Saturday, November 26th, 2011.
That date is the last time the Flyers fell to the opposition on the scoreboard. Back when children were hoop rolling, the horse & buggy littered the Midwest in search of gold and furs, and witches of Salem met their dooms at the fingertips of reaching fiery flames.
This month of December has been good to Broad Street. Four straight wins at the expense of a couple foes' collapses and our Bullies' rallies. The greens and reds of Christmas Holiday sweep through the city streets of Philadelphia dressed in Orange and Black, my friends. Santa is wearing a Flyers sweater, and the name on the back reads "GIROUX".
The man's a menace to every opposing coach and his game strategy. He's topped the league in points scored, and captained his club to the division/Conference leader board. Downing the rivaled Pittsburgh Penguins last night in our own barn was a test that the Flyers passed successfully, even without the presence of the NHL's Second Coming, Sidney Crosby.
It was more of a defensive battle than anyone realizes. Pittsburgh chances were destroyed time and time again by the extended poke checks of the defense. The thundering blows of our boys taking Penguin bodies off the puck. The steel curtain brought down on their shots with authority from our Russian stopper in net.
Alright, enough of the dramatics. I'm not Charles Dickens.
We beat the Penguins in our first meeting of the season, and boy, was it kickass.
This team is winning even without their captain and star defenseman Chris Pronger. Right now, that is a very exciting factoid.
It does not take away from the bottom line that the Flyers still need him back in the lineup. Our two blue lining AHLers, Kevin Marshall and Marc-Andre Bourdon, have filled in for the injured Pronger, Lilja and Gustafsson rather nicely.
And to tell you the truth, I see a lot of potential in Bourdon. Though he hasn't tallied a single point in the eight games he's played with the Flyers, Marc-Andre's stepped up and become quite the penalty killing defender, as well as playing the contention in our zone with surprising hockey smarts.
Well, surprising to me anyway. I did not know a lot about this kid before he was brought up as a scab.
As the season grows further past its first quarter-mark, the Flyers have stunned everyone by scoring more goals than any other club in the league. We've simply swarmed and peppered the net with accuracy, great passing and a power-play that murders. Rookies have come out of the woodwork like ambushing guerrilla warfare, mixed with a one Jaromir Jagr who shows the world that 39-years of age is just a number.
Also, Claude Giroux.
But I haven't forgotten about Kimmo Timonen and Chris Pronger. Our two best defensemen, by far. Not only do they have that in common, but one other thing....
They're not getting any younger.
How many times have I addressed the blue line, its aging stars and possibilities of trading to re-stock our defense with a youthful player or two? If you've been reading my material for awhile then you'd know I haven't stopped nagging like a wife about this for quite some time.
And I'm not gonna stop now.
Before any trades can be discussed you must look at the other teams in the league and their needs. You must consider how many contracts they currently secure and how much room they possess under the cap ceiling (In this article's case, LTIR room is not counted).
Obviously negotiating within the division is futile, especially since a number of our rivals are contending and successfully in the hunt. Another factor I've considered is the NHL's realignment and the newest additions to our "Conference D" starting next season (Carolina & Washington). So those two clubs are out of the question.
Now, if I were Paul Holmgren I'd strongly take a look at defenseman Matt Carle, and right-wing Jakub Voracek. After this league year (Present - June 30) is over, both of these skaters are due for re-signing as their contracts with the Flyers end and they become free agents. In order to extend their stay in Philadelphia, I believe both would demand a higher pay-grade.
Currently, Matt Carle is a $3,437,500 cap hit to our books. I do not need to tell you that he's a more offensive-minded defenseman, and one whose game is dependent more on Chris Pronger being his linemate than not. He's 27-years old which - traditionally speaking - means his next contract could be his last chance to earn the big bucks before he's reached his pinnacle performance level. Though he's an asset, this Flyers team will be missing key defensemen sooner down the road once Timonen and Pronger retire or drop off the radar due to their age. Those two seasoned blue liners will leave holes in the defense that I firmly believe Carle cannot (and will not) fill.
