Closer and closer

The Flyers are gaining ground on the Bruins and Panthers with a huge showdown in Boston looming, but is there enough time left to complete the comeback?


Results this week: Flyers 4, Rangers 2; Flames 3, Flyers 2 (OT); Flyers 3, Blues 1

Current record: 28-25-12, 68 points
Record at this point last year: 33-25-7, 73 points

Upcoming schedule: Mar 7 at Bruins, Mar 8 at Devils, Mar 10 vs Stars, Mar 12 at Blues


When you write a weekly column, there are some weeks that are just dead; maybe there’s no real news, or maybe the team is playing badly, and just the thought of sitting down and writing about them makes you want to jump off the Walt Whitman.


This was not one of those weeks.


As you may have noticed, I’ve eliminated tracking this team against the 2006 team.  It’s obvious now this team is not the team that failed only by bad luck to get the first overall pick in the draft that year, nor should they be in the discussion with that team anymore.  Instead, now we track this team by how close they are to a playoff spot.  As of Friday morning, the Flyers sat two points back of the Panthers and four points back of the Bruins.  The real worry right now is the Bruins have two games in hand on the Flyers, which makes it all the more imperative that the Flyers beat the Bruins in regulation on Saturday.


Is there enough time to complete this playoff run and squeak in as the second Wild Card?  Yes.  However, it requires the Flyers to play well and the Bruins and Panthers to continue to fall off their pace.  Can the Flyers put together a streak in their remaining seventeen games?  It’ll be tough; game to game and even period to period, this team is one of the most inconsistent teams I’ve seen wear orange and black.  They’ll be dynamic, get great play from their defense for a period (like the third period against the Blues) one minute and then the next minute, they look listless, lose track of men, turn the puck over in the neutral zone and their own end and end up down a goal or three.


If the Flyers gather a point a game for the rest of the year, that will put them at 85 points.  That probably won’t be good enough.  They’ll probably need at least 90 points unless the bottom falls out again in Boston and Florida.  90 points would mean they’d need to go 9-4-4 the rest of the way.


Realistically, the Flyers are still on the outside looking in, but their nose is up against the glass now instead of looking in with a telescope.


It was a busy deadline for Ron Hextall, ultimately sending nineteen games worth of Kimmo Timonen to Chicago (a destination Kimmo picked) for a second and a conditional fourth (which can become a second depending on how far the Blackhawks go in the playoffs and how much Kimmo plays).  To get two quality picks for a defenseman who hadn’t played in nearly a year and who for much of the year wasn’t sure he’d ever play again was a coup for Ron.  He followed it up with sending Braydon Coburn to Tampa for a first and a third, and suddenly, the Flyers had seven picks in the first 101 picks of this, a deep draft, reversing the Flyers previous practice of sending picks elsewhere and giving drafts away.


Could we have used Timonen?  Sure.  But there was no guarantee we were going to the playoffs, and Chicago looks poised to make another run, a run Timonen in his last year wanted to be in on.  He wanted to win a Stanley Cup, and Hextall moved him to a place of his choosing where he could pursue that.  It was a trade that was good for everyone involved; the Flyers got picks, Chicago got a blueline presence that can play in all three phases of the game, and Kimmo got one last shot at an elusive Cup.


Could we have used Coburn?  Sure.  A favorite whipping boy of Flyers fans, he was nevertheless the best, most consistent Flyers defensemen this year, but it was obvious he missed Timonen’s presence on the other end of his pairing.  Tampa will have him for another year too, as Coburn’s deal doesn’t run out until next year (part of the reason he was worth two very good picks to them).  There was no place left for him here, though; the Flyers will probably miss the playoffs next year and would have tried to move him then, and for less than they got this year, too.  The picks end up helping the Flyers more than one more year of Coburn.


Many fans wanted Hextall to try to move Andrew MacDonald or Vinny Lecavalier, but those are two huge, unpalatable deals.  Hextall even addressed the MacDonald contract indirectly while discussing cap relief, saying “you can’t sign a guy now for six years and then all of a sudden in Year 1 you’re going ‘oh boy, what have I done? How am I going to get out of this one? You’ve got to be cognizant of the year beyond.”


So we have one Hextall move that was puzzling (the Rinaldo extension), three moves that sacrificed the now for later (Timonen/Coburn/Hartnell trades), and two moves that helped shore up the immediate (the Schultz and Bellemare extensions).


Oh yeah!  Our boy got paid!  Bellemare got two years for $1.4M total.  For a bottom-6 guy who is great on the penalty kill and does the dirty work necessary to win, that’s perfect, and it keeps him here and doing his thing on terms affordable to the club.  Good for Bellemare and good for the Flyers.


For fans who want Michael Del Zotto signed right now, here’s what’s going to happen: the Flyers will extend him an offer that he’ll either accept or reject.  If they can’t come to terms, another team will offer sheet him, after which the Flyers will have seven days to match the offer and retain Del Zotto (how the Predators kept Shea Weber), or lose him and gain draft picks from the other team (depending on the terms of the offer sheet).  In order words, the Flyers could either end up keeping a dynamic defenseman, or if they deem the offer too rich, they could get draft picks as a reward for signing a guy off of the scrap heap for a year.  Last I looked, that was called “doing good business”, a practice scarcely found during Holmgren’s reign.


Things are falling into place for the future of the Flyers.  When the present seems not-so-bright, just remember that better things are coming.

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