Greenberg: Post trades, Flyers need size at center

Greenberg: Post trades, Flyers need size at center
June 24, 2011, 3:07 pm
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Friday, June 24, 2011
Posted: 11:06 a.m.

By Jay Greenberg
CSNPhilly.com Contributor

If you think the Flyers committed to a youth movement on the same day they signed a 31-year-old goalie for nine years, then you were born yesterday. Into the rear ends of a team that didnt compete hard enough last season, Paul Holmgren swiftly put one shoe Thursday. And now we wait for the other one to drop.

With Mike Richards and Jeff Carter traded, and cap space cleared for Ilya Bryzgalov and Ville Leino, there still can be further room created for Brad Richards or Tim Connolly, the two best centers free to sign on July 1. Failing that, or a trade for another scoring center, minimally there is room for the next best free agent centerman, Brooks Laich, who is a suddenly-necessary 6-foot-2.

Holmgren said it was important to get bigger on the wings, which he did with Jakub Voracek and Wayne Simmonds. But its unfathomable the GM is going to leave the Flyers so small at center.

Brayden Schenn, 19, filling out a 6-1 frame, was an important, maybe the most important piece, coming back in two stunning deals. But it will be four years, if ever, until he can anchor a first line. And as skilled as Claude Giroux, 5-11, and Danny Briere, 5-10, are, its asking too much from them to do it even now.

So the Flyers are going to buy somebody. If Schenn, the fifth player selected in 2009, is ready for the NHL, if Voracek, a slow-developing No. 7 overall in 2007, matures, if Year Three turns James van Riemsdyk into a night-in, night-out force, indeed maybe you can see the Flyers finding enough scoring to replace Carters team-leading 36 goals and Richards' 23 goals in a bad year with a bad wrist.

But what we cannot see is Holmgren foisting upon Peter Laviolette a team that is undersized down the middle not in a division where Pittsburgh lines up Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal and where the Rangers are all hot to get Brad Richards.

The Flyers cant help but try to prevent that by getting Richards themselves or making a trade that restores them as a team built to win now. If they still didnt look at themselves like that, Sergei Bobrovsky would remain their No. 1 goalie. But theres more work to do and considering what is at stake, our guess is thats already half done or Holmgren wouldnt have taken the risk he did Thursday.

What we do not have to guess at is his motivation to trade a captain and a leading scorer. Holmgren, who had only rising player van Riemsdyk playing this coming season at a cap-friendly number, pretty well laid it out on Monday.

The higher picks, we cant keep giving them up, Holmgren said.

The 2008 No. 1, Luca Sbisa, and the 2009 and 2010 No. ones were traded for Chris Pronger. Friday nights 25th pick went for Kris Versteeg, which hardly seemed worth it until Holmgren effectively moved up 17 places in the first round by getting Columbus pick.

Of course that cost him a 36-goal scorer, although it was 36-goal scorer down from a high of 46 two years ago, the same guy who has missed 16 playoff games in the last two years and has scored only 13 goals in the 47 postseason games hes played. Maybe Carter would live that down in time. Maybe he wouldnt. But there was a year to go until both Carters and Richards no-trade clause kicked in and two uncompetitive losses in Bostons second-round sweep convinced Holmgren that the locker room had to change.

Of course, the Flyers missed Pronger, whose broken hand precipitated the slide, and whose one full game in the playoffs, Game 7 against Buffalo, had them fleetingly looking like themselves again. But whether the rumors of enmity or power struggle between Pronger and Richards were true or exaggerated, the room finally belonged unchallenged to Richards, and he did not take control of it.

To take the captaincy away from him and give it to Pronger would have been at considerable risk to Richards psyche and maybe the psyche of his alter ego, Carter, too. They were drafted in the same year in the same first round, did rounds together on South Street, and then were traded away on the same day.

Both were good players, but replaceable. Otherwise, on a day when the Flyers believed they finally closed a 25-year-old hole, they wouldnt leave themselves with another.

Jay Greenberg covered the Flyers for 14 years for the Daily News and Evening Bulletin. His history of the Flyers, Full Spectrum, was published in 1996. He can be reached at jayg616@aol.com.

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