Flyers should avoid major moves

Posted: November 23, 2013

Twice in the second period Thursday night, Matt Read flashed the skill set that had been missing from both his play and so much of this Flyers season.

Twice, Steve Downie found him near the Buffalo Sabres' net, and twice Read flicked the puck past goaltender Ryan Miller - a one-timer from the slot, a deft little deke that opened the upper half of the net. Read had the Flyers' first two goals in their 4-1 win Thursday, their fifth victory in their last six games, and the Flyers appear to have settled into Craig Berube's system, to have transformed their season from ragged to relevant, and it's clear now what they ought to do next:

Absolutely nothing.

If the franchise's history is any indication, it will be tempting for general manager Paul Holmgren to make a major move, now that the Flyers have played their way back to the periphery of a playoff berth. He should not. After that awful start and the dismissal of Peter Laviolette as head coach, with the same core of young forwards and a tricky salary-cap situation, the best thing for the Flyers' player-personnel people to do is to be patient, to see how things play out a while.

Remember: The Flyers already have $54.3 million committed against next season's cap, according to the database CapGeek.com. Only three teams in the Eastern Conference have more money committed for 2014-15: the Boston Bruins ($61 million), the Washington Capitals ($60.6 million), and the Pittsburgh Penguins ($54.5 million). Given that the Bruins and Penguins met in the 2013 conference finals and have each won a Stanley Cup in the last half-decade, it's understandable that those franchises would want to keep their rosters intact for as long as possible. The continuity should keep them challenging for championships.

The Flyers made a different choice. In 2011, they traded a pair of players whom they had once pinpointed as the dual centerpieces of their team: Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. That's not a gradual change in direction. It's a swerve, and it's worth noting that not all that much time has passed since the Flyers made that shift. Though the Flyers missed the playoffs in 2013, the NHL's lockout truncated the season to 48 games. Including Thursday's victory, then, the Flyers have played just 69 games - still 13 short of a full regular season - since they reached the second round of the 2012 playoffs.

At the time, one could appreciate that first-round victory over the Penguins and the subsequent five-game loss to the New Jersey Devils as a valuable learning experience for a still-developing nucleus. So how much has changed since then? Claude Giroux is 25. Wayne Simmonds is 25. Jakub Voracek is 24. Brayden Schenn, the team's leading scorer, is 22. Sean Couturier turns 21 next month.

"I tend to forget - there are a lot of 23-, 25-year-olds on the team," center Vinny Lecavalier said. "The way they played last year, they didn't make the playoffs, but it was tough games against them. They're obviously getting better every year."

At 27, Read is the graybeard of that group, and even he is in just his third NHL season. He had showed so much promise by scoring 24 goals as a rookie in 2011-12, and his production hasn't accelerated much since - he has 17 goals over his last 63 games, including six in 21 this season. Nevertheless, he begins a four-year, $14.5 million contract next year, and unlike what they've done recently with Richards, Carter, and James van Riemsdyk, the Flyers might be better served by letting Read and the rest of that group grow together.

"When you're a young team, you play as many games as you can to get the experience," he said. "The more hockey you play, the more you study it off the ice as teammates and linemates, the more knowledge you have and the better hockey I.Q. you have."

Those forwards are the roster's strongest asset at the moment - and the most likely to improve further over the long term. This organization is always in a rush, it seems, to make a quick fix for the sake of the here and now, and Lord knows, these Flyers have their shortcomings. They just have to learn to live with them for a while, to find out what good things might come, too.


msielski@phillynews.com

@MikeSielski

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