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Cap space, Timonen among Flyers' five questions

by Adam Kimelman /

New Philadelphia Flyers general manager Ron Hextall has a different outlook on what the team should look like, but because of salary cap issues wasn't able to change too much with the roster.

Instead, he's hoping a competitive training camp will allow the team to get off to a better start than last season.

"We have to be more consistent and more ready to go every night," Hextall said. "And compete. It's a hard League. It's hard to win. It's hard to get points. You can't let any games go by where you just mail it in and don't have a chance at picking up some points."

Here are five questions the Flyers have to answer in order to pick up enough points to return to the playoffs:

1.Who takes Kimmo Timonen's ice time? -- The Aug. 4 announcement of Timonen being hospitalized to receive treatment for blood clots in his lower right leg and both lungs leaves the composition of the defense a major question mark. Even while turning 39 late last season, Timonen was the Flyers' best defenseman and played in all situations. Now his playing future is in jeopardy.

Free agent Michael Del Zotto was signed to a one-year contract the same day as the Timonen announcement, and he and Mark Streit should be able to fill the void on the top power play. On the penalty kill it will mean increased roles for Braydon Coburn, Nicklas Grossmann and Luke Schenn.

The Flyers have a few impressive defense prospects, but Hextall said he's not sure rushing one of them as a reaction to Timonen's injury is the right plan.

"I don't want to put a kid in a situation who is not ready for it," he said. "The way to protect yourself is to add a veteran if possible."

Veteran or rookie, the big question is how do the Flyers replace the poise and experience Timonen brings when he's on the ice or in the locker room.

"There's no question it's a setback," Hextall said. "There's no other way to explain it. But we'll adjust and we'll do what we can to make the team better. ... You can't take not only the player, but I think the experience and the calm and the poise and the respect that Kimmo has in the locker room, and say you didn't take a step back."

2. How do you solve the salary cap issues? -- According to CapGeek, when the Flyers signed Del Zotto to what was reported by TSN to be a $1.3 million contract, they moved $4.3 million over the $69 million salary cap for this season; but when Timonen ($2 million) and fellow defensemen Chris Pronger ($4.9 million) go on long-term injured reserve, they'll be about $2.6 million below the cap.

That doesn't leave a lot of room if the Flyers run into short-term injury issues. Hextall reportedly has investigated trade options, including trying to move forward Vincent Lecavalier and his $4.5 million cap charge. However, Hextall is confident that even if he doesn't do anything his team will be fine.

"There's nothing pressing for us," he said. "We don't have to get rid of a player, and at this stage I don't necessarily envision us getting rid of a player. Things can change in a hurry but I like our team."

3. Who plays left wing on the top line? -- Scott Hartnell had played alongside Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek for most of the past two seasons, but now there will be open auditions for the top spot.

Lecavalier, if he's not moved, could slot in there. Brayden Schenn skated in that spot at stages during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but the Flyers see him as a center. Michael Raffl doesn't have as much offensive upside, but his speed and tenacity on the forecheck helped open space for Giroux and Voracek when he got a few games there.

"It's going to be up for grabs," Hextall said. "Craig [Berube, coach] makes the decisions there. … There's a spot open there and I'm sure a lot of guys will be hungry for it."

4. Can the young players make an impact? -- Forward Scott Laughton and defensemen Samuel Morin, Robert Hagg and Shayne Gostisbehere all have designs on making the NHL roster. The Flyers certainly could use some younger talent, especially on defense, but Hextall has been preaching patience.

"Nobody's going to be handed anything," Hextall said. "They're going to have to beat someone out. … They're going to have to come in and make a huge impression. The way I view it is if a young player isn't going to make your team better, he's probably better playing bigger minutes somewhere else. He's going to have to come in and prove to us they can make the Philadelphia Flyers a better hockey club."

5. Can Steve Mason do it again? -- Last season Mason earned the top spot in net and a three-year contract extension. It was Mason's best season since he was a rookie in 2008-09. He struggled after that season, and Hextall said the key for Mason is avoiding a similar struggle now that he's got a new contract.

"The thing that he's got to come back with is he's got be consistent from year to year," Hextall said. "That's what he's out to prove and that's what we're looking forward to seeing, the consistency from year to year."


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