The Philadelphia Flyers packed up their lockers for the summer on Thursday and conducted their exit interviews. While there were no updates on injuries and which players will need off-season surgery, there were still a few interesting nuggets.
Paul Holmgren was asked whether he thought injured defenseman and captain Chris Pronger would be ready to return next season, but there was understandably no definitive answer to come from the GM.
"He's doing probably the same and any chance of returning, I would say your guess is as good as mine," he snipped.
As to how he will proceed with his captain over the summer, though with no medical basis, Holmgren is trying to remain positive.
"I think at some point I'll sit down with Chris and see where he's at," the GM said. "Probably prior to July 1st, we'll make an assessment on where he's at. I'm still, as it relates to Chris and as much as anything else, I'm a glass is half full kind of guy. I believe he's going to play, but I don't know, I don't have anything to back that up."
The July 1st timeframe he mentions is an interesting one, as it may give the Flyers' brain trust an idea as to how they will need to proceed when the free agency period begins, depending on Pronger's status.
The Defense and the Salary Cap
The club's defense was suspect this year all the way through the playoffs, and just as he did last summer with revamping the group of forwards, the Flyers' blue line should be the focal point during the upcoming offseason.
Holmgren has just over $61 million tied up on 20 rostered players heading into the new season, which would leave him with a little more than $3 million left to spend if the NHL salary stays the same. But the Holmgren had another idea as to what that cap may end up being.
"It's probably going to be, I don't know, maybe $69 million, I would think," he said.
If that ends up being the case, the GM would have nearly $8 million in room, which would allow him to work on his defensemen, in addition to other needs.
Jakub Voracek is a restricted free agent as his one-year, $2.25 million deal expired at the end of the season. After posting 18 goals and 49 points (good for fifth-highest on the team) during the regular season and two goals and 10 points (third overall) in the postseason, it's likely the 22-year-old winger will want a sizable raise in his next deal.
A current defenseman that is on Holmgren's front burner to deal with is Matt Carle, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent in July. The rear guard's four year deal at nearly $3.5 million annually expired, and it will be interesting to see how much he will command. With the knowledge he could likely end up in the $5-$7 million range, Holmgren feels he can work something out with to keep the 27-year-old in Philadelphia.
"I've said that before, if Matt wants to be here, we'd like to have him back," Holmgren said. "I don't see any reason why we can't work out a deal. We're in a position now where we can't sign him because of tagging space, but this is something that could be done quickly, I think.
As for what Carle is seeking for a new contract, the GM didn't think it will be unreasonable, based upon talks earlier talks. And the Flyers may even be able to get one of those "hometown discounts".
"His demands, when I spoke with him and his agent, nothing was ever out of line," Holmgren said. "Could we get him under market value? I would say that we probably could. So I don't see any issues there."
Dustin Leed of The Hockey Guys spoke with Carle and his agent, Kurt Overhardt, and the two sounded optimistic. Here's an excerpt from Leed's article on the matter:
"There's no question I want to be here, the past four years have been great and I really feel like Philly has become a second home for my family and me," Matt Carle said. "The guys on this team are unbelievable and I know this is a team built for winning now and for years to come."
"It's our intention to try and work with the Flyers and get something done," Overhardt said. "We think the club feels the same way." "There is plenty of time and it's something we are going to work on," he added.
As Holmgren mentioned, nothing can happen at this time due to the NHL "tagging" rule, which prohibits clubs from having its payroll earmarked in excess of the current year's salary cap limit. But it does sound positive as to the intentions of both sides, and there seems to be great potential for a deal to eventually come to fruition.
Another name that may end up being in the Philly defensive mix as the free agent period approaches is Ryan Suter. The Nashville Predators blue liner also stands to become a free agent come July 1st, and Preds' GM David Poile has expressed concern that he will be able to re-sign both of his stud defensemen, captain Shea Weber and Suter.
Whether or not that ends up being the case remains to be seen, but if Poile comes to the realization that he cannot ink Suter, look for Holmgren to attempt something similar to what he did to obtain pending free agent Ilya Bryzgalov's rights from the Phoenix Coyotes last June. Especially given the fact that "Homer" is willing to look at each and every avenue in an attempt to making his club stronger.
Another player that is set to become a free agent is Jaromir Jagr. The winger scored 19 goals and recorded 54 points during the season while taking up residence to the right of Claude Giroux and Scott Hartnell on the club's top offensive line, but he struggled in the playoffs.
