Flyers in strange company at the bottom, time for options

Photos by Lewis Bleiman

Photos by Lewis Bleiman

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. – Last week wasn’t much of a week for the Flyers.  They spent the week getting victimized by three of their biggest rivals, each above them in the Eastern Conference standings, and finished off by barely beating the struggling Buffalo Sabres, 3-2.

First, they visited Madison Square Gardens, where the Broadway Blueshirts ground them down for a 4-2 win, scoring twice in the third stanza, after a tough defensive battle.  Then at home, the Flyers took a 4-1 first period lead versus cross-state rival Pens, before it all came apart and they lost 5-4 on a number of mental mistakes.  And last Saturday, in Boston, the Bruins shut them out 3-0, as they seemed to sleep through the game.

The shutout was so bad, there was a 30-minute team meeting following the disgraceful game, and the team did respond, to eke out a win versus the Sabres the following day, 3-2.  The Sabres, however, are another team struggling with team defense, and a 3-2 win against them is hardly convincing of any kind of turnaround.

The Flyer’s colorful starting netminder, Ilya Bryzgalov, has had 25-starts in 27-games thus far this season, more than any other goaltender.  He’s been pulled 3-times, and come in relief once, for Brian Boucher.

For the first portion of the season, Bryzgalov was easily the team MVP, making brilliant saves, and keeping his lethargic team in games they had no business winning.  He looked great, as his team got off to a 2-6 record to start the season, but lately, he’s been dragging, and his body language has changed.

The 32-year-old netminder’s save percentage has recently drooped to .899, and his team’s offense doesn’t seem poised to support that type of goaltending.

The truth is, the season is more than half over, and the perennial playoff Flyers, see themselves sitting in eleventh place in the Eastern Conference, having played more games than any other team in the league, at 27.  And in the new format in which teams receive a point for overtime and shootout losses, that doesn’t bode well for them to make up much ground in the last 21-games.

“I think every game for us is going to be crucial,” said Bryzgalov.  “We are not in the position to take games off or weeks off. For us, every game is do or die pretty much.”

It’s time to take stock.

This team has a record of 12-14-1.  The .500 mark seemed like an unbreakable barrier to them all season long.  They lost 3-straight games a total of three times this season.  They never once won more than two-in-a-row.  And after more than half the season, they have only 25-points in the standings.

According to an article on Philly.com by Frank Seravalli, they’ll need to acquire around 28-points, through wins or extra time losses, in their remaining 21-games to secure a spot in the playoffs.

For this team, that’s highly unlikely.  So, what do they do?

The Flyers find themselves in the unusual position of being sellers.  The March 3rd trade deadline is quickly approaching, and no one seems ready to blink, just yet.  Many are predicting that the changes in contracts brought on by the latest CBA have ruined the idea of the rental players, so the Flyers may have no alternative, but to wait.  In addition, in the new draft lottery, all non-playoff teams have a chance at the number one pick, so the South Philly brass might just have a prize waiting for them.

Last summer, Flyer’s GM Paul Holmgren, tried desperately to land a superstar defenseman to lead his team in the wake of Chris Pronger’s concussion problems.  All of his attempts failed, including a bold offer sheet to the Pred’s Shea Weber, for around $7.8 million per season.

This season’s draft is considered, by most hockey pundits, to be the deepest in years, especially in the way of defenseman.  If the Flyers could land the number one pick, they’d clearly love to have the coveted Seth Jones at 6-foot-4 and 206-pounds, he’s currently lighting it up in juniors, with 54-points in 58-games for the Portland Winterhawks, at the time of this writing.

But the chance of the Flyers getting the number one pick isn’t very likely.  A more realistic choice might be 6-foot-5 192-pounds Darnell Nurse, of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in the OHL.  He’s the nephew of former Eagle’s quarterback, Donavan McNabb, and has a respectable 38-points in 65-games played for the Greyhounds.  Flyer’s fans will be happy to note, he’s also got a gritty side, as he leads his team in penalty minutes, with 110.

However, a draft pick will not help the Flyers roster right away, as defenseman take a few years to develop.  So, a trade may also be in order.

All Star centerman Danny Briere has been slipping of late.  He’s no longer a top line center, and he’s recently found himself playing on the wing, with diminishing power play time.  He’s also been criticized for his lack of defensive play over the years.  But he’s still a known playoff point-producer, that could help a team cash in on some extra goals.  He can be an offensive weapon for a team looking for secondary scoring.

The 35-year-old Briere has 2-years left on his current contract at a cap hit of $6.5 million, but he’s only due a total salary of $5 million over that same time, as his contract was severely front-loaded.  A team in a lesser market, struggling to meet the cap floor, and looking for some secondary scoring may be a good fit for the aging forward.

It’s no secret the Flyers would love to have a solid puck-moving forward to quarterback their power play and move the break-out at even strength, while also adding some grit on the defensive side of the puck.  Rumor has it, they’ve been inquiring around the league for a possible trade candidate, but as of yet, no buyers.

It may be, they’ll have to wait for the summer to see where they fall in the draft before making a trade.  They’ll have a better idea of the market, and Briere on his own won’t fetch them the puck-mover they need.  They’ll have to sweeten the pot with a prospect or two.

If it’s any consolation to Flyer fans, team GM Paul Holmgren never sits on his laurels, so look for the 2013-2014 season for drastic improvements.

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