By Stu Hackel
The talk around the Flyers on Wednesday was of disappointment that their offer sheet to Shea Weber was matched by the Predators. But disappointment is the summer theme for the Flyers and their GM Paul Holmgren when it comes to chasing the available top talent, be it via free agency or trade. They lost out on Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, even though they reportedly offered the duo more than Minnesota. They lost out on Rick Nash, who now plays for their hated rivals from Manhattan. They couldn't re-sign defenseman Matt Carle and seem unwilling to trade what Ducks GM Bob Murray is asking for scoring winger Bobby Ryan, a local product. They're still trying to land right winger Shane Doan (more on that later), but so are 15 other teams, and their former bad boy, Dan Carcillo, is saying bad things about them.
It's enough to make one wonder if the Flyers have lost their luster as one of the NHL's marquee franchises.
That's not likely true. Yes, the Flyers have had some setbacks, but it would be an overreaction to say they're no longer an attractive destination for some players who have designs on winning a Stanley Cup -- even though it's been 37 years since their last one. You have to keep in mind that Weber wanted to come to Philly before jumping to the conclusion that this is somehow a franchise in decline. As long as owner Ed Snider is willing to throw around his considerable wealth in an effort to win the Cup again, this club will be vital and able to bounce back when things don't go their way.
Still, because of the amount, the term and the nefarious way in which the offer sheet was structured, there was great belief Weber would be a Flyer within a week. Some prematurely counted their defensemen before he was matched. "If they land Weber," wrote Sam Carchidi on his Philadelphia Inquirer blog, "they would probably have the league's best defense, one that might look like this: Weber and Kimmo Timonen, his former Nashville teammate; Braydon Coburn and Nick Grossmann; and Andrej Meszaros and Luke Schenn." Carchidi was wise enough to include sentiments such as "Then again, can Nashville afford NOT signing Weber after failing to get Suter back in the fold?" in his post, but it didn't stop the Orange Army from overlooking that minor detail. There was no little hubris in items like this, which further fueled the self-deception that they'd certainly be cheering for the Norris Trophy runner-up next season.
In fact, some around the Flyers still believe Weber will be wearing orange eventually, as Maurice Patton reported in The Tennessean on Wednesday. But that can't happen for at least another year and this week's events still leaves Philadlephia with a Chris Pronger-sized hole on their blueline. Because of that, it's hard to believe this upcoming edition of the Flyers will go into the season -- if and when it begins -- as a Cup favorite. No team without an elite defenseman and a strong defense corps parades the big silver mug through the local streets in June, and not only have the Flyers lost Pronger to concussion, but also Carle (who led the team in ice-time last year, taking lots of Pronger's even-strength minutes) and Timonen is wearing down at 37 years old. They did add Schenn in the trade for James van Riemsdyk.
On a media conference call Wednesday (audio), while expressing his discomfort with the fizzled try at Weber, Holmgren repeatedly said how much he loves the defense corps, which is actually pretty good and includes some promising youngsters on the depth chart in Marc-Andre Bourdon, Erik Gustafsson and Brandon Manning, one or more of whom could stick with the club out of training camp. But Weber's exceptional all-around play would have made a huge difference and everyone knows it -- especially because the Flyers goaltending cannot be relied upon for consistency.
So Holmgren said he'd continue to explore trades, knowing there aren't any other Shea Weber's to be had either in a swap or a signing. He's been reluctant to part with any of his up-and-coming high-end talent like Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier, and that's not likely to change. He likes his team enough to try to improve it without surrendering the future, "add without subtracting," as Holmgren put it, which seems to be the thinking of most GMs these days.
The chance to reel in Doan is a different matter. What he'd bring to any club is a veteran leadership and a hunger for postseason success, which he's never tasted in his 16 NHL seasons. Last year's voyage to the Conference Championship round with Phoenix was the first time he's played more than one round in any spring and the combination of his experience, the respect others have for him and his own drive make Doan a valued unrestricted free agent.
Doan and the rest of the hockey world continue to drum their fingers on the table while Greg Jamison's elongated attempt to purchase the club inches forward, if it's moving at all. In Thursday's Arizona Business Journal, Mike Sunnucks reports that uncertainty about Jamison's bid is growing, even among those who have been supportive of his bid, which seems stalled. He has not signed the lease deal he negotiated with the City of Glendale and questions have re-emerged about whether Jamison has the money to buy the team, with rumors circulating that a member of the ownership group dropped out, although NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly told Sunnucks that he was not worried and discounted those reports.
The snail's pace of things has caused Doan and his agent Terry Bross to continually revise their deadline on when he'll make a decision regarding his future. But they continue dialogues with other teams while waiting for answers from Jamison. The Flyers are just one club Doan has visited or plans to visit. In addition to the Rangers, there have been reports he'll meet with the Canadiens soon. The Red Wings, Predators, Sabres, Blackhawks, Blues, Penguins, Kings and Canucks are among the others who are believed to have contacted Bross. [UPDATE: The Red Wings appear to have dropped out of the Doan chase.]
Holmgren acknowledged on Wednesday that his visit with Doan last week reaffirmed what everyone knows: The Coyotes captain really wants to stay with Glendale's team. "I don't believe he is going to do anything until he has some answers in his mind as to what is happening there," Holmgren said. "I think he is a very loyal guy. He is loyal to (Coyotes GM) Don Maloney, and the Phoenix franchise. I give him kudos for that. We will see how it plays out. I think in the end he would rather be in Phoenix in a perfect world. It's where his family has been raised. If he is ready to make a move, we have interest."
That's probably enough for some in the eager Orange Army, who are already playing the "what-if" game with Doan, anticipating how he'll fit on their team despite the interests of many others. Like kids from Philly who invade the Jersey Shore every summer looking for romance, they could once again be setting themselves up for getting passed by and the possibility of another disappointment.
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