The 40-year-old labored as if there were an injury issue on the way to posting just one goal and eight points in the 11-game run. That total included just one assist in the five-game second round defeat to the New Jersey Devils.
While Jagr said he would love to come back for another year in the NHL, it's unclear whether or not that will occur in the City of Brotherly Love.
Having been moved to other lines during the playoffs when his ineffective play caused Peter Laviolette to make line changes, Jagr's blurry role with the team moving forward has left him with an uncertain future. Remember, one of the deciding factors for Jagr when he signed with the Flyers over the Pittsburgh Penguins was his role with the team. Along with the rest of the members of the top line, his play was a big part of the team's success for a good portion of the season.
"Well I want to play in the NHL," Jagr said. "I want to play somewhere when I know teams will want me to. Hopefully we are going to find some team where I can play. I still love the game and I think I am going to be better than I was this year."
His noncommittal answer regarding Philadelphia may just speak volumes as to whether he sees the Flyers as a place he can make a difference in the 2012-13 campaign, though the Philly GM and coach both see an upside to bringing Jagr back for another season.
"I can still see Jaromir being a good player in our league next year," Holmgren said. "We did talk to him and his agent briefly during the year about next season. We kind of agreed to talk about it more after the season was done, but I have not met with Jaromir yet so we'll see."
"Jaromir was an excellent player for us and a good influence in the locker room," Laviolette noted of the veteran's affect on the club's many youngsters. "And you mentioned the youth that we did have and learning in the playoffs, new experience, I also think that you can learn by observing and working with people that their work habits are extremely good and Jaromir is one of those guys."
Giroux and the Captaincy
There were lots of questions directed to everyone inquiring as to whether Giroux should be made captain if Pronger is unable to answer the bell come October. The lack of a player wearing the "C" didn't seem to bother the club, although there were some media members who questioned whether it should be viewed as an issue that needs to be addressed as they spiraled out of control in the New Jersey series.
"I think we make too much of this captaincy thing, to be quite honest with you, that's my opinion," said Holmgren. "Right now, Chris is our captain and that's the way it's going to stay until he's deemed unable to play."
The GM was asked if he thought Giroux was ready to take over the duties if Pronger is unable to play.
"I think Claude's a good young leader on this hockey team," he said. But then he pointed out a couple of other names that would be just as deserving, both with more of a veteran flavor.
This would seem to be a kind of significant suggestion by Holmgren, possibly still having a bad taste in his mouth with the situation of making a young Mike Richards captain of the club. While Richards initially balked when asked by the team, he eventually relented when Jason Smith walked as a free agent and cleared the path. Even though he reluctantly accepted the addition responsibilities, the marriage went sour a couple of years later.
As for Giroux himself, he had his own thoughts about wearing the "C", if asked.
"Yeah, I am not too sure what the plans are," he said. "I didn't have a meeting with (Peter Laviolette) or Mr. Holmgren yet. Whatever decisions they take, we will go from there."
When pressed if he would have interest, Giroux didn't hedge in his answer.
"If the time is right, yeah I think so," he replied.
Linemate and future shoo-in Hall-of-Famer Jagr had his own thoughts on the matter when asked, comparing Giroux's situation as a young leader to his own some years ago in Pittsburgh.
"I think he is," he said of Giroux's readiness to be captain. "He is one of the top players in the league. On the other side, I think he is a very likeable guy in the dressing room. He works hard every day. I think he is ready. He is not afraid to speak to the guys when he needs it. I was a captain. He is better than me at age 24. I don't think I was ready when I was a captain. Plus, there is a lot of young guys. He doesn't have to be afraid or ashamed to say something, because there are a lot of young guys. I know he is only 24 or 25, but he is probably older than half of the team. That is great."
Maxime Talbot was asked what kind of a captain he thought Giroux would make.
"A great one," 'Mad Max' answered, pointing out that Giroux's age would lead to a long period of continuity in the position. "I think he's got it in him. You look at the playoffs, and even through the season, he was an elite player the whole season, one of the best in the league. But, I think being a captain is not just being a good player. It's about character and it's about, that's why you call it leader. Leading the guys in this dressing room, the trust of your teammate. And I think Claude has definitely got that, he's got the passion, he's got the work ethic and he never takes a day off."
One of the other players Holmgren named as possible future captains agreed with the GM's sentiments that the position doesn't hold the end-all importance that some make of it.
