Meltzer's Musings: Roster Battles, Quick Hits
TRAINING CAMP ROSTER BATTLES: HANDFUL OF SPOTS, ROLES UP FOR GRABS
With the exceptions of the trade that sent Scott Hartnell to the Columbus Blue Jackets and the August revelation of Kimmo Timonen's medical issues that could force him to miss much or all of the 2014-15 season, this has been a quiet summer for the Flyers. The team made no other trades. There were no major free agent signings, unless the addition of Michael Del Zotto qualifies as major. Additionally, as of now, there are no veteran tryout invites to camp.
As the team's 2014 training camp approaches, the club appears on paper to be a playoff bubble team in the Eastern Conference. Management and the coaching staff hope that continued improvement of team defense, improved conditioning and greater discipline will take hold and help to improve the club's so-so goal differential at even strength. The Flyers were already a strong club on both ends of special teams. There will be adjustments to make both on the ice and in the dressing room with the departure of Hartnell and likely long-term absence of Timonen.
Most of the battles for opening night roster spots will take place between players vying for positions in the bottom six of the forward lineup. Barring additional injuries, the opening night defense roster is pretty much set, as is the goaltending tandem.
That does not mean, however, that there are not significant decisions for head coach Craig Berube to make in the weeks to come:
1) The team has to figure out who will take over the top line left wing spot vacated by Hartnell. Candidates include center/wing swingman Brayden Schenn, versatile veteran R.J. Umberger (re-acquired by the Flyers in the Hartnell trade) and second-year NHL player Michael Raffl.
2) The team has to take a committee approach to filling Timonen's all-purpose role and minutes. If last season's frequent second pairing unit of Mark Streit and Nicklas Grossmann remains intact, Andrew MacDonald seems to be the most likely candidate to move up to the top pairing and play with Braydon Coburn at even strength. Del Zotto and Luke Schenn would be the third pairing. However, this is all subject to change.
3) The configuration of the second forward line remains to be seen. If Schenn is not moved up to the top line, will he center or play left wing on the top line? Assuming the team remains unable to trade Vincent Lecavalier, will he find better chemistry as the second line center than he did last season? Wayne Simmonds is a lock for the right wing spot on this line. Does Jason Akeson fit here?
4) Who will be the third piece of Sean Couturier's line with Matt Read? Ideally, the club could use a big-framed, physical forechecking presence on this line who also plays a good two-way game. There are no internal candidates who possess all of these physical and skill traits. Umberger, who plays a defensively responsible game, might be a fit here. Raffl, newcomer Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and the offensively creative Akeson (who played with Couturier and Read during the playoffs) are all candidates for this role. There is also a chance that Berube may entrust Zac Rinaldo with greater responsibility and try him out on this line.
5) The fourth line picture is murky entering camp. The club must decide of rookie Scott Laughton is better served learning at the NHL level as a fourth line player or playing a top six role in the American Hockey League for Terry Murray's Phantoms. Last season, Raffl moved all around the lineup. That included a stint as fourth line center. Rinaldo has more or less been a fourth-line fixture in his NHL career to date. Bellemare is an unknown quantity at the NHL level but has been a reliable two-way veteran with speed and offensive punch in European and international hockey.
As of now, the pre-training camp roster picture looks like this:
NHL roster locks (10): Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds, Sean Couturier, Matt Read, Vincent Lecavalier, R.J. Umberger, Michael Raffl, Zac Rinaldo.
NHL roster bubble (4): Jay Rosehill (incumbent 13th forward), Jason Akeson, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Scott Laughton.
NHL roster injured reserve (1): Ryan White (torn pectoral).
NHL roster longshots (3): Blair Jones, Chris VandeVelde, Zack Stortini (competition for Rosehill if the club elects to carry an enforcer as its 13th forward).
NHL roster locks (7): Braydon Coburn, Andrew MacDonald, Mark Streit, Nicklas Grossmann, Michael Del Zotto, Luke Schenn, Nick Schultz (seventh defenseman).
NHL roster bubble (1): Brandon Manning (only if Flyers carry eight defensemen, as they did last season).
NHL roster injured reserve (2): Kimmo Timonen (LTIR, blood clots), Chris Pronger (LTIR, post-concussion syndrome).
NHL roster locks (2): Steve Mason (starter), Ray Emery (backup).
NHL roster bubble (1): Rob Zepp (backup in case of training camp injury to Mason or Emery, otherwise bound for the AHL to split time with rookie Anthony Stolarz).
QUICK HITS: SEPTEMBER 8
* Alum Birthday: The late Ralph MacSweyn was born on this day in 1942. The righthanded shooting defensive defenseman dressed in 147 regular season games and six playoff games for the Flyers between the franchise's inaugural 1967-68 campaign to the 1971-72 season.
Primarily an AHL player during his time in the organization, MacSweyn was frequently the first callup in the event of injuries to the defense. After the 1971-72 season, MacSweyn left the NHL to sign with the World Hockey Association's Los Angeles Sharks. MacSweyn spent two seasons in the WHA before returning to the Flyers' minor league fold with the AHL's Richmond Robins. He bounced around the minor leagues for a few more years until he retired in the summer of 1977.
After his retirement, "Big Mac" returned to work on his family farm in Glengarry, Ontario. He also continued to dabble in hockey, coaching his daughter's team. MacSweyn, who was survived by his wife and two daughters, passed away at age 52 on May 21, 1995.
* Today in Flyers History: On Sept. 8, 1989, the Flyers traded backup goaltender Mark Laforest to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for a pair of picks in the 1991 NHL Draft: a fifth-round pick (Yanick Degrace) as well as Philadelphia's own previously traded seventh-round selection (Andrei Lomakin).