Jakub Voracek is a $2.25-Million cap hit to this Flyers team. We've seen him get hot, but have also witnessed his lack of finish on the scoring chance. Two key components which limited him to a 1-year's stay in Philly in the first place. But with younger guns like Harry Zolnierczyk, a healthy Brayden Schenn climbing the ranks, and the fact we're not suffering in the goals department, a sacrificial forward lamb could spell beneficial.
Together, Carle and Voracek are a combined $5,687,500 chunk of our payroll. For reasons I've given, I believe these two players are the Flyers' biggest trade bait not tied down by any clauses on their contracts limiting them (and only them) to decide whether they get dealt or not.
Since they are on their last year of their contracts, getting something for them now is better than letting one or both walk into the free agency market come July 1st, 2012.
Consider either player, or both of them as a packaged deal, open to teams who:
- Need an offensive shakeup.
- Have a good relationship with Flyers ownership/management (division/(most)conference rivals excluded).
- Are not currently filled to capacity (50) in contracts, and...
- Have enough cap space to take the $5-Million+ cap hit.
Believe it or not, I've cut the qualifying teams down to five; Anaheim, Colorado, Nashville, St. Louis and Winnipeg.
Below I've categorized each team separately with reasons why they've fallen on the trading radar, example player-for-players acquisitions, and how an addition of Matt Carle and Jakub Voracek could well-serve the opposing franchise:
||The Ducks have exactly $3,164,091 in cap space and 49-contracts under their belts. They are 28th in the league in goals scored per game (2.29 avg). Though they rank one of the highest in goals-allowed, it's apparent this team needs a shakeup.
The firing of their head coach, and assigning Bruce Boudreau as Anaheim's bench boss was a start. But perhaps they're willing to go a bit further? They aren't totally out of the question trade-wise, and we've certainly seen crazier things happen.
Matt Carle & Jakub Voracek for...
(D) Kurtis Foster ($1.8-Million AAV): A 6'5", 225 lbs blue liner with a tad over 10-years of NHL experience. Kurtis is an enormous body with plenty of seasons left in his career. He is not a penalty liability, and he's enough size defensively to play a major role in our own zone. Plus, he won't break the bank re-signing him once his contract is up after this season.
This is a stretch. Like I said, they do rank one of the highest in goals-allowed. The Ducks also have an abundance in goal-scoring players. They're just in a funky skid. A team with that type of firepower is bound to start lighting the lamps like crazy sooner or later.
And cutting only a $1.8-Million contract does not open enough space for Carle and Voracek, even with the current cap space they have now. So dumping more salary would be required.
|Fifth in their Conference, the Blues don't need to do much. They're finally competing and turning heads, but that's no easy task inside a division with the Blackhawks and Red Wings.
With $9,684,032 in cap space and 49-contracts signed, it's safe to say St. Louis has some wiggle room. They average 2.5 goals per game, and JUST less than that in goals-against (2.11). But most of that thanks to the unexpected brilliance from the twinesitting Brian Elliot.
Matt Carle & Draft pick for...
(D) Roman Polak ($2.75-Million AAV): The 25-year old d-man is signed through the 2015-16 season, and is carrying with him 225 lbs at 6'1". An absolutely gritty player with great ability to take on the puck handler entering his zone --
Offering a draft pick along with Matt may be a bit much, but it's just something extra to get the deal over the hump. Like I said, Polak has another 5-years on his freshly re-signed contract while they'd have to start all over again in June with unrestricted free agent Matt Carle.
Another reach, though. St. Louis' biggest defenseman Kent Huskins is on the IR, and they have an UNREAL amount of UFA/RFA players coming up in the off-season. Perhaps it'd be best that the Blues don't start cutting into that $9-Million+ in cap space now by adding another skater to their roster who's on his last year of his contract?
To me, it's worth asking.
|Colorado has one defenseman under 6-foot. They are littered with giants on the blue line. Considering that and they rank 21st in the league with goals-scored per game (2.52 avg), they may be interested in an offensive defenseman like Matt Carle.