"Honestly, I told you last summer, I think we make way too much of a big of a deal with it," said Briere. "Whatever they decide here, it's going to be fine. We have many guys that can assume the role...so I'm not worried about it at all."
In the roller coaster season it was for Bryzgalov, to a man everyone believed there was an adjustment period for the netminder.
"I absolutely think being here a year will help him," said Holmgren. "He had a lot of things to adjust to and adapt to. From playing in Philadelphia and the scrutiny of the media as compared to what he came from, the scrutiny of the fans from what he came from, and a different style of play. I don't think there is going to be any question that Ilya will play better next year.
"Did he play as good as I expected this year? I would say no."
The GM compared his learning curve to that of other players who have to come to the city over the past few years during his tenure on the job.
"I have said this before about players who come from different organizations and sign a big money deal with a new team," Holmgren said. "There is an adjustment period. I thought that Kimmo (Timonen) went through it and Danny (Briere) went through it. I think there is a little bit of an adjustment period for Ilya in that position as goaltender for the Flyers. I think he handled it pretty good and he has probably learned something."
"I think that there's always an adjustment period for players when they come in here to a big city." said Laviolette, echoing the GM's sentiments.
As the year went along, it was obvious that all of the media attention being paid to the goalie's oddities were becoming a distraction, and his play suffered as a result. Bryzgalov's interviews became even stranger than usual, often appearing pained in his answers, which many times were "I don't know" or "I can't answer that" when asked about his own play. It was obvious that Bryzgalov was told to tone down his act.
"His job is to stop pucks and help us win games," Holmgren pointed out. "It is not Comedy Central. There is probably a middle of the road scenario somewhere in there. He is a funny guy to talk to, I don't think there is any question about that. He has got some interesting concepts of life and walk down the road."
"Maybe the HBO thing (the "24/7" documentary leading up to the NHL Winter Classic) didn't help that much," Jagr said. "He is not shy of the camera, that is for sure. He is a pretty intelligent guy and he reads a lot. He is always (going to) have a lot of stuff to say."
It was also obvious that some media members took advantage of the goaltender's honesty when he played a bad game in late-October, when he poured his heart out in front of everyone in apologizing for a poor performance against the Winnipeg Jets. That was when the now-infamous "Lost in the woods" comment was made.
It is a much different media climate in Philadelphia than it was in Phoenix, but Jagr said Bryzgalov will learn to choose his words better.
"Sometimes he was saying too much and people took advantage of it," Jagr said. "He is going to learn like everyone else."
As for his play, Talbot believes Bryzgalov showed his true colors towards the end of the campaign.
"I think the last couple of months of the season we saw what kind of goalie he is."
The Roles of Rookies Couturier and Wellwood in the Future
Rookies Sean Couturier and Eric Wellwood impressed during the regular season and playoffs.
Couturier provided a solid, two-way centerman during the year, and shut down All-World center and NHL leading scorer Evgeni Malkin in the first round of the postseason.
Laviolette said in addition to his excellent defensive skills, Couturier may just see added ice time and an expanded offensive role in the 2012-13 campaign.
"I think the upside of Sean is really bright," the coach beamed. "He's been an offensive guy his whole career. He comes with a tag of being a smart two-way player, as well. We had to find roles for all of our guys and I think that the role that Sean filled this year for us, and the way it started and increased to the way that it ended, it was a terrific year and a terrific start for him. Certainly the option of more ice time and possible power play time and increased offensive role, that certainly factors into the equation."
Couturier scored 77 goals and 192 points (96 in each season) in 126 games over the course of his last two years of major junior hockey while skating for the Drummondville Voltigeurs of the QMJHL. So he is certainly no stranger to being considered a more offensive player.
As for Wellwood, he was actually one of the skaters that had the most jump in the second round series against the Devils, and the coach was among those who noticed.
"Eric also knows his role, and I thought through the course of the playoffs that he did his role as well as anybody did their role on our team," praised Laviolette. "So he may walk away with not scoring 5 goals and 10 points, but within the role and what we asked him to do and what we asked him to contribute, he did it as well as anybody."
High praise for the youngsters, indeed. The future definitely looks bright as these rookies gain more experience moving forward.
Injuries and Surgeries
With many of the players still having to be examined during the day Thursday, there was no new information pertaining to the club's walking wounded -- of which there are many.
"The actual exit medicals aren't until tonight, so I don't really have the complete list," Holmgren said. "I'll get that to you guys as soon as I have it, but there will be a few guys who will need some surgeries."
So expect that information to be made public over the next couple of days.