In Atlantic Division, Flyers have improved most

In Atlantic Division, Flyers have improved most
July 14, 2013, 10:00 am
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Ed Snider sounded excited even though he was battling a cold.
 
“We didn’t know [Vinny] Lecavalier would be there,” the Flyers' chairman said. “We knew we needed a forward and didn’t know we’d get him.
 
“We didn’t know Ray Emery would leave Chicago. We knew we wanted a goalie. We definitely knew about Mark Streit. We sort of had him in our plans.
 
“But to have these two guys fall into our lap? It exceeded our plan. It exceeded with the three guys we got. We lost nothing. That’s the best part about it. We kept our players and our draft picks.”
 
The Flyers made three acquisitions in free agency and despite the ages of two of them, they did very well.

Center Lecavalier (33) and defenseman Streit (35) have some years left in them. Really, if they, along with Ray Emery (30), give the Flyers a fighting chance for the Stanley Cup, no one is going to question their ages.
 
General manager Paul Holmgren improved his hockey club and addressed three areas of concern without losing any assets from his organization.
 
For the first time in a generation, it seems, you look at the Flyers' goaltending and actually feel good about Emery and Steve Mason as opposed to the other revolving door of goalies the Flyers have had in net since Bernie Parent.
 
“I think we’re a team that is certainly competitive right now,” Holmgren said. “We didn't make the playoffs last year, so we’ve got to put our best foot forward and try to get back in the playoffs and then we'll go from there.
 
“In terms of competing for the Stanley Cup, my opinion on it, I think it's been the same way in the salary cap era: If you get in, anything can happen.”
 
Which brings us to this: How did the Flyers’ chief nemeses do?
 
Let’s start with Pittsburgh, which won the No. 1 seed in the conference last season.
 
GM Ray Shero rolled the dice at the trade deadline, and none of the deals that brought him Jarome Iginla, Douglas Murray and Brenden Morrow panned out, as the Boston Bruins vanquished them in four games in the Eastern Conference Finals.
 
Shero’s biggest concern was how to re-sign Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Pascal Dupuis. Remarkably, he found a way to do it and still went out and got the best free agent stay-at-home defenseman on the market in Rob Scuderi, who was a vital part of the Pens’ 2009 Cup club. The Pens also had a couple of minor signings, but they kept their core nucleus together while also improving.
 
Obviously, the Penguins again will be the favorite in the East this season, especially after the losses Boston suffered in free agency -- not the least of which was the departure of Nathan Horton to laid-back and lowly Columbus -- and the trade of Tyler Seguin.
 
There was much anticipation that the Rangers would use a compliance buyout on Brad Richards, which would have posed an interesting dilemma for the Flyers, because Holmgren had great interest in Richards before new Rangers coach Alain Vigneault nixed the buyout in June.
 
Richards or Lecavalier? Who do you think the Flyers would have chosen if that had been the offering?
 
Anyway, the Rangers saw Ryane Clowe, who had a very low impact on them, depart for New Jersey. New York GM Glen Sather signed Dominic Moore, whom the team once drafted. Moore, you will recall, took the lockout-shortened season off following the death of his wife, Katie, last January.
 
Sather’s priority this summer was re-signing defenseman Ryan McDonagh. He achieved that while also adding forward Benoit Pouilot and journeyman defenseman Aaron Johnson, who joins his seventh team.
 
Did the Rangers do as well as the Flyers or Pens? No.
 
Which brings us to the Devils, who have owned the Flyers the past two seasons -- much as the Rangers have, but for different reasons.

Losing David Clarkson to free agency was a huge blow, just as losing Zach Parise was last summer. Which is why GM Lou Lamoriello went out and secured Clowe and then free agent forward Michael Ryder.
 
What Lamoriello never expected, however, was that Ilya Kovalchuk would announce a week after all the top free agents were gone that he was “retiring” and going back to Russia.
 
Kovalchuk’s departure cripples the Devils’ already anemic offense. Forget his lockout stats -- he scored 37 goals the season before and was a point-a-game player in the NHL for 11 years, with 816 points in as many games.
 
Clowe and Ryder now face that much more pressure to compensate for the losses of Clarkson and Kovalchuk. If the Russian winger had told the Devils a week sooner, it’s likely Lamoriello would have been able to re-sign Clarkson, who signed a seven-year, $36.75 million contract with the Maple Leafs.
 
Clearly, the Devils took a beating here, simply by the unexpected retirement of Kovalchuk, who walked away from the final 12 years and $77 million on his contract.
 
And what of the Islanders?
 
GM Garth Snow’s biggest move was to re-sign goalie Evgeni Nabokov and ink right wing Pierre-Marc Bouchard from Minnesota, who got $2 million for scoring eight goals last season after scoring just nine the year before.
 
Right.
 
All in all, the Flyers did the most to improve their hockey club, though it remains to be seen whether they’ve gained ground on Pittsburgh.
 
Either way, people are smiling again in the Flyers' front office.
 
“I feel better than I have in years,” Snider said. “I feel very good about this team.”
 
He should. They’ve improved.