Flyers far more dangerous after deals for Grossman, Kubina
Say what you will about the Flyers’ braintrust of General Manager Paul Holmgren and Assistant General Manager John Paddock, but they have guts.
Philadelphia shook up the hockey world this off-season by trading star centers Mike Richards and Jeff Carter for packages which included Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek and a first-round pick which the Flyers turned into blue-chip rookie Sean Couturier. The scorecard so far?
Carter (cap hit $5.3 million): 15 goals, 10 assists, 25 points
Richards (cap hit $5.75 million): 14 goals, 16 assists, 30 points
Simmonds (cap hit $1.75 million): 22 goals, 17 assists, 39 points
Schenn (cap hit $3.1 million): 8 goals, 3 assists, 11 points
Voracek (cap hit $2.25 million): 10 goals, 23 assists, 33 points
Couturier cap hit $1.375 million): 10 goals, 11 assists, 21 points
Gone from Philly: $11 million cap hit, 29 goals, 26 assists, 55 points for two players
Brought to Philly: $8.5 million cap hit, 50 goals, 54 assists, 104 points for four players
Keeping in mind that Richards and Carter are in their primes while Schenn and Couturier are both rookies who have yet to scratch the surface of their tremendous upsides, and the Flyers’ management is looking terrific in the aftermath of a pair of trades which, at the time, were highly criticized by the bulk of the hockey media.
While the Flyers have had a very good showing in the standings this season, currently standing at fifth place in the Eastern Conference and all but a lock for the playoffs, they have not been without cracks (not chinks, ESPN, cracks) in the armor. While they stand atop the NHL in goals scored despite the trades of two offensive stars, they currently stand a measly 25th in goals against.
This is due primarily to a pair of outstanding factors. Primarily, the goaltending tandem of free agent acquisition Ilya Bryzgalov and Sergei Bobrovsky has been, to say the least, putrid. Bryzgalov, extremely solid and often-spectacular during a seven-year career with Anaheim and Phoenix, has been bafflingly prone to mental errors and soft goals most of the season. Bobrovsky has been unable to correct his penchant for consistently going down too early, leading to his allowing a constant flurry of goals up high.
Certainly the netminding duo was not helped by the injury to Flyers’ top defenseman Chris Pronger, a perennial Norris Trophy candidate now out for the year due to a major concussion. Philadelphia’s blueline has suffered greatly without their minute-munching leader, and Holmgren and Paddock acted decisively to counteract that this week with trades for defensemen Nicklas Grossman and Pavel Kubina.
Grossman is huge at 6’4″ and 230 pounds, an excellent skater for his size, who is fantastic along the boards and at clearing the crease. While not a tremendous contributor on the scoresheet, the 27 year-old Swede is extremely adept with the outlet pass and at keeping the puck in the offensive zone.
Kubina is also a hulking blueline presence at 6’4″ and 250 pounds, also a very good skater for his size. While not the shut-down rearguard that Grossman is, Kubina is still adequate in the defensive zone and offers a bit more offense with a booming shot from the point.
For Grossman, the Flyers traded Dallas a second and third-round draft pick. For Kubina, Philly shipped to Tampa a second and fourth-rounder and a depth prospect. Although their prospect pool is considered among the thinnest in the NHL, the Flyers are still poised for the future with young future stars Schenn and Couturier, along with Rookie-of-the-Year candidate Matt Read at center.
With the two deals, Philadelphia turned a weakness into a strength, attaining two huge bodies for their defensive corps, both of whom skate well. The additions should surely lower their absurdly high goals-against, hopefully improving the confidence and play of Bryzgalov between the pipes.
It remains possible that Holmgren and Paddock will make one more deal to solidify their goaltending situation. Although they are at the cusp of the salary cap and likely unable to acquire a big-contract goalie, there are a pair of low-cost options who might be available come the February 27 NHL trade deadline.
The Minnesota Wild are reportedly shopping 27 year-old back-up goalie Josh Harding, a very talented impending UFA who has struggled with injury issues his entire career but has played extremely well this season. At a reasonable cap-hit of $850,000, Harding would be an upgrade on Bobrovsky, but could possibly cost the Flyers their first-round draft pick this June.
Evgeni Nabokov has had a tremendous comeback campaign for the New York Islanders and, if the Isles decide to deal him, is a UFA at a bargain-basement $570,000. The cost to acquire him will be higher than Harding, especially as the Islanders reside in the Flyers’ division, likely a first-rounder and promising young defenseman Erik Gustafsson, who has slipped a bit down the depth chart with Philly’s acquisitions of Grossman and Kubina. Still, the Flyers have been reported to have recently scouted Nabokov, knowing that their potent offense paired with an improved blueline and a hot goaltender could equate to a long and successful post-season run.
Regardless, Holmgren and Paddock should be commended for their hard work. Doubtless, Philadelphia is a much more formidable foe than they were a week ago, and must be considered a strong Stanley Cup contender in the wide-open Easten Conference, buoyed greatly by the additions of Nicklas Grossman and Pavel Kubina.