Free Agency is well underway, and the Flyers have made a minimal splash on the market, aside from July 1st acquisitions of Goaltender Brian Boucher, and Winger Ian Laperriere. Neither of these players automatically transform a team into a Cup winner, but they certainly serve as integral pieces to a strong puzzle that General Manager Paul Holmgren is building in South Philadelphia. That being said, even with a team in place that is more than capable of contending for a Cup, it appears Holmgren is not yet finished fine-tuning his roster. According to this article by NHL.com’s Mike Morreale, Holmgren has said he would like to add another scorer to the Orange and Black for the upcoming season. So, who fits the Flyers? Who can help off-set the 52-goal subtraction that has left Philadelphia in the form of Joffrey Lupul and Mike Knuble shipping out? Basically, what happens now?
I’ve taken a quick look at the Flyers Salary Cap Crunch for the upcoming season, and given the money allotted to players on the current roster, the Orange and Black don’t have a whole lot to work with. According to the information presented there, the Flyers have a Cap Hit of $54,646,250 set to be paid to everyone under contract entering this season, leaving them with a little over $2 million to work with, as far as free agency is concerned. It has been rumored that the Flyers would be looking to trade either of their two bottom defensemen – Randy Jones or Matt Carle – who make $2.75 million and a little under $3.5 million, respectively, to free up more space under the cap so that they can pursue a scorer. However, it would be logical to assume that the Flyers would feel comfortable adding someone else first into their top six on the blueline to keep the strong unit in tact.
One possibility would be to re-sign Andrew Alberts, who remains unsigned after entering the Free Agent market four days ago. Alberts started off fairly shaky after being acquired from the Boston Bruins early in the ’08-’09 season, but found his niche mid-way through the year and wound up having a nice season for the Flyers. Another possibility would be, of course, to pull from within the family and bring someone up from the Phantoms. Defensively, they don’t come better than Danny Syvret at Glens Falls, and the youngster showed he was more than capable of handling the professional level during a few brief stints last season. However, Syvret is currently a Restricted Free Agent, meaning that he likely will be back with the Flyers organization, but nothing is definite. Until that situation is cleared up, it’s hard to make any assumptions involving Syvret. Other possibilities of Phantoms call-ups include Oskars Bartulis, who has proven himself dependable at the professional level, Mike Ratchuck, who just finished his first full season of professional hockey last season, and Patrick Hersley, a young Swede who has shown glimpses of skill in his brief minor league stint with Philadelphia.
However, suppose the Flyers don’t make any trades and keep both Carle and Jones. To some this may not be such a bad alternative, but it would result in the Salary Cap picture once again coming into glaring view for Philadelphia. So, with a little over $2 million to spend, who would make a good fit with the Flyers? Here are five names to consider (NOTE: I have only included UFA’s, because, let’s be honest, RFA’s are going to be too much compensation-wise for the Flyers to handle).
5 FORWARD FREE AGENT NAMES TO CONSIDER (THAT YOU HAVEN’T ALREADY HEARD) (Last year’s team in parantheses)
- Stephane Yelle (Boston Bruins, UFA): Yelle is a name that has been talked about throughout Flyer circles for the past few days as someone the Orange and Black are looking to add to bolster themselves down the middle. The 35 year old Center proved to be incredibly reliable for the Boston Bruins last season, but quickly lost his job due to Boston’s Free Agent signing of Steve Begin on July 1st. Yelle isn’t quite the point producer he once was, as last season he went for seven goals and eleven assists, but he certainly would add another reliable man to the face-off dot for the Flyers. As things are positioning themselves now, it appears the Flyers will utilize a combination of Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Danny Briere, and Darroll Powe as their centermen. The acquisition of Yelle would allow the Flyers to stack their first two lines, moving Briere to a wing, and solidifying their centers down the middle.
