Forsberg Traded; Who's Next? by Jeff Lyons
The Flyers should keep on wheeling and dealing, even with the trade of Peter Forsberg to Nashville for what amounts to a big bag of promises. With the trade deadline about 10 days away and the Flyers foundering at the absolute bottom of the league, any and all offers for anyone and everyone should be considered.
It hardly seems possible that the team that finished with more than 100 or more points over the last three seasons is dead last this season. How has it happened? Some will blame the concussion-forced retirement of Keith Primeau. Others point to the lack of a top-notch goalie. Then there's the defensive corps that has allowed a staggering 5-plus goals per game. The team has been awful from top to bottom.
Forsberg is a free agent at the end of the season and could come back to Philadelphia. But rather than risk losing him for nothing, they traded him Thursday for right wing Scottie Upshall, defensive prospect Ryan Parent and Nashville's first and third selections in the 2007 NHL entry draft. Forsberg finally got healthy and showed signs that he is one of the world's elite hockey players. His ex-teammates want him back. It would be a lot easier to sign free agents like Daniel Briere or Chris Drury (a teammate of Forsberg's in Colorado) with Forberg back in town. But this team is so bad defensively, they'd have to win every game 8-7 to make it back to the postseason.
Simon Gagne should be an attractive player for a contender. He leads the team with 29 goals but he has a tendency to "disappear" for long stretches of time. His play improved when Forsberg came back, but he's not a guy you can count on for offense on his own. He needs the help of an established player to make him better.
I like Mike Knuble. He's a mucker and a grinder and has all the qualities you like to see in a hockey player. He's also got 21 goals and has only missed six games in the last 2.5 years. He's durable and would be attractive to a contender as the deadline approaches. But now that Forsberg's gone, he's my bet to become captain of the Flyers.
The Flyers gave Sami Kapanen a two-year contract extension this week. Why? He's a marginal talent, although with a big heart. But he had to be talked out of retirement last summer. Maybe a playoff hopeful will see him as a role player. But for a team like the Flyers that needs to get younger and better, Kapanen isn't a great fit.
I'd also look into dealing forwards R.J. Umberger and Mike Richards. Both players are young and have potential, and someone might be willing to take a chance.
What do the Flyers need to get better? Now, there's a long list. Gagne and Knuble are the only players on the team with more than 10 goals. After Knuble and Gagne, there's a huge drop-off in talent. The Flyers need young scorers.
Mobile defensemen are also a priority. Derian Hatcher has played better of late, but he's getting older and not getting any faster. His style of play (big and slow) doesn't really fit well in the new NHL. If General Manager Paul Holmgren can find a taker for the two remaining years (at $3.5 million per year) left on Hatcher's contract, he should jump on it. Mike Rathje, another big, slow defenseman signed as a free agent after the lockout ended, is currently on the injured list with a career-threatening back injury. The best thing for everyone involved would be for Rathje to retire. That would give the team even more flexibility under the salary cap.
The one thing the Flyers have lacked since the glory days of the 1970s is a top goalie. The San Jose Sharks, by all accounts, have two "number one" goalies in Vesa Toskala and Evgeni Nabokov. Could Forsberg have landed one of them? We'll never know. But before handing the team to a new goalie, a new goaltending coach must be hired. Reggie Lemelin hasn't been able to develop a top goalie in his tenure here. It's time for a new approach. Antero Niittymaki was the most valuable player in the 2006 Winter Olympics, but he had Finland's best defenders playing in front of him. Perhaps with a new defensive corps and a new coach, he could flourish in the NHL.
Jeff Lyons, senior managing editor of the Philadelphia Bar Reporter and Bar Reporter Online is a lifelong Philadelphia sports fan and a glutton for punishment. Send your questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.