Your 2013-14 Philadelphia Flyers – What’s Next?

Created 5 years 78 days ago
by Nick Arnold

Tags: Backchecking Defense Philadelphia Flyers Ray Emery Vincent Lecavalier Wayne Simmonds Zone Strategy
Views: 2321

by Nick Arnold

Monday, July 08, 2013 --

The 2012-13 shortened season ended with the Blackhawks stunning the Bruins in Game 6 to win Lord Stanley’s Cup for the 2nd time in 4 seasons. But for us, it ended well before that final horn sounded. We’ve been waiting for more Flyers hockey since April 27th. We stood by with bated breath as rumors poured in; who would we trade? Who would we keep? Would Briere AND Bryzgalov both get bought out this off-season? Who will play in net besides Mason? Does our defense still suck?

It is now July 8th, and a good portion of those questions have been answered. Mr. Playoffs and Mr. Universe have both been let go, the former now a part of the Montreal Canadiens organization. Ruslan “Rusty” Fedotenko has signed with HC Donetsk in the KHL. Four of our RFA’s have been issues qualifying offers - defensemen Erik Gustafsson, Oliver Lauridsen and Brandon Manning and forward Eric Wellwood. Adam Hall re-signed through the 13-14 season, and Giroux signed a huge contract extension through 2022.

Among the UFA’s we haven’t signed (yet?) is forward Simon Gagne, who has been in talks with GM Paul Holmgren trying to get a contract hammered out. However, according to Homer it wasn’t looking too likely that a deal would get done. Gagne’s agent remains confident that something will be worked out.

And then we have the new guys. The Flyers traded their 2014 4th round pick and minor-leaguer Shane Harper to the New York Islanders in exchange for Mark Streit, their 35-year-old captain and defenseman who was set to hit free agency. Homer wasted no time in signing him to a 4 year deal with an AAV of 5.25 million dollars. As free agency day hit, there were plenty of rumors of possible trades involving the Flyers. I have to commend the organization, something I don’t get to do very often when it comes to trades and signings. Not only did they not trade away our young core players for short-term fixes, but they signed veteran TB captain Vincent Lecavalier to a 5 year deal worth 4.5 million per season. While I am not a huge fan of the length (or the full NMC), I can’t help but love the price tag after seeing how much teams paid other players who are nowhere near the numbers produced by Vinny over their careers.  Homer snagged arguably the best FA available at what wound up being a decent salary cap hit.

He wasn’t finished there though. Before free agency officially opened, there were rumblings of Emery not wanting to re-sign in Chicago as he wanted to sign where he had a chance to be the #1 goaltender. When I heard about this, I figured he’d go somewhere else out in the Western Conference where a starting netminder was needed. But free agency day came and reports started coming out that the Flyers were the front runners for his services. Shortly after teams could officially sign players, Emery was a Philadelphia Flyer once more. And did Homer get rid of one goalie to overpay another? Everyone was ecstatic to find out this wasn’t the case as Emery agreed to a 1 year, 1.65 million dollar contract. 

Think about that for a second.  

Last season Bryzgalov ate up over 5.66 million dollars of our cap space alone. Our current goalie tandem of Mason and Emery accounts for 3.15 million. And as far as I’m concerned, while neither goalie may have that elite status of a Lundqvist or a Quick, their skills in net are nothing to scoff at.

So that’s that. That’s your 2013-14 Flyers lineup, right? 

Not quite.

As it stands, barring any moves our starting lineup looks something like this (Note that I am not suggesting there are the definite lines; some players may be out of position for the sake of writing their names down)...

Front Line Combinations

Hartnell - Giroux - Voracek

B. Schenn - Lecavalier - Simmonds

Talbot - Couturier - Read

McGinn(?) - Hall - Rinaldo

Blueline Pairings

Timonen - L. Schenn

Coburn - Streit

Grossmann - Gustafsson/Meszaros/Bourdon

Let’s dive in to the offense first. I’m not a huge fan of Hartnell completing that ginger line. I don’t want to reference last season as a reason for that, because last season was abysmal all around and Scotty was injured for a good chunk of it. He was an offensive machine the year prior to last, but let’s get one thing straight – that was a direct result of Jagr and Giroux. 

Jagr was an absolute terror for opposing teams. 

His puck control all over the ice and playmaking abilities set up a high percentage of Hartnell’s chances. Without a player like Jagr, Hartsy won’t return to that form again in the coming years. Now we could try and get Jagr or someone with his style of play on the line with Hartnell and Giroux, but would you really want to separate Ginger Jesus and Jakub Score-a-cek? 

I didn’t think so.

Speaking of breaking those two up, there was talk of Lecavalier also being able to play RW. This immediately led to line combos that involved him on Giroux’s right. I’ll say it once here, and I’ll say it again and again. You cannot separate G and Voracek. Those two have the ability to absolutely dominate on a line together, and have done just that time and time again.

So what’s my solution? 

Plug Simmonds on their left wing and move Hartnell down. Simmonds has more energy than Scotty. His positioning is better, his skating is better (#SimmondsUp), and his all around offensive game is dominant to Hartnell’s. Just imagine Wayne Train grinding it out along the boards and sending the puck to one of either Giroux or Voracek, or shoving his frame into the crease to open things up for his ginger linemates. I’m feeling a Simmonds – Giroux – Voracek first line any day of the week.

