Philadelphia Flyers: 6 Questions Still Facing the Team


The offseason for any sport is often a time filled with a mixture of emotions – exciting for the teams that performed well the previous season, and a mixture of hope and fear for a team that finished at the bottom of the standings the year before. Excitement because of the possibility of making that one acquisition or hockey move that can bring the team a Stanley Cup. Hope because most fans have that little bit of optimism left after their team finished outside the playoffs for another season. And fear, because no one ever knows the next time they will see their team challenge for the coveted silver mug.

With the draft completed and the majority of big name free agents already off the table, it is time for the Philadelphia Flyers executives to get together and address any questions remaining before the 2010-11 season gets underway. That’s not to say that trades and signings won’t still occur – maybe even a waiver claim or a buyout. But if the team hopes to repeat their Eastern Conference Championship, or even win a Stanley Cup, they must ensure there are few questions surrounding the organization.

1. Nikolai Zherdev

Last summer, the Flyers’ big-risk move was signing goaltender Ray Emery out of the KHL. Emery seemed like a good risk, because he almost won a Stanley Cup when he played with the Ottawa Senators. Unfortunately, though, Emery succumbed to two different injuries during the season and never quite got his second career off the ground. By the time Brian Boucher and Michael Leighton carried the Flyers to the Stanley Cup Final, Emery was a distant memory.

This year, the Flyers chose to take Nikolai Zherdev out of the KHL – after all, what can go wrong signing a former 60-point scorer in the NHL? “Nik is a highly-skilled player who, at 25 years old, we feel will be a good fit to our core of forwards,” Flyers GM Paul Holmgren said. “Prior to playing last season in Russia, Nik ranked as one of the top young point-producers in the NHL. We are pleased to add him to our team.”

Zherdev had numerous off-ice and chemistry problems during his time with the Columbus Blue Jackets and New York Rangers. He has been described as a young Alex Kovalev who just hasn’t figured out how to remain consistent. If he can find that consistency in Philadelphia, there will be no need to turn back to Russia.

2. Simon Gagne

The rumor came out a few weeks ago now that Simon Gagne, the longest-tenured Flyers currently on the roster, agreed to waive his no-trade clause if the team needed to move him. Gagne will make $5.25 million in 2010-11, with his cap hit the same. He will be an unrestricted free agent next summer. But Gagne reportedly told RDS that he never waived his no-trade clause.

However, sources say that Gagne gave the Flyers a list of teams that he would be willing to go to if the team completed a trade with another organization. Los Angeles is assumed to be one of those teams, as the Kings have shown great interest in the veteran left wing. Gagne is a great offensive player, but has shown many inconsistencies in his game, including a lack of defensive awareness many times throughout the season and the playoffs. Though he has been fairly healthy this season, his history of injuries can also stop a team in their tracks before acquiring him. The Flyers need to figure out quickly what to do with Gagne before it becomes a distraction in the front office – and even the locker room.

3. Cap Room

According to NHL Numbers, the Flyers are over the 2010-11 salary cap by almost $1.5 million. If they can move Simon Gagne, they will be about $4 million under the cap, with 21 players signed – though they most likely need one more depth forward, after losing Arron Asham to free agency.

The team has had cap problems ever since the payroll ceiling was instituted after the 2005 lockout. They have had numerous problems maneuvering through the cap and managing it effectively, even leading to the team having to sign a couple college players to day long contracts in order to fill out the roster.

If the team can enter the season with over $3 million in cap space, it gives them great flexibility and the ability to keep a couple more players on the NHL roster to practice with the team in case of injury. It also allows them to make a few moves during the season if a potential trade suitor appears.

4. Prospect Depth

If there’s one thing the public learned at Flyers Prospect Camp at the Flyers Skate Zone this past week, it’s that the Flyers need more than just a camp – they need prospects. Though they have a few talented young players such as Marc-Andre Bourdon, Luke Pither and Zac Rinaldo, and a few wild cards in Adam Morrison and Sergei Bobrovsky, they still have a lot of work to do. The team was ranked last in the league – LAST – by The Hockey News’ Future Watch 2010 for prospect depth. And that’s not an exaggeration or a cruel punishment. This team does not have a bright future based on their draft picks.

Nonetheless, the team is still extremely talented on all ends of the ice and can easily make another run for the Stanley Cup in the next two or three years.

5. Goaltending

Ah yes. The perpetual question of goaltending. This was a weight on the shoulders of the Flyers for the duration of the 2009-10 season and was even more prominent after Emery succumbed to injury and was out for the season. Leighton took over, but after he was injured, Boucher became the starter. Though questions still remained and the team looked destined to miss the playoffs despite being picked as the Stanley Cup favorite by numerous media outlets. Boucher led the team into the playoffs, but questions popped up when he was injured in the semifinals. Leighton took over and led the team within two games of a Stanley Cup championship.

Though it seems like questions were answered, especially with Leighton being brought back as the number one goalie as of right now, the weakness of the Stanley Cup-winning goal once again brought these goaltending questions back to the forefront. If the Flyers can get consistently solid goaltending for the entire season and playoffs, there’s no reason to think they won’t win the Stanley Cup. But if there is just one slip-up, like there was this season, the fans of Philadelphia will once again spend a summer without a parade down Broad Street.

Alan Bass is a writer for The Hockey News and THN.com. In addition to writing for Inside Hockey and Pro Hockey News, he has also worked for the Philadelphia Flyers. He is the General Manager of the Muhlenberg College hockey team as well. You can contact him at BergHockey24@gmail.com.

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