Inside the Flyers: Flyers need offseason retooling

Posted: May 25, 2014

From the Flyers' perspective, there are two ways to look at the fact that the New York Rangers could be on their way to reaching the Stanley Cup Finals:

Having extended the Rangers to the limit in the first round, the Flyers could just as easily still be playing. Therefore, they are thisclose to being a legitimate Stanley Cup contender and not many offseason moves are needed.

Or . . .

The Flyers are noticeably lacking in speed when compared with Eastern Conference finalists Montreal and the Rangers, and they cannot match either team's defense. Hence, some offseason retooling is in order.

New general manager Ron Hextall needs to pick Door No. 2.

Problem is, outgoing GM Paul Holmgren has left little room for maneuverability. The Flyers are salary cap-strapped primarily because of some bad signings. Assuming the cap goes to $69 million, the Flyers will have just $4.5 million of room this summer, and that's before they consider re-signing potential free agents Kimmo Timonen, Ray Emery, Brayden Schenn, Adam Hall, and Jason Akeson.

In other words, Hextall will have to trade a high-salaried player or two to open up cap space. If not, the Flyers will look eerily similar to the team that finished 42-30-10.

That wouldn't be disastrous. The Flyers, after all, went 41-23-10 after a 1-7 start, adjusting nicely after learning Craig Berube's defense-first system.

But they need to add a few pieces. For those who say they demonstrated that they are almost as good as the Rangers - a team that could make its first Finals appearance since 1994 - it is important to note that New York played the entire series without injured forward Chris Kreider, a speedy difference-maker. Oh, and Ryan McDonagh, the Blueshirts' top defenseman, played that series after returning from a shoulder injury and was rather mediocre, still rounding into form.

You can counter that Flyers goalie Steve Mason was concussed and that his team was 1-2 until he was ready to return. Would Mason have made a difference if he was able to play in the first three games? Perhaps. But, remember, he performed like the second coming of Bernie Parent in Game 7, but it still wasn't enough.

The Flyers' best chance to improve may hinge on whether Peter Laviolette is still fuming about getting fired after three games (three games!) last season. Laviolette is now the Nashville coach, and his attacking system is one of the reasons center Vinny Lecavalier signed a five-year, $22.5 million deal with the Flyers last year.

Lecavalier looked lost in Berube's system, looked lost at a new position, left wing. Nashville needs offensive help, so it's conceivable the Predators make a play for the 34-year-old forward and he agrees to relinquish his no-trade clause.

A season removed from a back injury, there's reason to believe Lecavalier can still be effective in the right situation.

Trading Lecavalier would free cap room and give Hextall flexibility to sign a speedy free-agent left winger to play alongside Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek.

The Flyers will also get $4.9 million in cap relief when Chris Pronger is placed on the long-term injured list at the start of the season. That will allow Hextall to make an in-season move.

That will also buy some time for Shayne Gostisbehere and Robert Hagg - promising defensemen who will likely start the season with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms - to get some seasoning in the AHL.

For now, Hextall and the Flyers can only watch with frustration as the Rangers - a team that looked very beatable in the first round - could reach the Finals.

A lot has been made about how the Flyers admirably rebounded from their 1-7 start to become a playoff team.

The flip side: If the Flyers had gone just 2-5-1 in their first eight games, they would have finished the regular season ahead of the Rangers and would have had the home-ice advantage in Game 7 - and might still be playing today.

Thirty-nine years of would-haves, could-haves, should-haves.

That's another reason why Hextall has to pick Door No. 2.


scarchidi@phillynews.com

@BroadStBull

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