The clock is ticking. It’s ticking and it’s ticking on multiple events. The Philadelphia Flyers season? Absolutely. As of this writing it’s now 26 games into this abbreviated 48-game season and the Flyers are not in playoff position. They’ve played more games than many Eastern Conference teams and still find themselves 4 points out.
One would think changes could be just around the corner. How major? Depends on how the team finishes the season. The dominos could start falling soon barring a major winning streak. Let’s take a look at the possibilities:
1.) Danny Briere
Forward Danny Briere has been one of the most well liked players on the team since arriving in 2007-08. He was part of a free agent class that was majorly hyped and of all the guys signed that offseason (Chris Drury, Scott Gomez, etc), Briere has provided the most bang for the buck from that class. He has been Mr. Playoffs for the Flyers. The problem is with the cap going down to $64.3 million next season, his $6.5 million cap hit is quite large for a guy who has had some durability issues and also some issues dealing with the grind of a full season. If there was no cap, this would be a different story, but if Danny Briere’s not traded this season, he’ll be bought out this offseason in all likelihood.
2.) Ilya Bryzgalov
If you asked me 2 weeks ago I would have leaned to an answer of “80% no” when it comes to the possibility of the Flyers buying out Ilya Bryzgalov’s contract. He looked like he had turned the corner. Now it’s more like 80% yes. One small note: The chances of it happening this offseason aren’t great. However, next summer? I think it’s pretty darn good. At this point, Bryzgalov has been so up and down. He’s proven to be a system goalie, not a goalie that win lose or draw is an almost $6 million dollar cap hit goalie. I’d say the odds of him being bought out eventually are good. He’s due to make $8 million next year in the third year of his front loaded contract.
Assuming things are not disasterous with him being in the locker room, the Flyers may just bring him back next season in what will hopefully be a new and improved system, rather than just pay him two-thirds of a huge salary chunk to go elsewhere. Either way, with how up and down things have been for Bryz, one would think it’d be shocking to see him back after next season where the Flyers risk being stuck with that cap hit for the remaining 6 years. Up and down years with a large cap hit and a decreasing cap doesn’t add up.
3.) Peter Laviolette
The toughest call of all is head coach Peter Laviolette. There’s no doubt that this guy is one hell of a hockey coach. As a guy known for his in-game adjustments, he’s had a really rough year. Sure, not all of it is his fault but you’ll only go as far as your players let you. After a full blown air-it-out session after Saturday’s loss in Boston, the Flyers play over the next week or two will be highly indicative of how firm of a grasp Laviolette still has on the Flyers locker room. That will determine his fate. If it gets really ugly the rest of the season, he could be in danger. Although the ownership group loves him, so the chances of departure even after 1 bad year would probably be no higher than 50/50.
4.) Paul Holmgren
This is a name that not many people throw out there, but as times get tougher it comes up more often. After GM Paul Holmgren put all of his eggs in the proverbial baskets of Shea Weber, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, the Flyers were stuck when it came to free agent additions. Holmgren waited for answers from all 3 players and also the Nashville Predators organization. The Flyers defense has suffered as Matt Carle departed as well as forward Jaromir Jagr who was unhappy with having to wait. Holmgren has also been through a coach and I don’t know that ownership would want another departed coach on the payroll.
With guys like Brian Burke and Flyer favorite Ron Hextall looming out there as possible general manager names, would chairman Ed Snider and COO Peter Luukko consider making a move at GM? There are executives and coaches out there who favor a more defensive and gritty mentality that may slow down and simplify a new system for the Flyers existing players who have had trouble responding to Laviolette this year. It may be unlikely but for the first time in a long time, one would have to say it could be a possibility.
If you look at the Flyers remaining games, they will have to beat a lot of really good teams along to way to climb out of this hole they have theirselves in. How many changes are looming? The results from here on out will tell that story.
Justin Johnson is a Senior Correspondent and has been covering the Philadelphia Flyers for The Hockey Writers since the 2008-09 season. Justin has covered all levels of hockey across the United States and Canada. Justin is a graduate of Rider University in Lawrenceville, NJ and currently resides in Southern New Jersey.