Better With Popcorn

Flyers Looking to Solve Forward Depth In All the Wrong Places

When it was determined that Max Talbot would be a top-nine forward heading into the season-opening 3-1 loss to Toronto on October 2 there was an immediate problem with the Flyers.

No disrespect to Talbot, who is one of the hardest working penalty killers in the NHL, but he is not a third line left winger on a team that is desperately searching for a goal-scorer. And with no wiggle room under the salary cap the Flyers are finding out the hard way that no depth at forward is going to hurt them this season. 

To make matters worse, they are 1-5-0 and have scored a total of eight goals in just six games to start this season. The low-scoring efforts – two goals are the most the Flyers have scored in a single game – are wasting the effort put forth by goalie Steve Mason to start the season.

“It’s difficult to see the boys feeling this way right now," Mason said after the Flyers lost 2-1 on Friday to Phoenix. "It’s not for a lack of effort because everybody in this room cares tremendously, but we are going to have to start scoring.

"We need to score more goals and I think the boys can feel that it is going to come. We just have to keep working for it.”

On Saturday afternoon, it was announced that the Flyers would be without Scott Hartnell for 2-4 weeks with an upper body injury and Vincent Lecavalier for about a week with a lower body injury. The good news from it is neither injury had any fractures, nor will require surgery.

That’s just a minuscule amount of good news compared to what it does for the Flyers moving forward. 

The Flyers called up forward Tye McGinn, who scored in Saturday’s 5-2 loss to the Red Wings as well as Michael Raffl, who made his NHL debut. 

McGinn skated on the top line with Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek, the former finally getting his first point of the season when he assisted on McGinn’s goal. The rest of the team actually played better, but a combination of a hot goaltender for Detroit, too many penalties and sloppy defense overshadowed the bright spots in the loss.

Quite frankly, they are looking for depth in all the wrong places.

And that right there is why the lack of depth has really shown in the first six games. Giroux and Voracek, who scored 48 and 46 points respectively last season, have a combined three points in six games each.

The Flyers’ points leader is instead Brayden Schenn through the first two weeks. He has two goals and two assists, and is followed by the injured Lecavalier. Voracek and Sean Couturier are the only other forwards with at least two points.

Giroux, Talbot, Wayne Simmonds and McGinn each gave one point while the injured Hartnell and Matt Read are pointless to round out the Flyers’ top 10 forwards.

The Flyers handcuffed themselves financially when they signed Lecavalier and defenseman Mark Streit to long-term deals that give them a cap hit of over a combined $9 million.

Granted Lecavalier is one of the few forwards to play well to start the season despite being hurt, it has played into the fact the Flyers could not re-sign Simon Gagne. Gagne, who was a top candidate for the third line, is still a free agent.

Streit isn’t a bad player by any means either. Heck, he captained the New York Islanders before his rights were traded to Philadelphia.

Streit has a pair of assists to his name to lead Flyers defensemen, but his minus-4 rating is only hurting the team. 

Some will even point the finger at signing Kimmo Timonen to a one-year, $6 million extension during last season. Those argumenats are countered by the leadership he brings to the lockeroom despite the fact he hasn't found the scoresheet this season.

More fingers can be pointed to the extension of Jay Rosehill and the acquisition of Kris Newbury, two enforcers who have skated more than four minutes just three times combined in the first six games. They’re tying up money and roster spots that could have belonged to McGinn and Raffl at the start of the season.

It’s been pretty obvious the last two seasons that the Flyers are too afraid to put a forward not designed to play on the fourth line in that spot, which is pretty hypocritical when Couturier was relegated to the fourth line half of the 2013 season.

Forwards like Zac Rinaldo, Rosehill, Newbury and Adam Hall are seeing less than five minutes a game – at least Hall and Rinaldo are contributing forwards, the former on the penalty kill and the latter as the spark plug on the ice.

Raffl and McGinn didn’t make appearances until two top-six forwards went down, and Scott Laughton is once again trapped in the juniors.

As I stated before on the podcast and my Twitter feed, I truly believe that Laughton is no more than a third-line center in the NHL. But he provides a lot more than what players such as Rosehill and Newbury can provide.

I remember when head coach Peter Laviolette rolled out four balanced lines in the second half of that magical 2009-2010 season. 

Dan Carcillo, who Rinaldo pretty much replaced as the pest of the Flyers, was seeing close to 10 minutes of ice time. It kept the other three lines fresh, and players like Jeff Carter, Mike Richards and Danny Briere weren’t squeezing their sticks too tight to try and score like Giroux, Voracek and Hartnell have this season.

The Flyers are preventing themselves from building depth at the forward position. Once Lecavalier and Hartnell return, a decision is going to have to be made about McGinn and Raffl, who will continue to impress and show they belong in the line up.

Hopefully that decision will revolve around keeping those young forwards and not the demotion of two players who could actually provide the right type of depth.

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John Russo
Editor; Feature Writer

Twitter: @Roose_TCL; @TCLFlyers 
Email: russo@thecheckingline.com