After ending their preseason in New Jersey on Saturday night, the Flyers have to decide how to trim their roster down to 23 players by the 3 p.m. Wednesday deadline. Currently, the Flyers have 17 forwards and 9 defensemen, at least five of which need to be sent to Adirondack.
Left to be decided are the final two spots on the Flyers defense, two top-nine forward spots, and the final two forwards on the roster. But with the salary cap, all of the battles are intertwined. Whether or not Brayden Schenn makes the team will go a long way toward deciding the defense battles, as well as settling one of the top-nine spots.
The forwards could look something like this, according to reports:
Scott Hartnell - Danny Briere - Jakub Voracek
James van Riemsdyk - Claude Giroux - Jaromir Jagr
Matt Read - Sean Couturier - Wayne Simmonds
Maxime Talbot - Blair Betts - Andreas Nodl
Jody Shelley - Zac Rinaldo
Three separate Flyers writers (Tim Panaccio, Sam Carchidi, and Anthony SanFilippo) are predicting that this year's first round pick, Sean Couturier, will make the team out of camp. While the 18 year old has shown why he was taken eighth overall this year, he simply is not better prepared for a key role over 82 games with a Stanley Cup contender than Brayden Schenn.
But because Couturier cannot be sent to the AHL - while Schenn can - it is likely that the Flyers begin the year with Couturier on the roster. After Couturier plays nine games, he'll likely be sent back to his Juniors club, preventing him from wasting the first year of his entry-level contract. Not to mention that Couturier can't play ten games with the Flyers until the team eliminates a contract from their reserve list, Couturier should simply gets his 9-game tryout.
The other top-9 spot on the team is a battle between Matt Read and Andreas Nodl. I've already explained why Nodl deserves to be the ninth forward on the team, but if Schenn starts the year in the AHL in favor of Couturier, it becomes even more important that Nodl and Simmonds are there to help Couturier. Unfortunately, it's more likely that the Flyers go with two rookies on their third line.
Matt Read certainly did enough to make the team out of camp, but his inclusion raises the question of who the Flyers rely on to go up against the opposition's second lines. If Read is playing with Couturier, that job will likely fall to the Talbot - Betts - Nodl line, despite Talbot and Betts not showing the ability to beat top-6 competition in any of the last three years.
In addition, if that job does fall to the fourth line, they'll be playing roughly 12 minutes of even-strength time per game, taking ice time away from the rest of the team, including two rookies who need experience. It could certainly be worse - the team could dress Zac Rinaldo or Jody Shelley - but it's still not an optimal situation.
In the first nine games - how long Couturier is expected to be with the club - the Flyers will on on the road and have to find a way to matchup against the second lines of Boston (Seguin, Krejci, Marchand), New Jersey (Elias, Josefson, Parise), and Montreal (Cole, Gomez, Pacioretty). This is after needing to shut down the Ryan Kesler (Vancouver), Mike Richards (Los Angeles), Marcus Johansson (Washington), and Nikolai Kulemin (Toronto) lines at home.
That's a lot of talent that could run over Blair Betts and Max Talbot, let alone Danny Briere and Scott Hartnell. Asking Couturier and Read to do that job instead could produce very poor results. This comes on top of the bet that Jaromir Jagr and James van Riemsdyk are enough to help Claude Giroux shut down those team's best scorers, even before worrying about their second best.
Going with Couturier and Read on the third line is a big risk, even if it's only for nine games. It's an even bigger risk if the team decides not to put Andreas Nodl in the 12th forward slot. But it appears that's what the Flyers are doing. Consider me officially worried.
On defense, the team has to pick two of Andreas Lilja, Oskars Bartulis, Matt Walker, and Erik Gustafsson. Gustafsson likely won't make the team because he is the only player who can be sent down without clearing waivers. Walker will likely make the team only if Bryaden Schenn doesn't, since his $1.7 million cap hit cannot be afforded if Schenn is on the roster.
One of Lilja, Bartulis, and Walker will be waived on Monday, so that they can be off the roster by the 3 p.m. Wednesday deadline. If Couturier makes the team, my bet is that Bartulis who gets waived, even though he has the lowest cap hit of them all. But maybe I'm just a cynic this time of year.
In either event, it will be interesting which players the Flyers offer to the rest of the league on waivers if they decide to keep their waiver exempt players. Making the best of a bad situation, the team would waive Jody Shelley and Matt Walker, keeping Sean Couturier with the team temporarily before sending him back to his juniors club and recalling either Ben Holmstrom or Zac Rinaldo. Even then, the club will be using Ian Laperriere's LTIR exemption all year, which is not desirable.
At least this way, the club can use Couturier at home - where they can better control who he faces - and Nodl with Schenn and Simmonds on the road. This would keep Couturier up with the Flyers longer - only dressing him at home - so he gets more experience, while not hurting the team on the ice with his inexperience.
But we'll see what the Flyers are thinking soon enough.