Peter Laviolette isn’t really big on extreme makeovers, so there is no reason for doubt when he says he’d be happy starting next season with essentially the same Flyers lineup he has now. The one he tactfully kept reminding everyone that came within two wins of a Stanley Cup.
Whether that meant having the same goaltender is something Philadelphia’s coach left hanging in a wide ranging season post mortem this week. The subject has developed a life of its own in Philadelphia over the years and it’s been on everyone’s mind since the Stanley Cup Final when Michael Leighton allowed several soft goals, including the overtime winner in the clinching game that will remain the lasting image of his season.
Thing is Leighton actually did play very well for the most part after the Flyers picked him up on waivers last December, so Laviolette wouldn’t or couldn’t dismiss the idea of bringing him back. “Certainly Michael has given himself every opportunity to be considered a No. 1,” Laviolette said on his conference call.
Okay so it’s exactly a ringing endorsement, but then neither was the break-up day comment from Paul Holmgren when he noted that Leighton “didn’t play as good as he needed to play in order for us to win.”
In other words, the Flyers are trying to figure out if they can get better between the pipes and at what cost. And they’re trying to do it fast, before next weekend’s draft in Los Angeles, which is expected to produce some heavy trading as teams look to recalibrate their budget liabilities. Philadelphia came very close to pulling the trigger on a deal at the March trade deadline – Florida’s Tomas Vokoun was thought to be in the Flyers sights – and there are some pretty good options at the teams disposal, particularly at center where there is an excess of skill with Mike Richards, Danny Briere, Jeff Carter and Claude Giroux.
Carter, the team’s top goal scorer, would be the most moveable asset because he has only one year remaining on a $5.25 million deal. And because of a broken foot, Carter had little post-season impact on the Flyers. But Laviolette said a lot of centers not a bad problem to have.
“If we move forward and we return with those skilled center men, it’s a positive” Laviolette said. “Injuries happen during the course of the year all the time, but when you’re heavy on centers, skilled centers, I don’t think that’s much of an issue. I think that you can move it around and juggle it, so you can get by when everybody’s healthy.”
What Laviolette seems more concerned about is upgrading his team’s conditioning. There was a lot of scuttlebutt about Philadelphia’s players being in less than ideal shape when Laviolette replaced John Stevens behind the bench in early December. But none of the players were huffing and puffing by the time the playoffs arrived, and most of the Flyers were raving about the return from being pushed harder.
Laviolette did say on his conference call that said he was “satisfied” with his team’s conditioning level. He suggested the players got stronger as games went on and won a lot of games in the third period during the playoffs, but made it clear the conditioning factor will be a lot better when he will be there from the outset of training camp
“Training camp is an opportunity to get everyone on the same page, work through some things, maybe even try things and certainly you get to push the pace for conditioning,” Laviolette said . ”But I think how the players come back into camp is going to be equally as important. Conditioning for me is going to be a big thing coming back in, making sure the guys are in shape and are ready to play. I think if we can be in really good skating shape and we can understand exactly what we’re supposed to be doing, stay healthy, and enter that first game of the year, that’s really my goal.”
That’s one of the goals anyway. Another is cutting Chris Pronger’s minutes down to around 24 for about 30 per night, something Laviolette said would be possible if the Flyers start better and avoid putting themselves in essentially a must-win situation every night of the second half. Essentially, Laviolette hopes Philadelphia doesn't get the hangover other teams who have lost recent Finals did.
“A lot of it has to do with the parity, not necessarily a Cup hangover,” he said. “I think our guys will be pretty motivated just because we got pretty close. We’re a young group. We have a good hockey team. I think if we come into camp in good shape, we have a good training camp, there’s no reason can’t come out and find success through the course of the regular season.”