I have been a Flyers fan my entire life. In fact, my earliest memory is celebrating the Flyers’ second Stanley Cup in 1975 by banging pots and pans while my dad lit fireworks he bought in South Carolina and illegally transported north. It was good times and we had a ball.
Fast forward many years. Unlike that 1975 team, the Flyers have, shall we say, a weakness in goal. Of course, it’s not a gigantic hole. Michael Leighton provided solid, sometimes spectacular, work as the Flyers drove to the Stanley Cup Final. Unfortunately, Leighton’s play dipped when they got there, the Flyers top line failed to score much and they were toppled by the Chicago Blackhawks.
The good news? There was a very solid looking crop of free agent goalies. Past all stars, Vezina winners and guys very comparable to Craig Anderson, who went from back-up in Florida to getting Hart Trophy votes as league MVP. Obviously, the Flyers didn’t sign any of them as yet-7 hours or so into the free agency period.
So, what did they do? They solidified their defense corps, re-signed Leighton and RFA Braydon Coburn, and made a curious signing up front.
Step One-was before free agency began. On Wednesday evening, the Flyers re-signed Leighton to a 2 year, $3.1mm deal. That sent a clear message that he’d get an opportunity to at least compete for the starting job. I’m fine with having Leighton compete for the gig, but I did not want to see him handed the role. I fully expected to see Dan Ellis, Chris Mason or even Jose Theodore signed as competition…but more on that later.
Step two was this morning, shortly before noon. The Flyers sent a 2nd round pick to Tampa Bay for defenseman Andrej Meszaros. Meszaros was coveted by the Flyers a couple years back, when he was an Ottawa Senators RFA. He was traded to the Lightning and seemed to really find his way…into the dumpster.
Meszaros has considerable tools, but he was nowhere near the big cap hit he brought to Tampa. His offensive game sputtered, he suffered through various injuries and seemed to simply be prone to horrid decision making. If he can get back into form as a 2nd or third pair guy, with less pressure and responsibility, this deal could be a really good one for the Flyers. The Flyers also traded for Matt Carle who had struggled for the Bolts and he was solid all year for the Flyers, showing flashes of brilliance.
Of course, Meszaros’ $4mm cap hit is more than those of Toni Lydman and Henrik Tallinder, and just slightly less than those of guys who signed this afternoon, like Anton Volchenkov and Paul Martin. None of those guys are as big a risk as Meszaros is. He could be a steal and provide excellent two way play with a bit of a physical edge, or he could be a disaster…
Once the bell rung on free agency, the Flyers added another defenseman, former Duck and King Sean O’Donnell. The gritty veteran has a lot of miles, but there’s still enough tread on the tires for what his role will be-that of experienced sixth defenseman with grit and smarts. He’s a former defense partner of Chris Pronger and a former teammate of forward Ian Laperriere.
Next came the real inexplicable move. The Flyers signed veteran enforcer Jody Shelley to a 3 year deal worth $3.3mm. Considering that current enforcer Riley Cote was a healthy scratch for all but two games after Peter Laviolette took over behind the Flyers’ bench, Shelley’s addition is a head scratcher for a team so close to the salary cap.
It could be that Shelley is a replacement for lost tough guy Arron Asham, who was not offered a deal. The trouble is, Shelley is making almost twice what Asham did and is not as good a player as the departing energy line stalwart. The Flyers seemed to thrive under Laviolette when they could roll four lines. Shelley makes it easier to dress a heavyweight enforcer and do that, but he’s a downgrade as a player.
Braydon Coburn re-signed for 2 years, $6.4mm just as the festivities got underway at noon.
So, what does this mean for the 2010-11 season? Well, the Flyers could still grab a solid free agent goalie to battle Leighton. Evgeni Nabokov and Marty Turco, both of whom were spoken too by the Flyers prior to the official opening of free agency, are still out there. So is former Vezina and Hart winner Theodore, who had a solid year in Washington.
The thing, I guess , that bothers me about goal is that Leighton signed for more money than Dan Ellis got from Tampa Bay. Chris Mason got $300,ooo more from Atlanta. Both guys, IMO, are slight upgrades to Leighton. It’s troubling to me that the Flyers were not involved in those talks more significantly.
So, bottom line-the forwards take a slight hit, the defense potentially is better and in goal they tread water. All this while Pittsburgh and New Jersey add solid players on their bluelines and get better.
It could be worse. I could be a Rangers or Flames fan, writing a suicide note that prominently featured the names Sutter, Sather, Boogaard and Jokinen.
The word is that the team is done for now, but if Turco and Nabokov are still out there in a few days, they might revisit their talsk with the veteran backstops. There’s also some rumblings about possible trades, including a tweet by Nick Kypreos saying that Simon Gagne’s name had been tossed about in the Meszaros talks.
UPDATE: There are several rumors going about concerning Simon Gagne. Former Panthers and Blue Jackets GM Doug MacLean posted on twitter that a Flyers source had told him that Gagne had played his last game as a Flyer. Other Flyers bloggers who generally have an ear close to the ground seemed to confirm that Gagne was being shopped.
It will be interesting to see if Gagne, the dean of the Flyers, is dealt and for what.
About the Author: I hate shootouts. I hate the salary cap. I hate players with low hockey IQ. I love physical hockey, played by honest hard nosed players. I don't mind ties, unless I have to wear the damned thing.