With only 48-contracts existing and $14,411,051 in cap space, the Avalanche have a glacier-size room of opportunity to make some adjustments.
Jakub Voracek & Matt Carle for a draft pick, and...
(D) Erik Johnson ($2.6-Million AAV): Big, physical skater. Erik is a 6'4" mammoth and the 1st Overall pick in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. I think he'd be a perfect fit for the Flyers blue line. Though he's on his last year of his contract, he's only 23-years old and already has the snarl and grit of a veteran warrior --
Colorado may be hesitant to trade Johnson considering he's the next largest defenseman behind the 33-year old Jan Hejda. But again, it's worth picking up the phone and asking.
|Yes, Winnipeg's in our conference and already we Flyers fans have some bad blood between us, but that will all be said and gone come next season's league-wide realignment.
The Jets stand on $11,068,573 to play with in cap space and employ 48-player contracts. Ranked 12th in goals-scored per game, it doesn't really seem like they're hemorrhaging offensively. Perhaps the Jets may be interested in breaking up a long-term contract?
Matt Carle & Jakub Voracek for...
(D) Dustin Byfuglien ($5.2-Million AAV): The man's a monster. He was a brick shithouse against us back in the 2010 Stanley Cup Final when Dustin skated for the Hawks. There was even one hit he put on Pronger that made our 6'6" defenseman look like a used condom thrown into a hurricane --
Byfuglien on this team would be a friggin' dream come true. I love the man. I love his physicality, his presence on the blue line and his scoring abilities. The guy's the whole package, and a player that would become a fan favorite instantly.
One issue is that Dustin has a Modified NTC (which means he can submit a five-team no-trade list each year) on his contract. Would Philly be one of those five teams? Pick up the phone and ask.
|Nashville is competing with St. Louis, Detroit and Chicago in their Central Division. They're also losing games by one, two goal margins. With Pekka Rinne harbored in the Country Music Capital of the world for another seven seasons, and star captain Shea Weber skating on his 1-year, $7.5-Million contract, perhaps the Predators are willing to give up some defense to gain offense and get over this low scoring hump?
Matt Carle & Jakub Voracek for...
(D) Ryan Suter ($3.5-Million AAV): Nashville's got over $14-Million in cap space, and are two contracts under the league's limit. Though they'd have plenty of money left over to re-sign Suter in the off-season, the Preds still need to extend Shea Weber's contract ontop of absorbing Rinne's new $7-Million cap hit.
Sending Carle and Voracek west could be a small piece the team may need offensively, which is what I believe they'll use most of their cap space to lock up and sign come the beginning of next league year.
Suter would fit right in to the Flyers scheme defensively. His talent is spread offensively and defensively, but he's got more size than Carle. Ryan's 26-years old and leads his team as alternate captain. He's got quite the resume so far this season; 5-goals scored, 15-assists and a +/- rating of plus-12.
But just like Voracek and Carle, Ryan Suter is on the final year of his contract. Nashville may be looking to score something for him now before he heads to unrestricted free agency.
With Matt Walker clearing re-entry waivers, and Marshall and Bourdon doing well as fill-ins, the probability of the Flyers trading anyone away to add to their blue line seems to be growing dimmer and dimmer.
I think it'd be an incredible mistake to not even try to go after a young, sizable defenseman to prep this team for losing Pronger one day. Players like Chris don't come around so often, and if we want to compete and dominate in our "Conference D" for years to come, it is apparent this team will need a Pronger protege.
Our captain's skillset is at its most effective in the second half of the season and the playoffs when teams have either hit a consistent winning groove or are spiraling to the earth in flames. We may be winning right now without Pronger, but later down the schedule when we're competing for the Big Dance? Fans could be seeing the Flyers on the other side of the Win/Loss column if Chris doesn't dress.
And you can say that for many more seasons soon to come. Let's start doing something about that right now.