Flyers bulk up defense in “free agent frenzy”

By JAY BOEHMER
Staff Writer — jboehmer@highhopesblog.com
_______

Andrej Meszaros was among the acquisitions Paul Holmgren has made for this Flyers team. (FILE)

The Flyers entered this decisive first day of free agency needing to fill holes on defense, replace (or resign) third and fourth liners Asham, Carcillo, and Powe, and possibly even make a move for a goaltender to start ahead of Michael Leighton and Brian Boucher.

With the Flyers recent talks with Evgeni Nabokov and Dan Ellis, many looked to see them make a move for another goalie, despite their decisions to test the market.

Let’s look at the timeline of the day:

12:00; Free Agency Underway

Right from the beginning, the day was dominated by defense.  Minutes into the free agent frenzy that kicked off a 12 o’clock noon, a trade was announced as Paul Holmgren pulled the trigger on a deal to send a 2nd round pick to the Tampa Bay Lightning for Andrej Meszaros.

Member of the All-Rookie team in 2006, Meszaros played three solid 82 game seasons in Ottawa before moving to Tampa Bay, where he suffered a bit of a dropoff.  Hopefully, with his role as a 5th D man coming with less pressure, he will be able to settle into a spot and rediscover what made him so successful during the Senators’ 2007 run at the Stanley Cup.

Fitting with the theme of building a stalwart set of defensemen, the Flyers resigned Braydon Coburn for two seasons at $3.2 million per year.

With six defenders under contract at this point and $2.6 million in cap space to work with, some expected the Flyers to continue to pursue a goaltender in Dan Ellis, who was still affordable under the cap should they fill in with young, cheap forwards.  That was not to be the case, however…

2:00; Teams Taking Shape

Left unsigned by the Los Angeles Kings, veteran defenseman Sean O’Donnell was free to be signed by the Philadelphia Flyers, who picked him up for one year at $1 million.  Around the league since being drafted in 1991, the 38 year old is sure to be worn down and not expected to play heavy minutes.  What he does provide is a gritty style and a big body to place on the third pairing alongside Andrej Meszaros.

O’Donnell was part of the Anaheim Ducks team, along with Chris Pronger, that took home the Stanley Cup in 2007.

Barring any other changes to the Flyers’ defensive roster, this leaves Oskars Bartulis as the odd man out, possibly spending large portions of the season as a healthy scratch or maybe even revisiting the minors with the Phantoms.

Now with a mere $1.6 million and another two forwards to sign, the Flyers looked towards the offensive side of the puck.

Holmgren’s next signing was Jody Shelley, a veteran grinder slated to line up alongside Blair Betts and Ian Laperriere on the Flyers’ checking line.  The 34 year old Shelley spent last year with the New York Rangers.  His only games of note came at the end of the season, as his line was the only one to show up in the home and home series between the Flyers and Rangers.

Shelley netted his only two goals of the season in those last two games.  The kind of play he displayed then would be a great asset to this roster, coming at a price of $1.1 million a year over the next three years.

By this point, the rush of players had ended, with a few teams making some relatively minor signings over the next few hours until everyone decided to call it quits, retreat and regroup for an entire offseason to finish preparations.

When the dust settled, the Flyers were left with one hole left to fill: a winger needed on the 3rd or 4th line.

Don’t get too comfortable, though, as Holmgren may not be done looking at a goaltending market that still holds Nabokov and Marty Turco.

Sources seem to be confirming that the Flyers may look to clear up some cap space with one of their heavier contracts in Carter, Gagne, Briere, or Hartnell, the latter three all carrying no trade clauses that would need to be waived.

The extra dollars they would find with a move like that would either go towards adding more scoring depth, which plagued them against the Blackhawks, or finally nabbing a high value goaltender – something this team hasn’t done since John Vanbiesbrouck.

Holmgren has already said that, should the season start today, he would be content with the goaltending situation, but that he would still be keeping his eyes open to other options.

With the number of possible teams dropping for a player like Nabokov, as goalies like Niittymaki, Biron, Dan Ellis, and Chris Mason all find homes, he may be more willing to take a smaller salary for another chance at the Cup in his final years.

Philadelphia would provide just that sort of opportunity.

Even if no major changes are made, the Flyers are looking like a similar team up front, only losing a few forwards, easily replaced with some bargain bin energy line guys, but with a super-charged defensive squad that would be able to keep goalies like Leighton and Boucher from facing too much heat.  The blue line depth is also key in reducing the number of minutes needed out of a player like Chris Pronger, who can use every break he can catch as his tough minutes climb into the high 20’s game in and game out.

After an exhausting day of trade rumors, myriad signings, and more tweets than you can shake a stick at, every GM, agent, writer and fan could use some good rest.

For some easy reading, here’s a list of some notable signings taking place elsewhere:

Around the League

Most of the day’s action revolved around defensemen and goaltenders, as the following list is sure to show.

Sergei Gonchar: With the first big move of the day, the Ottawa Senators signed the Penguins power play quarterback to a three year deal worth $5.5 mil a season.

Martin Biron: Early on in the day, the New York Rangers picked up for two years and a total of $3.5 million.  He’s expected to play backup and provide a more reliable alternative to “King” Henrik Lundqvist.

Antero Niittymaki: After a successful year playing for the Tampa Bay Lightning, Niittymaki was called to replace Evegeni Nabokov as the starter in San Jose after signing a two year deal.

Paul Martin / Zbynek Michalek: With Gonchar walking out and Hamhuis likely not to sign, the Penguins needed to do something on defense, and GM Ray Shero brought on former Devil Paul Martin, another strong puck moving defenseman, and Michalek from the Phoenix Coyotes.

Dan Hamhuis: After a few days spent in negotiations with Philly, following by a few days of failed negotiations with Pittsburgh, Hamhuis landed in the city that many NHL insiders expected all along, Vancouver.  A British Columbia native, he settled for less money in order to play back home.

Anton Volchenkov: Needing to fill the gap left by the departure of Paul Martin, as well as the loss of Johnny Oduya in the trade for Ilya Kovalchuk, the New Jersey Devils signed tough-as-nails defensemen Anton Volchenkov from the Ottawa Senators.

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1 Comment

Filed under Breaking News, Jay Boehmer

One response to “Flyers bulk up defense in “free agent frenzy”

  1. the flyers surely ended up getting some good deals out the scenario, though! dont you agree?

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