In the wake of the Chicago Blackhawks winning hteir third Stanley Cup in six seasons, the NHL offseason is officially underway. And it should be an interesting one for the Flyers.
They have a ton of questions heading into the summer, and Metro caught up with former Flyers defenseman and current radio color analyst Chris Therien for his insight on what the team should do in the coming months.
Metro: What are the team’s biggest needs?
Chris Therien: What their needs are and what they can get are obviously two different things. What they need is a No. 1 defenseman and another top-line left winger to join Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek. Wayne Simmonds would be the perfect guy but he and Voracek both play (right wing). They need a left winger that can score and go to the front of the net. And whether it’s this year or in the future, they need to find a No. 1 defenseman – and I know they don’t fall off trees.
M: Who do you think they need to sign or who would you like to see them sign in free agency?
CT: I don’t really know who is available and it’s not something I really pay attention to. (Former Wild and Sabre) Chris Stewart is actually a guy I look at, though, and he would make some sense for me. He goes to the net, he skates well and has a physical approach to the game. He could be a good fit.
M: Will Vinny Lecavalier be on the team on opening day, and if so, what will his role be with new coach Dave Hakstol?
CT: I think he will be here because they will have problems moving him again. They tried to move him last year and it didn’t happen. If he is here he is going to be asked to do whatever is needed like with (former coach Craig) Berube. He is not getting any younger, and from my point of view the fourth line is not a good fit for him. I think the best thing is to get players to fill those (fourth-line) spots. They need to find a way – if they can – to move him. I think that is the best play here – and they have been trying to do that. As for his role with the new coach, I would have no idea.
M: How should the logjam at defense, where they could have as many as nine guys signed - be resolved?
CT: You are going to have to move somebody. That’s it. You can only play six guys every night. If you have that many guys that warrant that kind of ice time, you have to get creative and get rid of salary. I think when you look at who you have ranked 7th, 8th and 9th, their salaries aren’t that bad you can maybe move them because other teams would want those kinds of guys. It shouldn’t be a problem moving guys like that. It just depends on how much salary other teams want to take back.
M: Will any of the defensive prospects make the opening day roster?
CT: It’s hard to say. I am from the school – and I don’t know if the Flyers do it this way - if a guy comes in and earns a spot in training camp, I am willing to give that guy a chance during the regular season. But if you make some moves and still have 6-7 guys on one-way contracts, it’s probably going to be tough (for the prospects) to get a job immediately.
M: Does Ray Emery return as a backup, and if not, who would you like to see them get?
CT: I’d like a true backup. I don’t think having a guy who is going to be a competitive guy next to Mason will help Steve Mason. He does not need that in his head through the year. He needs a guy who knows he is a backup, is a backup and can come in once every six or seven games and try and play a game hopefully get some wins for the team. There are probably 30 candidates out there and it’s a matter of which one you want.
M: Do you think Brayden Schenn will take the next step in his development?
CT: I think that will be an interesting one to see the relationship between Brayden and the new coach. I think there is another gear in him. I like when he plays with that physical edge. He is always better when he plays physical. When he doesn’t, he is just another average guy on the ice. That is what separates him - when he adds that skill set of great hands, skating, all of that other stuff he has. When he does that consistently and is physical that other step or gear is there for Bradyen Schenn.
M: Do you think Sean Couturier can develop into an offensive threat
CT: That is a really good question and I don’t know the answer. What exactly is the future role for Couturier? He came in as a pro and really learned how to play defense but this is a guy that had an incredible amount of offense in the Quebec League. A lot of people are still waiting for that to happen. When you picked him seventh overall it wasn’t because he is a great checker – you can get that guy in the third or fourth round.
I think it’s a matter of how much he wants to put into making a difference offensively. You can settle into that role defensively where you are just content where you are doing your job every night. However, you can’t get lost in the shuffle as a forward of getting a goal here or there or getting your production up is only going to help your team. I think it’s there for more offense from Sean but he has to be willing to accept that, try and find it and be better than just a third-line checker. If you have that offensive ability, then challenge yourself and discover or rediscover it and pair it together and you can have another Patrice Bergeron (of the Bruins who has won the Selke Trophy as the top defensive forward) on your hands.
M: Do you see RJ Umberger or Matt Read having bounce-back years?
CT: I think Matt Read just had a tough year and things weren’t going in for him. I think Matt Read deserves another chance. He may flourish with Hakstol – and that is the one unknown here. I don’t know what the relationship is going to be between the new coach and his players. Read was hampered with some injuries last year, especially that high ankle sprain. I think when that injury started to heal, he got a little better as the year wore on and at the end. That is a positive sign and I hope he can come back with Couturier and provide more offense.
I don’t know with RJ. Every player in this league you have to honest with yourself of where you are at in your career. I think RJ can do more than he did last year and he knows that. He feels it was a letdown of a season. Can he play on one of your top three lines, though? I don’t know the answer to that. That is why we have training camp and why I am a believer to let guys prove themselves.
Was he injured last year? Were there things bothering him with his body that didn’t allow him to have his kind of year? I remember him as a great skater when I played with him. It looks like he lost a step last year but the older you get you do lose a step whether you like it or not. Hopefully he has a good summer of training and gets ready to go. He is a veteran guy and you need veterans.
M: If the team doesn’t add someone through a trade or free agency, is Michael Raffl the best fit for the top line?
CT: They need a front-of-the-net-guy. Is it Michael Raffl? I don’t know. I like him a lot and I think he is only going to get better. I don’t know if Ron Hextall agrees with me or not but I think he is more of a second-line guy. I just he’d help the team more in that role than a first-line guy. But Giroux and Voracek are comfortable with him and like playing with him. For me, that line right there you have play-maker in Giroux and the goal scorer in Voracek so you need a guy who is going to get the puck out of the corner and get ugly in front of the net. A guy like (Scott) Hartnell but a younger and better version of Hartnell for sure.
There is a guy on the roster but there isn’t a guy on the roster right now for that job. It was an issue all last year for Berube where he didn’t have that option. I thought Raffle did a great job up there. I like more of a power forward who has an edge to his game, and if they can find that, that line will excel even more.
M: Any thoughts on who or what position the Flyers should draft later this month?
CT: I remember being 18 and getting drafted but these guys are so incredible young and will have so many life changes over the years. But for me my philosophy is to draft a defenseman every year unless you are picking first and have a chance at a Connor McDavid. Like the Dallas Cowboys drafting a lineman every year in the 90s, that is what I would do. If you have a high first-round pick and get a defenseman, he is going to be like cold pizza where he’s still going to be pretty good. You are not going to get a bad D-man that high in the first round these days.
If he doesn’t turn out to be what you were hoping he would be, you are still going to get a really good player in the first round with a defenseman. That is the direction I would lean in. I have heard a couple names in that spot but not enough to know anything. Even (NBC analyst and Flyers TV color analyst Keith Jones) would be lying if he said he knew who the team should take because he doesn’t know anything about prospects (laughter), either. The fans know more about the prospects than I know. I’d take a center or a defenseman because you can find wingers anywhere in free agency.