As opener nears, Holmgren faces roster decisions

As opener nears, Holmgren faces roster decisions
September 25, 2013, 2:30 pm
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Roster battles for players like Scott Laughton and Erik Gustafsson will be decided in the coming week. (USA Today Images)

Training camp is winding down to a precious two games for the Flyers to sort things out.
 
They will end exhibition play this week with Thursday’s game in New York, then Friday’s finale in Washington.
 
Preseason is about working on systems, personnel, special teams and getting your goalies ready. It’s not necessarily about winning games. So far, the Flyers have not had a game with their entire roster, either.
 
After five exhibition games, the Flyers have scored just 11 goals, given up 14 and have a 1-3-1 record.
 
General manager Paul Holmgren doesn’t feel the team is far off. He still must decide whether to carry 13 or 14 forwards; whether Michael Raffl makes the final cut; and whether Scott Laughton stays on the roster or goes back to his junior team, the Oshawa Generals.
 
One more thing. Does Erik Gustafsson or Andrej Meszaros get the last of the top six spots on defense? Holmgren has already admitted he may carry eight defensemen at season’s start.

The Laughton decision likely will come first because it doesn’t involve waivers or a trade.
 
“At the end of the day, we will do what is best for the organization and best for Scott,” Holmgren said, recalling the 19-year-old’s time here last season before being sent back to Oshawa.
 
At this point, Laughton is simply going to dominate for the Generals. Yet unless he is playing center on a nightly basis, it doesn’t make sense to have sit as a healthy scratch, either. He needs games.
 
“Whether he is ready or not, we have a couple more days to think about it,” Holmgren said.
 
Decisions on defense are just as challenging because of the numbers – 10 (including Hal Gill).
 
“I’m encouraged by the health,” Holmgren said. “All our defensemen are healthy. We have good depth. They have all played good. Are there tough decisions? Absolutely. At the end of the day, we have good depth and if [we] remain healthy we will be OK.”
 
It remains unlikely Bruno Gervais stays or that Gill is offered a contract. If the Flyers, however, were to move a defenseman in a trade, it’s entirely possible the club would carry a veteran like Gill as an extra player.
 
At least one body has to go and possibly two.
 
“All those things will be decided when we need to make decisions,” Holmgren said.
 
So where does this team stand?
 
“We’re reasonably healthy still,” Holmgren said. “We’ve got a couple of guys with the flu from Lake Placid. We don’t have anything serious injury wise.
 
“Obviously, you’d like to have a better record in some of these games. [Tuesday] we got a taste of what it’s going to be like once we get to the games for real. It’s all about competition and one-on-one battles and stuff like that. For the most part, we played a pretty good game [against New Jersey].”
 
The Flyers have Claude Giroux back, but they have lost Jakub Voracek to an apparent lower back injury, and Wayne Simmonds missed the 2-1 loss to the Devils with the flu. Simmonds rejoined practice on Wednesday.
 
“Claude’s first game … it’s good to get him back in the lineup,” Holmgren said. “He is obviously our catalyst and the guy who makes the team go. I think we’re OK.
 
“We’ve got two games left. One of the two games we will play most of our team and try to get Luke Schenn and Wayne and [Zac] Rinaldo back in the lineup for Friday. Then we’ll be ready to go.”
 
How does he feel about the club right now?
 
“I feel good,” Holmgren replied. “It’s going to be hard. The league is a tough league.”

Even tougher with realignment and a stacked Metropolitan Division that is far more competitive than the old Altantic.
 
Eight clubs make the playoffs from each conference, but the major difference is there are 16 teams in the East and only 14 in the West. So the odds favor teams out west for a playoff spot.
 
Kimmo Timonen, the defensive captain of this club even though the title doesn’t exist in reality, said things still need to settle in.
 
“We’ve still got some guys out of the lineup,” Timonen said. “There’s still a couple games left and we need those games.
 
“That’s why it’s called preseason – you try different stuff, different power play units, different forwards  together. Different guys and that kind of stuff. I’m sure the next two games we’ll pare down and start playing lines together.”