With all the new faces at the Skate Zone this year, it's been a
pretty exciting camp for the Flyers. Amidst massive roster turnover came
some interesting position battles, and a few weeks ago, it became clear
that some good players would not make this team. Some would head to
Glens Falls to at least begin the season playing for the Phantoms, while
others would be gone entirely.
As Thursday's season opener approaches, the regular season roster
picture became clearer with a handful of rather notable moves on
Tuesday. We'll know even more come the noon hour today, when we find out
which of the players the Flyers exposed to waivers were claimed, and
which will stay in the organEYEzation.
So who could be moving? Fourth line center / talented penalty killer
Blair Betts and defensemen Matt Walker and Oskars Bartulis were waived,
and can be claimed by other NHL teams before noon on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Brayden Schenn, the highly touted young forward acquired as
part of the deal for Mike Richards, gets to hang on to the title "best
player not in the NHL" a little longer, as he will begin the season with
the AHL Adirondack Phantoms.
A look at what those moves could mean to the roster below.
the Schenn move, which has little if any controversy or even surprise
to it. His being sent to the Phantoms isn't a demotion so much as it is a
strategic move, perhaps toward a better immediate and long-term on-ice
product, but certainly a better salary cap situation. CapGeek.com points
out that spending any time—even one day—in the minors this season
knocks Schenn's cap hit from $3.11 million to $1.705 million.
In other words, Schenn could have scored 10 goals and stayed completely
healthy throughout the preseason and he'd be en route to Glens Falls
right now anyway.
How long he stays there, we don't know. But his cap hit is suddenly
much better for the remainder of the season when he does get recalled.
It won't kill Schenn or the Flyers for him to get some more time in the
minors either, both to get an ailing shoulder up to speed and to get
some more pre-NHL seasoning. Of course, it may hurt his odds at winning
the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie, which betting site
Bodog.com had set as its highest.
Despite trading away two centers (counting Jeff Carter there because
it was still his natural position) and possibly losing another one
overnight, the Flyers are still pretty deep up the middle. For now, it
looks like they'll be keeping first-round draft pick Sean Couturier on
the NHL roster to start the season. That may change after 10 games, the
point at which he can be returned to his junior team without counting
against the Flyers current cap year.
Gambling on Losing Betts
One player the Flyers may not be able to
yo-yo back after dangling him over the hands of the league's waiver
grabbers is Blair Betts. Despite battling nagging injuries, Betts has
been a stalwart defensive forward for the Flyers, anchoring their fourth
line and penalty killing units. Now, those coveted skills and his
attractive $700k salary are likely headed for another club.
When the Flyers signed Max Talbot away from the Pittsburgh Penguins
this off-season, the departure of Betts became a possibility. Talbot
kills penalties and can man the fourth line pivot. He's only 27 years
old and has obviously come up big at key playoff moments, so his allure
is understandable. However, Talbot loses more faceoffs than he wins
(48.6% last season), and the faceoff circle isn't a place the Flyers
appeared able to take a step back.
Talbot also costs more than Betts ($1.75 mil per the next five
seasons), and he was a minus player last season to Betts' plus-7 if you
put stock in that stat. We were, perhaps naively, hoping there'd be a
way to keep both players; while Talbot will be asked to fill some of
Betts' previous roles, he's not necessarily an exact fit, perhaps
ideally used as a wing on either the third or fourth line.
However, the Flyers were looking for someone even more versatile
than a fourth-line center who could kill penalties. They wanted someone
who could replace the energy Ian Laperriere brought to the table,
something Dan Carcillo couldn't consistently do (particularly when he
wasn't playing regularly). Talbot may be coming into a firestorm in
Philly in that many fans don't like his contract, think he's a bit
overrated, and now he likely has Betts' shoes to fill.
But, we need to give this some time before coming to our
conclusions. Fourth line centers are often more replaceable than they
seem, as we learned when the Flyers exposed Glen Metropolit to waivers a
few seasons back due to cap constraints. Metro was missed for the rest
of that season, but was replaced by Betts in the next year's camp,
having been let go by the Rangers.
Back to Talbot for a minute. I recall a lot of fans not liking the
Lappy signing because one of the Flyers' big problems the previous
season was taking too many penalties, resulting in too much time on the
kill. Lappy knew his way to the box, but the concern was largely washed out when we saw what a contributor he could be. Now the team is looking for the guy who can replace him, playing
valuable minutes while also serving an agitating role and throwing down
when the situation calls for it, plus chipping on offense here and
there. I'll miss Betts if he gets snatched up, and there's a good chance
he will, but I'm reserving judgment on Talbot and even fostering some
optimism that he can be a key role-player here. We'll revisit that as
the season moves on I'm sure.
In any case, the current penalty killing situation bears monitoring,
as does the defensive role of the forwards at even strength. Richards
was a huge strength in both regards, and Carter was underrated
defensively (not a popular opinion, I know, but he was no sieve in his
own zone). If Betts is gone, Claude Giroux will probably have to play
more PK minutes than he otherwise might have, which doesn't hurt the PK,
but does use some more of our most talented player's nightly ice time
in non-attacking situations. Matt Read and Wayne Simmonds will also see
time on the killing unit, which also lost the talents of Darroll Powe.
Back End of the Blue Line
While Matt Walker's $1.7mil salary made
him a candidate for a cap relief waiving, the team's recent confidences
in him as reported by Tim Panaccio made it seem like they might hang on
to them. Of course, they could just be trying to draw a suitor to take
that money on. Andreas Lilja is slotted in as the sixth d-man, but
presumably either Oskars Bartulis or Walker will be kept on as the
seventh if one or both clear. We'll wait on commenting further until we
see how the waivers shake out, but Paul Holmgren expressed some degree
of confidence to Panotch that both guys might clear.
Bob McKenzie's Read on Matt Read
Matt Read has earned a spot with
the Flyers with his impressive camp and preseason showings. He's also
earned acknowledgement from one of the most respected hockey voices
around, with TSN's Bob McKenzie picking him to be this year's Calder
Trophy winner. While I don't see that happening, as these awards usually go to guys
who stand out either in the crease or on the stat sheet, and I don't see
Read racking up quite that many points, it's pretty encouraging to see
McKenzie throw some confidence behind his ability to contribute at the
NHL, and then some.
Plus, two of the new Flyer faces have been mentioned in this post as
possible Calder Trophy winners, and neither of them is the guy the
Flyers got high in the first round of the 2011 draft, who is also