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Holmgren, Flyers Hope To Re-Sign Carle, Improve Defense As NHL Entry Draft Approaches

GM Paul Holmgren hinted at a quiet upcoming week leading up to the NHL Entry Draft, but sometimes the apparent calm precedes the storm as the Flyers attempt to improve their blue line heading into the new season.

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Philadelphia Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren took some time Monday afternoon to field questions from the media as the club looks towards the 2012 NHL Draft in Pittsburgh this coming weekend.

The Flyers own the 20th-overall pick and have been rumored to have had dialogue with several other teams regarding the possibility of moving up, but Holmgren denied that has been the case.

"No, I only had one conversation in that regard," he said, as he added it's not completely out of the question improving the draft position is something the Flyers could do in the coming days.

"Whether that heats up a little bit or not, I don't know. We're not actively trying to move up, as I said earlier we like the position we're in."

The GM says he believes the Flyers will stay the course as they have done in the last several drafts and take the best available player rather than draft to the organization's needs.

"I would say that we will stick with our same philosophy," he said. "We have done well with that. I think that is why we like the 20th pick. Historically, we have done pretty good picking late too. I think our guys to a good job there."

The team has every hope that Ilya Bryzgalov will pick up where he left late in the 2011-12 regular season and the goaltending on the big club is in good shape. There are a couple of recent free agent signings, but otherwise the organization's lack of depth is troublesome and may end up being addressed at some point in the weekend's selection process.

"I think we have a couple of young guys that we signed here," Holmgren stated. "Niko Hovinen is going to play this year in North America. Cal Heeter, out of Ohio State, we signed. We have some young guys that are under contract that are going to play in the system. That doesn't mean that we won't look at a goalie at some point in the draft."

"In the first round, who knows," the GM said in trying to maintain mystery as to what the team will do when its turn comes up as the first round progresses. "There are some goalies we like that are going to be picked fairly high. That is not to say that we would or would not consider that at twenty."

With Michael Leighton set to become a free agent on July 1st, the 6' 7", 200-pound Hovinen will almost certainly have the upper hand for the starting job with the AHL's Adirondack Phantoms in his first taste of the North American game.

Up front there may be very little change. Despite recent rumors that top line right winger Jaromir Jagr and Philadelphia were close to coming up with terms on a new contract, TSN's Darren Dreger squashed that sentiment via Twitter Monday, and instead said Claude Giroux's 2012 right-hand man is set to explore other options for the upcoming season:

"Jaromir Jagr enjoyed Phildadelphia, but plans on testing free agency. Also plans to change training to shed some lbs and get faster." -- Darren Dreger via Twitter

Holmgren was non-committal, but did say that he has not spoken with Jagr or his agent, Petr Svoboda, for some time..

"I haven't spoken to Jaromir or his agent within two days after the season was over," Holmgren revealed. "We left it at we would talk later on near the end of June. Again, we don't know what the salary cap is going to be, so there are a lot of variables that we have to wait on."

While he said the salary cap number should be known sometime this week, he did say if the circumstances are right, he would like to explore a return of the 40-year-old Czech to South Philly.

"I think Jaromir brought a lot to the team this year, and I can see him doing the same next year. So I would certainly have interest."

While rumors persist as to the team's interest -- or lack thereof -- in acquiring Columbus Blue Jackets winger Rick Nash and his monstrous $7.8 million cap hit, the real need remains in revamping Philly's defensive unit -- much the same way Holmgren did last summer to the forward ranks.

With no change in the status of defensive anchor Chris Pronger's health -- the GM says he still has "good days and bad days, same as he's had here since he stopped playing" -- it may be best for Philadelphia to proceed as if the captain won't return at all during the upcoming season.

"The loss of Chris is huge," Holmgren noted. "That is a huge hole on our team, and as I said he's a hard guy to replace if he can't play. I think short term and long term we've got a lot to try and improve."

Kimmo Timonen, Braydon Coburn, Andrej Meszaros, and Nicklas Grossmann are all returning to the Flyers blue line for the 2012-13 campaign, and gives the Flyers a solid top-four.

Holmgren does have several options available to him with regards to reconstructing the rest of the corp:

  • Matt Carle -- The 27-year-old defender just finished out the last year of his $3,437,500 contract and is a pending free agent come July 1st has quietly been one of the club's steadiest performers in the nearly four years of service in Philadelphia. Even though he could be headed for a huge payday if he hit the open market, the Anchorage, Alaska-native has expressed his desire to remain a Flyer. It's a mutual feeling, as Holmgren reiterated the fact the Flyers would love to have him back in the fold when the season begins. "Matt wants to be a part of the Flyers organization and we would like to keep him," the GM said. "We can't do anything right now. I have kept in contact with both Matt and his agent. I am fairly certain that we will get him signed." As to the 'we can't do anything right now', that goes to the league's 'tagging' rules.
  • Justin Schultz -- The property of the Anaheim Ducks, the second-round selection in the 2008 entry draft de-registered from the University of Wisconsin. That means if Anaheim doesn't sign him to a contract, the 22-year-old would become an UFA on July 1st. When asked if Schultz, who is projected to be a sure-fire top-four NHL blue liner, was someone he would consider pursuing should he become a free agent, Holmgren was careful with his retort. "I'm not sure I can comment on him because you just said 'may become a free agent', so I'm not going to comment on him."
  • Also returning to round out the blue line troops are Erik Gustafsson, Marc-Andre Bourdon, and Andreas Lilja, while youngsters Brandon Manning and Oliver Lauridsen -- as well as Matt Mangene and Blake Kessel -- will be given a look at camp. With Timonen turning 38 during the upcoming regular season and entering the last year of his contract, the Flyers had better start making plans for the future.

Apparently one avenue the Flyers do not have open to them is trading for the rights to Nashville Predators defenseman and pending UFA defenseman Ryan Suter. Thought to be the best available UFA rear guard, Suter allegedly gave a list of teams to GM David Poile in which he would accept a trade, but Philadelphia evidently was absent from the list. It's widely believed that the Detroit Red Wings, who lost future Hall-of-Famer Nicklas Lidstrom to retirement, will be Suter's ultimate destination.

Still, all of Holmgren's answers pointed to a quiet week for the Orange-and-Black, one in which they will stand pat and just make their first-round selection at the 20 spot.

But there are a couple of glaring shortcomings on the Philadelphia defense; one regarding a right-handed shooting rear guard -- one that has been present since Eric Desjardins' retirement -- remains a blatant sore spot, one that was pointed out as a weakness by Zach Parise as part of the New Jersey Devils' forechecking game plan, and the other a lack of a dominating physical presence since Pronger's left the lineup with his injuries.

As it has not been the GM's modus operandi to maintain the status quo in the past, sometimes the allusion of peaceful solitude precedes a coming storm, as Holmgren will no doubt explore every option in attempts of improving his club.