four years of college hockey to lead all NHL rookies in goals (24) last season.
Factor in the rise of center Claude Giroux to superstar status, left winger Scott Hartnell’s strong physical style and winger Daniel Briere’s clutch post-season scoring, and the Flyers should be an offensive force this season.
Still, that didn’t prevent Holmgren from shopping around for veteran depth this past summer.
It was believed Holmgren offered up left winger James van Riemsdyk for Ryan during the 2012 NHL draft weekend, but the Ducks supposed asking price of Couturier was a deal breaker.
Holmgren subsequently shipped van Riemsdyk to Toronto for defenseman Luke Schenn as one of several moves to address a blueline hobbled by Chris Pronger’s career-threatening concussion and the loss of Matt Carle via free agency.
In addition to adding Schenn, Holmgren re-signed Nicklas Grossman, who acquitted himself well after joining the Flyers via trade late last season from Dallas.
The Flyers also have some promising young defensemen in their system. Marc-Andre Bourdon made a good impression in his NHL debut and Erik Gustafsson is expected to see more playing time this season.
None of them, however, can replace Pronger, plus there’s also concern over 37-year-old Kimmo Timonen, who is coming off back surgery.
That’s why Holmgren unsuccessfully attempted in July to sign away Shea Weber from the Nashville Predators with a 14-year, $110 million offer sheet.
Though the Predators matched the offer, speculation persists around the NHL blogosphere the cost-conscious club won’t be able to afford Weber long term, giving rise to talk of the Flyers trying to land him via trade, as his new contract lacks a no-trade clause.
By signing the offer sheet, however, Weber cannot be traded for an entire calendar year, ruling out any notion of the Flyers – or anyone else – pursuing him this season.
As for the Flyers long-time goaltending woes, Holmgren believed he’d addressed those in June 2011 by acquiring Ilya Bryzgalov from the Phoenix Coyotes and re-signing him to a nine-year, $51 million contract.
That deal was subsequently criticized when Bryzgalov struggled to adjust to his first season in Philadelphia, but Holmgren remains hopeful the enigmatic netminder will rebound in 2012-13.
He’d better, or else the Flyers will have an expensive mistake on their books, with journeyman Michael Leighton as Bryzgalov’s backup and the untested Niko Hovinen in their system if Bryzgalov falters again.
The contents of a new NHL collective bargaining agreement will also factor into any moves by Holmgren.
With more than $66.6 million in payroll for 2012-13, the Flyers could be forced to shed salary over the next year or two if, as expected, the salary cap is significantly reduced under the new CBA.
In recent years, Holmgren garnered a well-deserved reputation for his ability to bolster the Flyers with limited cap space. A new CBA with new rules regarding salaries and a reduced cap, however, will put his skills to the test.
Rumor Roundup appears Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and Kukla’s Korner.