Inside the Flyers: Summertime blues: Flyers seem to have lost ground in Metro

Flyers GM Ron Hextall was not active during the first days of free agency because of cap limitations.
Flyers GM Ron Hextall was not active during the first days of free agency because of cap limitations. (         ANDREW THAYER / Staff)
Posted: July 08, 2014

The start of summer has not been good to the Flyers.

Their captain, Claude Giroux, spent a night in jail last week after a bizarre incident in an Ottawa bar.

Their new general manager, Ron Hextall, was hamstrung by the team's salary-cap situation and could not join the free-agent frenzy.

And while the Flyers were signing spare parts - some for depth, some for their AHL affiliate - most of their Metropolitan Division opponents made improvements.

So where will the Flyers stand when the season starts?

They will have to huff and puff to make the playoffs, buying some time for their promising defensemen to gain some minor-league seasoning before likely being ready in two years - or perhaps in the second half of 2014-15.

The good news, from the Flyers' perspective, is that coach Craig Berube, who did a commendable job after replacing Peter Laviolette early last season, will have his first full training camp to reinforce his defense-first system.

And for the first time in ages, the Flyers will go into camp knowing they have a legitimate No. 1 goalie, Steve Mason. Former general manager Paul Holmgren signed some players to long-term deals that left Hextall with no cap flexibility, but Holmgren deserves credit for acquiring Mason in one of his best trades.

Speaking of bad contracts, the Flyers still are trying to trade Vinny Lecavalier, who signed a five-year, $22.5 million deal last season. Nashville and Ottawa are among the teams that have shown interest. Teams want the Flyers to pay a big part of his salary.

There also are reports that teams want the Flyers to include a prospect or a draft pick in any deal including Lecavalier.

If that's the case, the Flyers might be better served to keep Lecavalier, who is still effective on the power play. He did manage 20 goals last season with a bad back. With a summer to rest, he should come back stronger.

Here is how the Flyers might look:

Line 1: Giroux centering Michael Raffl and Jake Voracek.

Raffl isn't exactly Evander Kane - Winnipeg's speedy left winger, who is on the trading block - but he played well in limited time on this line last season.

Line 2: Brayden Schenn centering Lecavalier and Wayne Simmonds.

Schenn and Lecavalier could be flip-flopped, but the fact is, both are better at center.

Line 3: Sean Couturier centering R.J. Umberger and Matt Read.

Couturier is a terrific defensive player, but the Flyers desperately need him to step up his offensive game and become a 20-goal scorer. He had sports-hernia surgery after the season.

Line 4: Scott Laughton centering Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (or Jason Akeson) and Zac Rinaldo.

The Flyers are excited about the potential of Laughton, a No. 1 pick in 2012 who could begin the year in Lehigh Valley, and Bellemare, who had a strong season in the top Swedish league.

Defense: Braydon Coburn and Kimmo Timonen; Nick Grossmann and Mark Streit; and Luke Schenn and Andrew MacDonald.

Excluding the injured Chris Pronger, the Flyers' defensemen have a $25.1 million cap hit. That's the fourth-highest in the NHL, behind only Washington, Tampa Bay, and St. Louis - teams that, unlike the Flyers, have game-changing defensemen.

Signing free-agent Nick Schultz gives the Flyers some flexibility. Schultz is penciled in as the team's seventh defenseman, but he could slide into the No. 6 role if the Flyers trade, say, Coburn, in a deal for a much-needed left winger such as Winnipeg's Kane.

The 2014-15 Flyers do not look like Stanley Cup contenders. To contend, they will need Mason to shine, breakout years from young players such as Couturier and Brayden Schenn, and continued progress by their core - Giroux, Simmonds, Voracek, and Read.

In the meantime, Hextall is committed to developing the prospects in juniors and the AHL. The blueprint is in place, and this season looks like a bridge before up-and-coming defensemen Shayne Gostisbehere and Robert Hagg are ready to make their mark in 2015-16.


scarchidi@phillynews.com

@BroadStBull

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