What do they even do? Through the six games the Flyers have played this season, they are 28th in goals against, and 29th on the penalty kill. Steve Mason’s GAA is nearing 4.00, and his save percentage is South of .900. This is a team with a no identity and a team that is running themselves into the ground fast. That being said, is it time the Flyers make some moves? And if so, what moves should they and can they make?
The Offense and the Brayden Schenn Issue
The Flyers haven’t performed that bad on defense through the first six games. Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, and Wayne Simmonds all have seven points through six
games. However the Flyers are in a mighty struggle to find a winger that can play along with Voracek and Giroux. Michael Raffl just looks completely lost along side these two. There have been tons of errant passes and times he has just looked out of place. So trading away Scott Hartnell may have cut down on the penalties, but it no doubt left a huge void to be filled on the first line. Hartnell-Giroux-Voracek had a weird type of chemistry, but it worked game in and game out, and it was a huge reason the Flyers turned the ship around last year. That chemistry is gone now, and the Flyers are still looking to get it back.
Brayden Schenn was given a chance alongside Giroux and Voracek earlier in the season, but that also didn’t seem to work out to well, especially considering Schenn is naturally a center. According to NHL.com, the Flyers have eight, yes eight, centers listed on their current roster. Trying to force center’s to play on the wing is causing a huge problem not only with chemistry, but with positioning as well. So once again, where do the Flyers go from here?
Ron Hextall wasn’t exactly handed the best job in hockey when he inherted the mess that Paul Holmgren had created. It started off with Paul Holmgren pulling the trigger in trading James van Riemsdyk for Luke Schenn. Toronto must have been chomping at the bit when this trade was put on their plate. Luke Schenn had already played four seasons in the NHL when he was traded to the Flyers. He was a career minus-23 in those seasons with the Leafs, and posted 75 points. Luke Schenn wasn’t a bad defenseman, but he was slow, and that was the last thing the Flyers needed considering the hefty cap hit Schenn carried.
The other kicker to this trade was getting rid of a winger who was really poised to break out in James van Riemsdyk. If JVR were still here, odds are he’d be playing alongside Voracek and Giroux. He is no doubt the type of power-forward that the 1st line could use infront of the net, and as a plus side, van Riemsdyk has a pretty good set of hands on him. He would have been the perfect fit, and with the way Luke Schenn has been playing, I think it’s pretty obvious who lost that trade.
So now, what’s done is done, van Riemsdyk was let go, and Vinny Lecavalier came into the picture. Paul Holmgren awarded Vinny Lecavalier a 5 year, $22.5 million contract. Off the top, this may have looked like a good deal, but break it down and it was awful, for a number of reasons. The first reason is that the Flyers already had three solid centers on their roster. Claude Giroux, Brayden Schenn, and Sean Couturier. Vincent Lecavalier is undoubtedly not a fourth line center, and neither is any of the other guys mentioned. So where do all the centers go? The second reason is that Vinny Lecavalier had only played one full season in his last 5 due to injuries, and also his point production was drastically decreasing after his high mark in 2006-2007 (52-56-108).
The Flyers needed to find a way to get rid of Lecavalier this past offseason, and they didn’t. Because of this, they are now stuck in a tough spot with Brayden Schenn. Schenn is naturally a center, and the Flyers have constantly tried to put him on the wing, and it just hasn’t worked. Still, despite playing out of his normal position, Schenn is creating scoring chances for the team, can you imagine if he was playing where he is comfortable? Signing Lecavalier really threw the Flyers in a bad spot with an overload of centers. It’s messing with guys who should be coming into their own at the positions they have played their whole careers.
It’s also a shame that the Flyers are stuck with too many centers, since Scott Laughton is appearing more and more NHL ready with each shift he takes. So if the Flyers want to be strong at the center position, what do they do?
Lecavalier is signed through the 2017-2018 season, and with a cap hit as large as his, he probably is almost untradable, unless the Flyers prety much give him away. Brayden Schenn is signed through next season, but it would almost certainly be a mistake to let him walk, given that he hasn’t hit his prime, and the Flyers have
been severely bitten by that in the past (see: JVR or Patrick Sharp) and Claude Giroux isn’t going anywhere. The most viable option I could see is the Flyers trying to trade away Lecavalier, while maybe retaining some of his cap hit, it may be the only way to get a team to take him. If the Flyers did this, they could have Giroux, Schenn, Couturier and Laughton down the middle. Laughton could fit very well on the fourth line centering, say, Jason Akeson and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, both of whom have looked pretty impressive. So if the Flyers retained even $2 million of Lecavaliers $4.5 million hit, and called Laughton up, they would clear up nearly $1.6 million in cap space (Laughton’s cap hit would be $863,000).
To me, that would be a win for the Flyers. You are allowing Schenn to play where he feels comfortable, and a top prospect would have a chance to hone his skills in the NHL. Of course, that wouldn’t fill the void for a winger on the first line, but clearing up cap space to sign one is a start.
