Despite the fact the Rangers exploited the Flyers' defense with superior speed during much of the teams' seven-game playoff series, Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren said the issue is not players, it’s quicker puck movement.
Holmgren said during breakup day on Friday that he is comfortable with the speed he has on his blue line even though the Flyers looked slow against the Rangers and still lack that impact defenseman.
Holmgren said poor execution hurt the Flyers, especially in the playoff losses. He added coach Craig Berube has the personnel to go deeper next year and they will with “improvement and maturation” of younger players.
Back to the speed on the blue line …
“Speed on the back end, is Braydon Coburn not a good skater?” Holmgren asked. “He’s one of the better skaters in the league. Andrew MacDonald is a good skater. Nicklas Grossmann skates OK. Erik Gustafsson skates OK.
“Do we have enough? You could always use more. To me, it’s all about puck movement and execution which makes a fast team. The puck moves faster than any player. There were times in this series we looked relatively good coming out of our end with good, quick puck movement where it caught forwards at the right time where we could escape their forecheck pressure.”
Kimmo Timonen’s contract is up. He looked very good for much of the season, but like virtually every defensemen except Luke Schenn and Gustafsson, had a poor playoffs.
Holmgren said he would be open to re-signing Timonen if the 39-year-old wants to return, but it’s obvious it depends on salary.
Timonen earned $6 million this season and is no longer that kind of defenseman. Holmgren said a decision is expected by the NHL draft.
Club chairman Ed Snider said he’d like to see quicker development of defensive prospects, such as Shayne Gostisbehere.
“We’ve been focusing in the last two years on drafting young defensemen,” Snider said. “We’ve got some in the hopper. When they’re going to be ready, I don’t know. I like to call him 'got-to-be-here,' however you pronounce it … but he’s got to be here.
“I think this kid has tremendous potential. Who knows. Young defensemen are doing wonderful things all over the league. You saw what happened in Montreal last night with P.K. Subban.
“There’s a lot of young defensemen doing wonderful things in this league … there’s no reason for us to think that this kid can’t come in and help us. To be a plus-7 in a championship game when there’s seven goals scored and four against is pretty amazing.”
Holmgren said Gostisbehere and Robert Hagg would both get long looks in training camp.
“Robert Hagg played a good 10 games in the American League and I saw a couple of them and he looked pretty good,” Holmgren said. “A lot of people saw Shayne play in the NCAA final. He played pretty good, but that’s a big jump. I saw him play one American League game, and he played pretty good in that game, too.
“I like some of our young guys, but is it a stretch to say they’re going to be ready for the NHL? It’s probably a stretch, but there are also guys that have done it over the past couple of years with other teams. I’m not sure I would say our guys are not in the same boat as those guys.”
Last summer’s biggest free-agent signing, Vinny Lecavalier, did not work out. Slotted for a top-nine forward spot, he was tried at all three positions and reduced to playing fourth-line center averaging 10:41 ice time while earning $4.5 million. Lecavalier has four years left on his contract.
“I wouldn’t say I’m disappointed in Vinny, but I am disappointed for him,” Holmgren said. “A lot of things went against him this year.”
Holmgren said Lecavalier was a better fit for Peter Laviolette’s speed system than Berube’s more defensive-oriented system.
“Moving forward, we have to figure out how things fit,” Holmgren said.
Snider added on Lecavalier: “He’s a good hockey player. He got 20 goals with all the problems ... he had a problem this year, but it’s got to be solved by next year.”
On restricted free agent Brayden Schenn’s contract, Holmgren said there have not been any talks since last summer. That is not a good sign.
He admitted Schenn’s play lacks consistency, especially in raising the tempo of it and keeping it there.
Maybe that becomes the spot for Lecavalier if Schenn is moved this summer?
As for free-agent goalie Ray Emery -- Steve Mason said he hoped Emery would be re-signed -- Holmgren said he wanted to see a full medical report, but is open to re-signing him.