PHILADELPHIA - The Philadelphia Flyers lost out on free-agent stars Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. They flat-out lost Jaromir Jagr and Matt Carle. They traded one of their former cornerstones in James van Riemsdyk and brought back a journeyman goalie in Michael Leighton.
A year after general manager Paul Holmgren pulled off a slew of blockbuster transactions, the Flyers are watching the stars head elsewhere.
And there's no sign another splash is on the horizon to bolster a team coming off a 103-point season.
For a franchise that's never been afraid to make a major deal, the off-season has been an unexpected slow one for the Flyers. The big news this week was the acquisitions of left wing Ruslan Fedotenko and defenceman Bruno Gervais. Not exactly the kind of moves that earn the bold headlines—or win them a Stanley Cup. The Flyers haven't won the championship since 1975 and it's sure not easy to win one playing in the same division as the Eastern Conference champion New Jersey Devils and the potent New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins.
But it doesn't mean the Flyers don't feel good about their roster heading into next season.
"We're very happy with our roster," Flyers president Peter Luukko said. "When it comes to free agency, we're always going to try and make our team better. We entered the derby for those top two free agents, and they made a personal decision to go West. That's fine with us. We would have liked to have signed either one of them, but we'll move on and keep going."
The Flyers did submit offers to Parise and Suter, the top two available free agents on the market, only to see the pair sign with the Minnesota Wild in one of the biggest bonanzas in NHL history. The Wild signed Parise and Suter to matching 13-year, $98 million deals Wednesday, denying a Flyers team looking for a jolt, and needing a dose of offence following the trade of van Riemsdyk and free-agent defection by Jagr.
Jagr scored 19 goals and was third on the team with 54 points in his only season in Philadelphia. Van Riemsdyk had only 24 points in an injury-filled season, but is capable of 30-plus goals in Toronto. Even Carle, their top defenceman, had 38 points before signing a free-agent deal with Tampa Bay.
None of those players are easy to replace. But at least they still have one of the premier players in the game in All-Star Claude Giroux.
"You could argue that we lost a lot of good players, and we did," Holmgren said. "I think we're still a good team that has a lot of potential."
While it seems tough to imagine Scott Hartnell will score 37 goals again, he's still part of a formidable offence that includes Danny Briere, Wayne Simmonds, Matt Read and blossoming stars Brayden Schenn, Jakub Voracek and Sean Couturier. Holmgren said he expected to sign Voracek to a new deal before the season.
Of course, Holmgren said all along the Flyers were going to keep Carle. Before the draft, Holmgren again said he was "fairly certain" that Carle would soon have a new contract. Carle instead signed a $33 million, six-year deal with the Lightning.
Jagr loved his first season in Philadelphia and called it "probably the most enjoyable year I ever had." Yet, when Holmgren targeted Parise and Suter first and put the 40-year-old former league MVP on the backburner, Jagr grew impatient and signed a $4.55 million, one-year contract with the Dallas Stars.
"I don't know if he got antsy or what," Holmgren said. "I got a call late on (July) 3rd that he was getting excited and wanted to make a move, and I wasn't prepared to do anything at that time. We still had offers out on the table that I wanted to wait on, and I wasn't prepared to move on Jaromir at the time."
Luukko said salary cap considerations were among the reasons the Flyers did not keep Jagr and Carle.
"There just isn't the fit there," Luukko said. "We'd like to have either player on the Flyers, but, at the end of the day, you've got to manage to the cap."
Holmgren shook up the Flyers last summer when he traded Mike Richards and Jeff Carter and proclaimed Giroux and van Riemsdyk the new leaders of the franchise. The Flyers then gave JVR a six-year contract extension—only to trade him to Toronto last month for defenceman Luke Schenn. Van Riemsdyk joined Carter and Richards in the list of Flyers traded shortly after signing big-money, multiyear extensions.
Giroux is up for a big extension next summer—but the Flyers don't expect players to shy away from signing simply because those three homegrown players were traded as soon as the ink was dry.
"Those moves were made because Paul thought our roster would be a better roster, so he made the moves," Luukko said.
The Flyers do expect to sign coach Peter Laviolette, who led them to the Stanley Cup finals in 2010, to contract extension this summer.
"Something will get worked out," Luukko said.
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