Where do we put Lecavalier then? 

If he centers the 2nd line, we shove Schenn down to 3rd and Couturier to 4th? Absolutely not. Vinny can play RW. Schenn can learn to play wing just as well as he does center with his talent and skill level. Put Hartnell on that 2nd line wing with Schenn and Lecavalier filling out the center and RW slots in whatever order.  That leaves the 3rd and 4th lines the same as I have listed above. Now ideally we re-sign Gagne and plug HIM into that 2nd line LW slot, moving Hartnell down to 3rd and Talbot to 4th. This would also ensure that McGinn doesn’t get a starting spot, but I’m okay with that. He’s got plenty of time to develop and earn a spot with the big club. This would put our projected forward lines at this:

Simmonds - Giroux - Voracek

Gagne - Schenn/Vinny - Vinny/Schenn

Hartnell - Couturier - Read

Talbot - Hall - Rinaldo

I like the looks of that, but I feel we could use one more good scorer or playmaker on the team. We may have to make a move or two to get under the cap before the season begins and we can put Pronger on LTIR for a little bit of relief. I don’t want to speculate too much just yet, so we’ll save that for another article.

Our defense is going to be the biggest question mark in these next few months. As of right now we currently have over 33 million dollars invested in 9-10 defensemen (Pronger’s contract is included in that number). I don’t need to remind you, but hell, I’ll do it anyway – NHL teams normally only dress 6 defensemen per NHL game. Nine defensemen is a bit too many. For the sake of argument, depending on injuries and whatnot there are 4 d-men that want to play on the Flyers this coming season with two spots open, more or less: Grossmann, Meszaros, Gustafsson and Bourdon. There is also the fact that the Flyers have actively been shopping Coburn since around the time of the 2013 Draft, as moving him could alleviate some of our salary cap woes.

Since I can’t predict the future, I’m working with what we have at this moment. If Coburn doesn’t get moved, the top two pairings will consist of him, Timonen, Schenn and Streit. So let’s just say the bottom pairing consists of any combination of the four odd men out. I’m sure many of you will disagree with me here, and that’s more than okay. But in my honest opinion, I don’t think we’re in nearly as much trouble as everyone else does.

I’m not blind. I know our defense is not full of top players. I know we lack that one or two “That’s our guy!” players on the blue line. But I also strongly believe that these guys, along with players like Manning and Lauridsen, have what it takes to mesh together for a good lineup. That belief doubles when you consider that we won’t have a goalie controversy this year (you can’t see it but I am crossing my fingers so hard right now that they’re turning purple).

I don’t think it’s ever been solely the personnel that have, for lack of better terminology, sucked hard. In my experiences watching this team night after night, one thing has always stood out on those plays where everyone blames our sub-par defense. And that, my friends, is our system. Coach Lavi send his players blazing into the zone for the most part, and wants the defensemen to pinch and get heavily involved in the offense. 

That’s all good and well, but what happens when something goes wrong? 

I don’t believe we have the backchecking throughout our team to run a system like that. How many times have teams blocked a shot and within the blink of an eye sent an odd-man rush back the other way because the defense was pinching too much and the offense couldn’t get back in time? If the whole team can’t work together on defense, you can’t put all of the blame on our “crappy” defensemen and goaltending. Any defense would eventually look silly if all the pressure is put on them to stop breakaways and odd-man chances from forming that many times, game after game.

Then there’s our defensive zone strategy, which is simply “Get the hell in front of that net and block every puck sent towards it.” Now don’t get me wrong here. I am not against helping your goaltender out and taking away shooting lanes. But when you pile your whole team up to form a shot-blocking abomination of a structure we’ve seen so many times, one of two things is going to happen. Either someone is going to get hurt from scrambling around all over the ice trying to stop shots or you’re going to give up a fair share of goals, whether it’s because the goalie didn’t see the shot, the shot bounced off of the countless bodies and someone took care of the garbage, or someone loses their coverage and winds up wide open in front of the net.

What I would like to see is more playing the pass and boxing players out. Instead of chasing the puck and trying to stop it from reaching the net, trust the goaltender and clear the rebounds. Too often I’ve seen players losing their coverage and scrambling to get back in position while also being in position to stop the shots. 

I don’t play hockey so I apologize if I’m talking out my ass here, but I’d like to see more of a zone type of coverage. Everyone stick to an area of ice and cut off all passing in your area. This doesn’t mean stop moving and let the other team skate around you; just don’t chase players all over out of position and allow a player an open shot right in front of the net because you were too busy chasing the puck. If this opens up some ice for wide-angle or point shots to get through, so be it. If our goalie(s) can’t handle those, we still haven’t found our starter.

I know I covered a lot and I hope I didn’t stray too far from what I wanted to say. I just feel like our current lineup, if untouched, isn’t a bad squad to get behind. There will inevitably be another move or two this off-season, even if it’s as simple as signing Gagne and trading someone for a pick to alleviate cap space. But if the season were to start tomorrow, I would be more than comfortable with this lineup if they can just figure out how to change their style of play up a bit. 

This of course stems from management and coaching, and while I want to have faith in Lavi’s system, I think it needs more tweaking than the personnel of the team does before we start to see some real progress. So here’s looking forward to the 2013-14 Philadelphia Flyers, whoever may be on the roster come opening day.

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Let's just hope Lavy's gameday notes are a bit more organized than mine...

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