- Maxim Afinogenov (Buffalo Sabres, UFA): Acquiring Afinogenov would be pushing the financial envelope for the Flyers somewhat, but it’s definitely something worth looking into. For some reason or another, the Flyers have always had a grudge against signing Russian players, so bringing in Maxim would have to come as an exception, but I think the Flyers should be willing to make an adjustment. Sure, Afinogenov had, by far, the worst year of his career last season (6G,14A=20PTS), but the guy is incredibly talented and a very quick skater. He’s reached the twenty goal plateau thrice thus far in his career, and a new environment could be exactly what a guy like Max may need to resurrect his career. Plus, in today’s NHL it never hurts to add a guy with speed, and that is something that Afinogenov possesses. As stated earlier, the Flyers would need a financial bargain to bring Afinogenov to South Philadelphia, but #61 jerseys would quickly become popular if the Flyers could bring Max to Broad Street.
- Todd Bertuzzi (Calgary Flames, UFA): Steve Moore may not be happy about this selection, but I think many Philadelphia Flyer fans would.
What’s not to like about Bertuzzi as a guy the Flyers could bring in? He’s big, he’s tough, and he has the tenacity that would be able to electrify the Wachovia Center on a nightly basis. He’s coming from a team in Calgary that made their mark by beating the snot out of their opponents, and he would bring a similar attitude to the Flyers. Before shaking your head at this name, consider this: the Flyers’ GM is Paul Holmgren. He, himself was a very physical presence back in his hay-day. Therefore, he has a soft-spot in his heart for the NHL’s “Bad Boys” (Emery, Pronger, Carcillo, Cote). Don’t be shocked if the Flyers make a push this winger, because, when healthy, he can produce for the type of position the Flyers would need him in: a guy that can camp out in front of a goaltender’s net night in and night out and make life miserable, while creating scoring chances in the process. Last season, Bertuzzi had a very respectable campaign, scoring 15 goals to go along with 29 assists for a nice 44 point season. Still not liking the idea? Well, hope the Flyers can’t afford him, because if the money’s right and the shoe fits, it may just be a perfect fit on to Bertuzzi’s foot.
- Manny Malholtra (Columbus Blue Jackets, UFA): The proto-typical third line center if there ever was one, Manny Malholtra would be a very nice fit to the organ-EYE-zation. Like Stephane Yelle, Malholtra is known for his face off prowess and is looking to join a big-market club after spending the last four post-lockout seasons in Columbus. The price for Malholtra shouldn’t be too steep and that could play a large role in attracting the Flyers to directing a phone call his way. Malholtra notched a career high in points last year, garnering 35 on 11 goals and 24 assists. If signed by the Flyers, it would present the Orange and Black with the same type of scenario that was presented if Yelle were to sign: flexibility. And when all a team has is $2 million to work with, a little flexibility could be the best thing they may ever get.
- Robert Lang (Montreal Canadiens, UFA): Remember when Robert Lang was one of the top players in the NHL? Neither do I, but he has definitely had some glory seasons in this league. Lang is OLD (38), and in the twilight of his career, but could come as a relative bargain to the Flyers, if they are so inclined to inquire about his services. In an injury shortened season last year (50 games), Lang posted 39 points, notching 18 goals in the process. It’s perceived that Lang will find an NHL job, whether with the Flyers or elsewhere, but it would be nice to see his career end in Philadelphia. The Flyers should be able to afford him, and provided he stays healthy, he would be a nice pick-up. The main question would be: if the Flyers can come to terms with a guy like Lang at 38, why couldn’t they make the move necessary to keep Mike Knuble at 37?
Keep and eye out on these guys and we’ll see if I end up looking smart (has to happen to everybody at some point) and one of them end up with the Philadelphia Flyers. I’ll be attending the Flyers Press Conference tomorrow, as they introduce Chris Pronger and (I believe) Brian Boucher and Ian Laperriere to the media at the Flyers Skate Zone in Vorhees, NJ. Expect a post on all the happenings surrounding that exciting day tomorrow.
Hope you all had a great holiday.