The Sluggish Defense
The defense is pretty much a black and white situation for the Flyers, and Ron Hextall is no doubt aware of this.Gone are the days where you could thrive off of having big defenseman that were slow, but could take the body. It just doesn’t
work anymore. The 2004-2005 lockout cracked down on all the obstruction penalties, and ever since then the Flyers have been stuck in the past, signing big defenseman instead of focusing on speed which is how a good defense thrives in today’s NHL. When the Flyers made their miraculous run to the Cup Final in 2010, they did so off of a defense that focused on quickness rather than size. That year, their defensive top four consisted of Matt Carle, Chris Pronger, Brayden Coburn, Kimmo Timonen. Ryan Parent, Oscars Bartulis and Lucas Krajicek split the rest of the time between the bottom two. The only big defenseman the Flyers had was Chris Pronger, and 56% percent of his 79 penalty minutes were from stick infractions (hooking, holding, slashing) or interference. As a comparison Matt Carle (who I would consider a quick defenseman) had 100% of his penalties come from stick infractions. However, it’s also worth noting that Matt Carle also only accumulated 16 penalty minutes that season.
My point in context is that the year the Flyers went to the Cup Final, they had a good balance between defenseman were fast and defenseman who were big. The difference was is that despite Chris Pronger not having blazing speed, he was outstanding positionally. Luke Schenn and Nick Grossmann don’t excel in either of those areas.
If the Flyers want to excel on defense, and build a strong defense for years to come, then they need to step away from the big, slow moving defenseman. Paul Holmgren banked on guys like Grossmann and Schenn to make up for what Matt Carle and Chris Pronger brought to the table, and it has failed miserably. Luke Schenn is under contract until the end of next season with a no trade claus
e and a $3,600,000 cap hit, and Nick Grossmann is under contract until the end of next season with a 3,600,000 cap hit and a no trade clause. The only thing that should tell Flyers fans is that this defense isn’t getting any better anytime soon.
Theoretically, let’s say the Flyers try and make some moves over the summer, not until this season is over. They would need to do alot of work to move Schenn or Grossmann, in a very short amount of time. They would need to convince them to waive their NTC’s, and then find a team that would be willing to take one of them in a trade. But then, who fills the void? The Flyers have plenty of defensive prospects in the system and defensive prospects that looked very impressive in training camp.
Shayne Gostisbehere continued to put on a show in Philadelphia in the preseason, showing his slick skating skills and rocket of a shot. He already has 2 points in his first 3 games this season in Lehigh Valley, and he has looked pretty darn good in the process. Samuel Morin really surprised some people this year in training camp as he looked very impressive as well, and seemingly came pretty close to making the opening night roster before he was sent back to his junior team in Rimouski, where he has already put up 3 points in his first 5 games. Mark Alt and Robert Hagg are also two viable options when it comes to giving the young guys a shot at cracking the big leagues,
The Flat Start Goaltending
There isn’t too much to talk about here. Steve Mason is having a rough start to the season, there is no two ways about that. However, as this article breaks down, Steve
Mason has historically looked bad to start off his seasons, and then improved. There is no reason to think differently this year. The Flyers as a team haven’t played well infront of Mason, and that was the same problem they faced to start last season. I expect Mason to improve as the Flyers move along.
They also have a solid backup in Ray Emery who gave an outstanding performance against the division rival Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday Night. So there really shouldn’t be any controversy here…..yet.
Putting It All Together
The important thing to remember is all of this would happen in a perfect world. The problem here is that it’s not a perfect world. Could the Flyers get rid of Vincent Lecavalier? Maybe, he’s another player with a no movement clause. But if they want to give the highly touted Scott Laughton a shot, and allow Brayden Schenn back to his natural position, then they’re going to need to do everything in their power to try and move him. The same goes for the Luke Schenn and Nicklas Grossmann. If the Flyers want to see what their defensive prospects can bring to the table on the big stage, then they’re going to need to try and get rid of some of these guys.The hidden upside to all of this? Cap space. Say the Flyers run into the best case scenario, they are able to move Grossmann, Schenn, and Lecavalier. Combine that with the guys who’s contract’s are up next year (Notables: Del Zotto, Schultz, Emery, Bellemare, and Akeson), the guys the Flyers could theoretically add (Morin, Gostisbehere, and Laughton), and the cap going up next year (assume it goes up 7% as it did this year, so it would be around $74 million), and the Flyers would have given themselves nearly $21,000,000 in cap space for 2 forward spots, 1 defensive spot, and a backup goalie spot. So even if the Flyers didn’t want to use Ghost, Morin, or Laughton next year, they would still have plenty, and I mean plenty of capspace to work with. Mike Green, Marc Staal, Johnny Boychuk, and Johnny Oduya, and Barrett Jackman are just a few defensive free agents available after this season, and quite frankly, I’d take any one of them over Grossmann or Schenn.
It boils down to getting bad contracts off the book for the Flyers, and the ones that stick out like a sore thumb are Grossmann, Schenn, and Lecavalier. Forget even bringing up the prospects, if Hextall can get rid of some of the bad contracts by some miracle, the Flyers will set themselves up pretty well for years to come. It may take a few tough seasons to get there, but they will get there. And that is what the Flyers will have to do if they want to get better.
Matt is a contributor for the Philadelphia Flyers at The Hockey Writers. He has previously covered the Flyers for GrandstandU. He enjoys playing hockey and making music in his spare time.