Monday, June 28, 2010

Flyers Trade Hamhuis, Acquire Nabokov; What Else Is In Store?

By: Tim Brennan

The Flyers made what could have been a promising addition when they traded to get the negotiating rights to defenseman Dan Hamhuis on June 19th. After a week of talks between the Flyers management and Hamhuis, the negotiations broke down and came to a halt prior to the NHL Entry Draft. So instead of trying to work things out and feeling like all the options were no longer available, Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren decided to trade Hamhuis' rights to cross state rivals Pittsburgh for a third round pick in next year's draft.

Did anyone else have the same thought of "Huh? Why would you do that?". It's interesting how this situation blew up in Holmgren's face because ever since the trade deadline, the Flyers had been trying to pluck him away from Nashville's clutches. The two sides couldn't agree to a long term deal and as a result, Hamhuis was sent packing. The strangest part of this is that Holmgren traded a player whom he felt could be a big piece to the organization to the Penguins, who play in the same division as the Flyers and face them 6 times a season. If the Penguins end up signing Hamhuis, this will look like a poor judgement call by Holmgren.

Then another deal for a player's negotiating rights was announced by Holmgren only a day after trading Hamhuis. This player would be former San Jose Shark goaltender Evgeni Nabokov, who was told by the team that he wouldn't be given a contract. The Flyers would give San Jose a seventh round pick in 2011 if Nabokov was to sign with the team prior to July 1st. Many see this as a great solution to the Flyers problem in the crease but negotiations haven't worked out in Philly's favor.

Nabokov was a staple in San Jose for the last 9 seasons but gained a reputation of coming up small in important situations, mainly the playoffs. A record of 40-38 might seem okay by some standards but the fact that the Sharks have only gotten past the second round twice with him in net that's a cause for concern. His age is also problematic as the puck stopper turns 35 in the summer, which is usually when goaltenders start to break down. Nabokov averaged 44 wins the last 3 seasons which included 44 last year (2nd in the league) while also posting a .922SV% and 2.43 goals against average.

There's no doubt that Nabokov can still be a premier goalie, it's just that the best fit might not be Philadelphia. Flyers fans aren't as forgiving as Sharks fans and the intimidating crowd might be a turn off for the Russian netminder. If the Flyers were to tender him a reasonable contract, Holmgren would have to create cap space while still yet having to re-sign Michael Leighton, Braydon Coburn, Darroll Powe and Arron Asham. A trade could happen but with the rumors swirling around forwards Jeff Carter and Scott Hartnell, I doubt that Holmgren will want to give up either of those players as they are deemed "too valuable to the team". His words, not mine.

To add to the goaltending issue, Flyers management offered free agent goaltender Marty Turco a preliminary offer of 3 years, $6 million but Turco turned it down.

The best case scenario for the Flyers is to re-sign Leighton, the guy who practically saved their season and put up league best numbers in the post-season. Talks have not even started between the two camps, which is a disgrace considering how valuable Leighton proved to be for the Flyers this season, posting a 16-5-2 record with the orange and the black along with a 2.48 goals against average and .918 save percentage. Leighton elevated his play during the post-season, going 8-3-3 with a 2.46 goals against average and .916 save percentage after coming back from a season ending injury. He led the post-season with that goals against average and 3 shutouts.

Three players have had complications with the Flyers and it makes you wonder why no one wants to sign with a team that made it to the Stanley Cup Finals. The goaltending situation needs to be fixed and I propose that along with bringing back Leighton, the Flyers should pursue a former player, Antero Niittymaki. "Niitty" never got a fair shake in Philadelphia, mostly playing backup behind Robert Esche and Martin Biron. It would be a great pairing of guys never given an opportunity to prove their worth and a balance on the backend that the Flyers have never seen before. The Flyers will be in the market for a defenseman that coach Peter Laviolette can trust, unlike Ryan Parent and Lukas Krajicek. Don't be surprised if Holmgren targets Zbynek Michalek or Shaone Morrisonn, who play a Philly type style. The right wing position on the first line is another area of concern as five different players manned that area this season without a single one creating enough chemistry with Mike Richards and Simon Gagne to make it stick.

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