Inside the Flyers: After a trade-deadline tweak, Flyers need a big defenseman in offseason

Posted: March 10, 2014

TORONTO - Say what you will about Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren, but the man truly believes in the team he has assembled.

Need proof?

Consider this: With his job possibly hanging in the balance - if the Flyers miss the playoffs for a second straight year, one wonders if the big boss, Ed Snider, will remain patient - Holmgren only tweaked his roster at the trade deadline. In separate deals, he acquired Andrew MacDonald from the Islanders and dealt Andrej Meszaros to Boston.

The Flyers got quicker and seemed to slightly upgrade their third defensive pairing, but the moves didn't drastically alter the roster.

In other words, it's not just schtick, not just GM-speak. Holmgren really does believe his often-repeated refrain: "I really like our team."

If not, he would have made a serious pitch for Winnipeg defenseman Dustin Byfuglien.

"We got the person we targeted," Holmgren said, referring to MacDonald.

Holmgren said he was confident in his forwards and didn't think an upgrade was needed, turning his back on high-scoring "rental" wingers such as Thomas Vanek and Matt Moulson.

So, for better or worse, the Flyers will try to win the Stanley Cup with a close-knit team that, quite frankly, has made amazing strides since its October swoon.

"They've been through a lot together - the poor start, the coaching change - and they've battled back, and I think they deserve to stick together and see where they can go," Holmgren said.

The Flyers got off to a franchise-worst 1-7 start. Since then, they were 32-17-6 entering Saturday.

Claude Giroux, the Flyers captain, appreciates the patience Holmgren has shown with this team.

"I remember at the start of the year, there were a lot of rumors of guys getting traded, and Homer [Holmgren] came up to us and said, 'Guys, don't worry. I have a lot of confidence in you. Just go out there and play your game and you guys will be fine,' " Giroux said. "He said that when we were 1-7, and for him to believe in us and know we have a team that can win games, it kind of helped us get the confidence we needed."

From this viewpoint, the Flyers are a playoff team, but because of their mediocre defense, everything will have to fall perfectly - favorable playoff matchups, goalie Steve Mason going on a lights-out stretch, timely production from all four lines - for the Flyers to be serious Cup contenders.

Is that too much to ask? Probably.

That's why Holmgren needs to go all-in for a No. 1 defenseman in the offseason, when it's easier to make a deal because teams usually have more cap space.

Assuming Kimmo Timonen retires and penalty-prone Steve Downie is not re-signed, the Flyers will have almost $12 million of cap room, provided the cap climbs from $64.3 million to $68 million, as expected. Their cap space would be reduced if MacDonald, a pending unrestricted free agent, signs. But if MacDonald signs, it will be offset by the $4.9 million cap relief the Flyers will get when Chris Pronger is put on the long-term injured reserve list at the start of the 2014-15 season.

Bottom line: There will be money to spend. And the Flyers, thanks to Snider, are never shy about spending.

As for elite defensemen who can become unrestricted free agents on July 1, well, the list is very underwhelming.

Which brings us to the Flyers' old flame, Nashville's Shea Weber, a game-changing defenseman who would dramatically improve Philadelphia's Cup chances.

Weber will be paid a $13 million bonus July 1. The Flyers have much deeper pockets than the Predators, and with Nashville at the bottom of the Central Division, its general manager, David Poile, may be ready to shake up things in Music City before shelling out bonus money.

That is, if he doesn't hold a grudge against Holmgren and the Flyers for setting the salary parameters in 2012, signing Weber to a 14-year, $110 million offer sheet.


scarchidi@phillynews.com

@BroadStBull

www.inquirer.com/

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