Better With Popcorn

What Should the Flyers Do?

As all of us hockey fans stand on the doorstep of the NHL’s free agency with great anticipation, I can safely say that I have no idea what the Flyers will do. One would think with all the rumors and rights-acquiring recently, the scheme would have become clear. However, this is the Philadelphia Flyers, and they have a pretty impressive record when conventional wisdom is the opponent. Despite the fact that I am somewhat clueless in regards to their plans, here's what I think they SHOULD do to address obviousl needs. I believe that in addressing these needs, the Flyers will be in an excellent position to win two more playoff games next season and hoist the Stanley Cup.

GOALIE

With Brian Boucher and Michael Leighton under contract, the Flyers don’t face the problem of last offseason when they had no goaltenders on the roster. Instead, they face the need for a legitimate ‘number one’ goalie. Tim Panaccio of www.csnphilly.com reported this afternoon that the Flyers have re-signed Michael Leighton to a two year, 3.1 million dollar contract. In my opinion, Leighton’s signing should not influence the Flyers’ aggressiveness in the goalie market. I know some of you may be Leighton’s biggest fans, but let me set the record straight; Michael Leighton and/or Brian Boucher will not end the Stanley Cup drought in Philly. The two of them played well last season, especially in capturing the Prince of Wales trophy. However, a large part of their success was incredible defense by the top four defensemen, weaker offensive teams in New Jersey, Boston and Montreal, and a successful penalty kill unit.

When the Stanley Cup Finals arrived, the Flyers needed Leighton to be spectacular for a game or two in order to hoist the cup. Quite simply, he wasn’t. Teams win the cup with stellar goaltending, and neither Leighton nor Boucher is referred to with the term ‘stellar’. I have a soft spot for both of them, but in the interest of providing some realistic insight, they just don’t cut it for a team with Stanley Cup potential. The likelihood for regression is much greater with them in the crease rather than a legitimate number one goalie that always seems to evade the Flyers’ grasp. So, without further adieu, the options please….

Evgeni Nabokov- The Flyers have his rights apparently, but that makes no difference at all. Nabokov will test free agency for a big salary. He would be best suited in the Southeast Division, where he won’t ever have to play a meaningful game.

Marty Turco- He’s getting up there in years and inconsistency has come along with that. Another member of the apparent ‘Flyers offered him a contract’ club, he supposedly turned down Philadelphia. However, www.philly.com reported earlier this week that ‘multiple league sources’ have said that there was no contract offer. According to ESPN hockey writer E.J Hradek, Turco confirmed the offer and declined it. The only thing that has become clear in this whole mess is that Turco was incredible in “A Beautiful Mind”.

Marty Biron/ Antero Niittymaki- Been there, done that. Besides, are either one of them THAT much of an improvement?

Chris Mason- Another older goalie, as well as a former Team Canada member, Mason has consistently good numbers in net. Although he is 34 years of age, he probably has a few good years left.

There are other goalies that may become available on the trade market such as Tim Thomas or possibly in the free agency pool. For instance, it is no guarantee that Dan Ellis will sign with the Canadiens, although it seems like a foregone conclusion. The Flyers need a number one goalie to bridge the gap to the young goalies in their system. Nicola Riopel, Joacim Eriksson, Johan Backlund and Sergei Bobrovsky all appear to have a shot at being the number one goalie in a couple of years, but their development shouldn’t be rushed. Personally, I believe the Flyers should do all they can to lock up Chris Mason to a two or three year deal.

DEFENSE

The Flyers’ defense was pretty damn good all season, yet there are improvements to be made. Most of this will hinge on the re-signing of Braydon Coburn, who played valuable minutes all season long. Coburn’s value soared when he was especially impressive in the playoffs. He is a restricted free agent, yet it seems that General Manager Paul Holmgren is doing all he can to sign him long term. The problem on defense is not Coburn, but the lack of a competent fifth defenseman. The pairing of Lukas Krajicek and Oskars Bartulis, aka ‘thread and needle’ (due in large part to their ability to hem the team in their own zone), must be improved. There are times when the third defense pairing must play, most obviously on the road when the team doesn’t have the luxury of the last line change. In those situations, the Flyers were doomed. If my description of the third pairing seems painful, then I’m not doing it a justice.

If Coburn re-signs and the team signs a top-flight goalie, then the Flyers can afford to get a mid-level defenseman who can play on the third line and possibly in penalty kill situations. If Coburn doesn’t re-sign and the team grabs a good goalie, the need for a higher impact blue liner becomes much greater. The likes of Volchenkov, Paul Martin and the rights from Nashville who I refuse to acknowledge by name would certainly fill a need. However, a serviceable fifth defenseman would still be needed in my opinion. If Coburn re-signs and either Leighton/Boucher/Biron/Niittymaki is in the crease, the need for a top flight defenseman is absolutely necessary. If the Flyers want to win a Stanley Cup with one of those goalies, they will need to build a pretty solid and impenetrable wall around them.

In accordance with my idea of signing Mason, I feel that the team should do all it can to re-sign Coburn and then look into a blue liner along the likes of Kurtis Foster from Tampa Bay. With 42 points last season and only a minus five rating, I think that he could definitely improve the production team’s depth on defense .

The Flyers offseason, while bereft of high draft choices and somewhat frustrating thus far should become more positive in the coming days of free agency. I understand Holmgren’s intentions on attempting to sign Nabokov, the guy from Nashville and Turco. However, it’s extremely difficult to sign someone when they are days away from free agency. I can’t blame him for kicking some tires, just as long as he keeps kicking. I still have no clue what the Flyers will do, but at least I am sure they won’t acquire Lebron’s rights today. I think.

While I figure out a way to rationalize Paul Holmgren’s decision making, feel free to follow me on twitter at www.twitter.com/mtrible , or read my personal blog at www.mtrible.wordpress.com . Thanks for reading!