Who Should Stay, Who Should Go?
Only five games remain in this lockout-shortened regular season for the Philadelphia Flyers. These five games serve as a tryout period for players to show why they should or shouldn't stay beyond next season. Some players have already been written off, as it may not make much sense to keep for the future.
Many difficult decisions have to be made this summer, including players that have had extended stints as Flyers.
Restricted Free Agents
D Erik Gustafsson
D Brandon Manning
D Blake Kessel
LW Eric Wellwood
RW Shane Harper
C Mitch Wahl
Unrestricted Free Agents
LW Simon Gagne
RW Mike Knuble
LW/C Ruslan Fedotenko
LW Jody Shelley
RW Adam Hall
D Matt Walker
D Kurtis Foster
D Andreas Lilja
G Brian Boucher
G Ilya Bryzgalov
C Danny Briere
D Andrej Meszaros
What Holmgren will do with one forward line will tell plenty about the direction of the team. Simon Gagne, Mike Knuble and Ruslan Fedotenko, who have combined to be a solid third line for the Flyers, are all unrestricted free agents this summer.
34 year old Fedotenko started slow, but became a reliable player down the stretch run and should be tendered a fair offer. Buried on the fourth line throughout the beginning of the season, he could not show what his value truly was until being put on "The Alumni Line."
Fedotenko played a gargantuan role on the 2009 Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins, and a significant role on the New York Rangers in the last several seasons.
The 33-year-old version of Gagne is not the same player as he was the first time around in Philadelphia, but he has proven to be a reliable player as well since his acquisition in February. Gagne told Philadelphia Daily News beat Frank Seravalli that he would take less money to remain a Flyer.
"This is a place, I always say, that's maybe the best place for me to play," he said.
Gagne will collect the final paycheck of a two-year, $7 million deal signed with the Los Angeles Kings last season.
Knuble, now 40 years of age, may be the odd man out of the three due to his age, footspeed, and decreased production. Holmgren brought Knuble in to help fill the void that the injured Scott Hartnell left behind. He provides a good netfront presence and his usefulness on the power play is second to none. However, instead of feeling comfortable with past pieces, it might be time to move on from Knuble.
Likely wave good bye to UFAs Jody Shelley, Matt Walker, Andreas Lilja, Kurtis Foster and Brian Boucher, either due to age, or lacking production to this current team. These "depth" players played a minimal role throughout their times here. Each and every one of them only proved to be stopgaps, and not valuable, developing pieces, like other teams use in the smaller roles.
Adam Hall, picked up on waivers from the Tampa Bay Lightning, who placed him on waivers, was picked up by the Carolina Hurricanes, and then subsequently traded him back to the Lightning for Marc-Andre Bergeron, has proven to be an excellent edition to the checking line on this team. He will prove to be an inexpensive, and again, reliable addition to next year's Flyers team if he sticks around.
RFAs Erik Gustafsson, Brandon Manning and Eric Wellwood are likely candidates to be tended offers to stay. Blake Kessel, Shane Harper, and Mitch Wahl would simply be organizational depth in the minor leagues. Gustafsson has shown the most improvement in his stint this season, being an offensive playmaker on the defensive end.
Perhaps the most intriguing part of the summer will deal with the newly-provided amnesty buyouts. A couple candidates have come to bear over this season. The Flyers, along with every club in the NHL, have until the end of next summer to execute the buyout, and get to the cap ceiling of $64 million.
Chronically challenged for cap space and contract numbers, Holmgren has a tall task ahead. He will need to chop a big contract off the books to get to the ceiling, but to have any semblance of flexibility, will he have to chop another big contract?
Rumors of Danny Briere's eventual buyout abound--that move will free up $6.5 million. Briere, now goalless since February 18, missed almost an entire month with a concussion. His points-per-game have dropped from slighly under one through his first few years here to near a half a point per game in his last two seasons.
Will it take admitting a mistaken overpayment and buying out Ilya Bryzgalov's deal to solve some of this team's problems? Bryzgalov (51-32-10, .903 sv%, 2.67 GAA as a Flyer), has had a straight-up nightmare in Philadelphia. Between "napgate," constant jokes of being an astronaut, his Winter Classic fiasco, and generally being the city's favorite jester, it has not been easy for the eccentric Russian.
Giving Steve Mason a one-year, guaranteed extension probably won't assauge any of Bryzgalov's fears. When asked if he is aware of the possibility of being bought out and this whole adventure coming to a close, he answered curtly, "I don't care," giving his already outspoken critics more ammo to use against him.
Not to mention, signing Bryzgalov warranted the departure of franchise cornerstones Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, who captured the Stanley Cup with the Los Angeles Kings the following season, which did not make stomaching the nine-year, $51 million deal any easier.
Just mentioning those contract numbers will give any Flyers fan a headache.
The final amnesty buyout is simply a possibilty. Defenseman Andrej Meszaros has been unable to shake chronic shoulder problems. His effectiveness as a top-four defenseman has dropped considerably.
After completing a 32 point season with a +30 mark in 81 games, he will have missed a total of 58 games in the last two seasons--37 of them this season due to a shoulder injury, and 19 last season due to a back injury. He missed the final 30 games of the 2008-09 season with the Lightning due to shoulder problems as well.
Oft-injured, less effective, and making $4 million in the final year of his deal, Meszaros just might be worth shipping off to greener pastures. It won't open up quite as much room as buying out Bryzgalov might, but it might be worth considering.
This process will not be easy, as it will be laden with future-altering moves. It will be up to Paul Holmgren to not only fill the holes, but fill them with valuable, reliable players. No more Kurtis Fosters, Lukas Krajiceks, Bruno Gervaises, or any of their ilk.
It's time to build a respectable, powerful Flyers team that the NHL should come to fear.