Flyers have big questions to address in offseason

Flyers have big questions to address in offseason
May 2, 2014, 11:00 am
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Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren will have a few issues to address during the offseason after the club was eliminated by the Rangers in the first round of the playoffs. (AP)

Traditionally, the Flyers hold their “break-up” day after the playoffs in the morning or mid-afternoon.

Not this year.

For the first time in decades -- literally -- the Flyers will "break up" Friday night as players, coach Craig Berube and general manager Paul Holmgren will offer their final take on the regular season and playoffs.

The Flyers' lack of quality depth, especially on defense, was badly exposed by the New York Rangers during the playoffs. Because of that, more pressure will be placed on the organization to develop a young, puck-moving defensemen who can contribute big minutes.

Alas, that has been the Flyers’ biggest downfall on defense since the days of Chris Therien.

As usual, the Flyers are facing a number of issues heading into what now figures to be a long summer:

1. What becomes of Holmgren?
There’s a reason why Ron Hextall came back to the organization and a reason why you no longer hear Hexy’s name mentioned anywhere else in the NHL when a GM spot opens up, including Washington, recently. The assumption is that Hextall will replace Holmgren, sooner rather than later.

Holmgren is entering the final year of his contract, but a number of NHL sources believe he will step aside and return to amateur scouting. As one source noted, scouting is what Holmgren has always liked best. He misses the relationship with that side of hockey.

If Holmgren elects to fulfill his final year, the obvious question is how much influence will he have in any decision if Hextall is going to succeed him?

2. Steve Downie
Hands down, this was the worst trade Holmgren made this season. The Flyers gave Colorado their best penalty-killing forward in Max Talbot for Downie, who struggled after a concussion in his first game, save for a brief spurt of decent play. Toward the end of the season, Downie basically fell apart with at least one more concussion and poor play.

Downie is unrestricted and won’t be re-signed.

3. Vinny Lecavalier
The Flyers’ marquee free-agent acquisition last summer quickly became the club’s biggest nightly lineup obstacle when it became apparent Lecavalier did not fit into Berube's top three center spots.

Lecavalier is too prominent a player to be reduced for a fourth-line center role and his $4.5 million salary is dead weight on the Flyers' salary cap because they are overpaying for a guy who averaged less than 11 minutes a game. The fact Lecavalier has four more years on his contract makes his signing even worse. It’s not fair to him or the club, and his salary is near impossible to move.

Lecavalier played poorly much of the second half and is believed to have been suffering from a back injury. Regardless, his situation needs to be addressed.

Bottom line: The Flyers made a splash for a player who did not fit without removing one of their younger centers and now they are paying a harsh price.

4. The defense
Andrew MacDonald made the defense more mobile and helped Luke Schenn in his development as a partner. Yet MacDonald, like so many others on the blue line, had a poor playoff series against the Rangers.

The Flyers need more speed on the back end. Kimmo Timonen is no longer a No. 1. If Timonen decides to come back, he has to accept a far lesser role and cap-friendly salary.

The Flyers have tried in vain forever to get that stud D-man that makes all the difference. They had it briefly in Chris Pronger, but post-concussion syndrome ended his career.

The club says it will not pursue Shea Weber one final time this summer. Matt Niskanen is an interesting free agent on the Penguins who would help the Flyers. Regardless, the club needs to quickly develop its young talent -- Shayne Gostisbehere should get a long look in camp -- before the window closes on a team for which some of the younger players are ready to win now.

The lack of quality depth on defense when a player gets injured remains appalling and needs to be resolved.

All of these issues fall at the feet of Holmgren, who will be under pressure from club chairman Ed Snider to find reasonable solutions if he remains general manager next season.

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