April 13, 2015
After holding their exit interviews with both head coach Craig Berube and general manager Ron Hextall, the Flyers' players individually addressed the media on Monday afternoon at Skate Zone in Voorhees. Today officially kicks off an offseason in which there will be more questions than Hextall will reasonably be able to address during the summer. Change is clearly coming after a disappointing (if pretty unsurprising) season, in which the team finished with NHL's seventh worst record.
The early part of the daylong media availability was highlighted by three players whose futures with the team are uncertain for different reasons: Vinny Lecavalier, Michael Del Zotto, and Sean Couturier. Let's tackle each of their cases individually:
Burning Question: It's pretty obvious that he and Chief don't see eye-to-eye, but will another coach be able to get anything out of the soon-to-be 35 year old?
After what was a frustrating season that saw Lecavalier only play in 57 games and sit out as a healthy scratch 17 (SEVENTEEN!) times, the potential Hall of Famer politely expressed that he wasn't happy about his current situation. Crazy, I know.
"Yeah, it's fair to say," Lecavalier said after being asked if he didn't want to go through another season like this one. "I still believe in myself. I still think I can bring a lot to the team, and more than not playing and sitting on the bench. I think to produce you need a little bit of time on the ice and good opportunities, and I didn't feel I really got that this year at times."
Later in the day (when I was at the Sixers, for full disclosure), Berube offered this:
Berube on Lecavalier: once he accept his role, we'll move forward— Dave Isaac (@davegisaac) April 13, 2015
Lecavalier played a decent portion of the season on the fourth line, which obviously isn't where he scored 383 goals over 14 seasons in Tampa. The question if he can regain the type of form that would warrant any role on a playoff contender, much less one in the top six. Players his age can still perform at a high level in today's NHL, but his neither his traditional scoring numbers (8 goals, 12 assists) nor possession indicators (46.3% Corsi-For) are very good. Lecavalier came to play for Peter Laviolette, and the transition to Berube hasn't gone well.
"Things did change when Chief came on board," Lecavalier said. "One of the main reasons [I signed here] was to come and play for Lavy, his style of play, and what he thought about me. So obviously when you get a new boss, it's like any company. You get a new boss, things change, and it obviously didn't go well for me."
Lecavalier and Berube's futures in Philly are up in the air, but one thing seems fairly certain: They both aren't coming back next year.
Burning Question: A restricted free agent, is there a spot for him with the young defensive reinforcements on the way?
A personal favorite of mine mostly because of his offensive leanings (plus, you know, that other off-ice story), Del Zotto was a nice find for the Flyers deep into last year's free agency period. He gave the blue line an added scoring punch with eight goals and 14 assists. Of course, the reason that they were able to get him for so cheap at a one-year, $1.3 million deal was because of his defensive shortcomings, and some of those still exist. When asked about his contract situation, the 24 year old offered no further clarification.
"I have no idea," Del Zotto said. "We haven't spoken. Nothing has been said from either side so I'm not sure exactly what to expect. I felt I did all I can this season. Give 110 percent every single day and that's all I can control is my work ethic."
Like Lecavalier, Del Zotto bounced in and out of the lineup at times this season. Unlike Lecavalier, he was able to eventually find steady footing and become a productive player. Del Zotto is a puck mover that could potentially be paired with an effective stay-at-home type, but the Flyers don't have that guy.
There's also this issue of overcrowding, as the Flyers' defense corps are more packed than the Broad Street Line right after an Eagles game. Next year, they return everyone outside of Carlo Colaiacovo, which means that five players already will come back from this year's team before Del Zotto. Six, if you include Radko Gudas. There's also help coming on the horizon in the form of young defensemen like Shayne Gostisbehere, Travis Sanheim, and Samuel Morin.
In a perfect world (like, one without Andrew MacDonald's contract), Del Zotto would come back on a longer deal than he received this season. The former New York Ranger and Nashville Predator expressed interest in staying, so we'll see if it happens anyway.
"You always want term, you want that security, but you want to be paid fairly as well," Del Zotto said. "It's a matter of trying to find that middle ground."
Burning Question: Can he get more time in the offensive zone, please?
When you talk to people that follow the Flyers closely, the consensus that you get on Couturier is that he could possibly become a better offensive player than he has shown thus far in his career, but not unless he's used differently. Berube has deployed the 22-year-old center as the team's stopper, one who sees a ton of his ice time start in the defensive zone. It's really hard to put up solid offensive numbers that way.
"I'm not going to lie, it is tough to produce when you start in your own end most of the time," Couturier said. "But I think Chief in the second half here kind of adapted a little bit... I think it's always going to be part of my game on big face-offs in our end or getting pucks out late in games and stuff. It's always going to be part of me, but I think if I can get maybe a little more responsibilities on the other end of the ice that can for sure help my production.
Berube responded this way:
Berube: "We're trying to make a little bit of an excuse that I'm using him too much in the defensive zone. (1/2)— Frank Seravalli (@frank_seravalli) April 13, 2015
Berube (2/2): "For him to develop as a better player and a better offensive player, he’s got to learn how to produce starting in the DZ."— Frank Seravalli (@frank_seravalli) April 13, 2015
The funny thing is that both of them might be right.