Flyers 2015-16 Redux: Forwards – Part 1

Flyers Insider Tim Panaccio continues his 2015-16 reviews with Part 1 of his breakdown of the Flyers' forwards. He's already looked at defensemen (Part 1 and Part 2), as well as goaltenders.

Bigger and quicker. With an emphasis on size.

That’s the Flyers' objective this offseason. They need to find a young, big forward who possesses sniper ability.

You look at other clubs in the Eastern Conference and the Flyers lack that sniper on the wing, especially on the left side. A player in the mold of a Milan Lucic – too expensive – or Kyle Okposo, who would be a perfect fit, in Flyer orange.

“We need some upgrade up front,” general manager Ron Hextall admitted after the season. “We need some goal scoring, playmaking, would be our No. 1 need.”

Size is an issue.

“That's part of it,” Hextall replied. “We'll try everything. First of all, the first thing we have to look at is where we can get better from within. Whether people improve in fitness levels, players on the way up, those are ways we can get better.

“Then we'll certainly look at the free-agent market and if something makes sense we'll look at the trade market and if something makes sense we'll do it. But I can't seem to find right now what's going to come about because I truly don't know who's available July 1.”

Here's a look back on the Flyers forwards from this past season:

Pierre-Edouard Bellemare
Age: Turns 32 on March 6
Stats: 74GP; 7G, 7A, 14 Pts.; -8; 13:34 MIN
Cap hit: $712,500

He played his 100th NHL game last December, and continues to center a very effective fourth line that outplayed others in the playoffs this season, with Chris VandeVelde and Ryan White. They’ve been a line for the better part of two seasons now. His stats are almost identical to his first year as a Flyer, while his ice time is up less than a minute under coach Dave Hakstol. Given his speed and familiarity with VandeVelde, the duo should be more effective on the PK, yet he had the lone shorthanded goal between them. His line accounted for 20 goals but needs better plus/minus as a unit.

Nick Cousins 
Age: Turns 23 on June 20
Stats: 36GP; 6G, 5A, 11 Pts.; +5; 10:43 MIN
Cap hit: RFA who earned $842,500 last season

Cousins finally got a chance to show what he can do over a prolonged stretch, rather than the 11 games interspaced a year before. Cousins proved to be a tough-as-nails player who doesn’t cheat on defense and can provide some offense. Maybe if he was paired with someone other than Matt Read, we might see a significant jump in offense. His presence should be a wakeup call to Scott Laughton, who lost his spot at center to Cousins and moved to the wing. He could make the roster this fall.

Sean Couturier
Age: Turns 24 on Dec. 1
Stats: 63GP; 11G, 28A, 39 Pts.; +8; 18:36 MIN
Cap hit: Jumps to $4.33 million from $1.75 million

His left shoulder injury was a crippling blow to the Flyers in the playoffs, though it was not necessarily the single biggest reason the team couldn’t beat Washington. Poor goaltending at the start of the series and a lack of offense were the main culprits. Hextall challenged Couturier the previous summer to take that next step offensively and Coots responded by matching his career high in points in a season when he played his 300th career game. He remains the closest player the club has to being a Selke Trophy candidate, but not unless he starts pumping out 20 goals a season. There’s no reason he can’t be the next Mike Richards. Alas, it appears that is simply not going to happen. Still, what Couturier adds as a checking line center is what makes him so valuable.

Sam Gagner
Age: Turns 27 on Aug. 10
Stats: 53GP; 8G, 8A, 16 Pts.; +4; 13:51 MIN
Cap hit: UFA who earned $3.2 million last season

Gagner played his 600th NHL game last March. Eight goals, 16 points for $3.2 million and UFA status this summer? There’s several reasons why the Flyers won’t be re-signing Gagner, who had value in the shootout (two goals on four shots), but not enough overall, given his cap hit. He was moved around the lineup and could not find consistent offense. He played all 48 games during the lockout season as an Oiler and had 38 points. No reason he couldn’t have matched that in 53, right?

Claude Giroux
Age: Turns 29 on Jan. 12
Stats: 78GP; 22G, 45A, 67 Pts.; -8; 20:32 MIN
Cap hit: $8.275 million

Giroux played his 500th game last October and scored his 500th point in February. The Flyers announced Giroux had been bothered by a hip and abdominal injury all season. What they didn’t say was this injury had presented itself two years ago and Giroux declined surgery to be treated long term. It was obvious it bothered him from April all the way through the first round of the playoffs (one goal over last 14 games played, including playoffs). 

Giroux remains the face of the franchise but this will be his 10th season and the Flyers have still not won a Cup with him. The window of opportunity before his production as a player declines is nearing in a few years. This was his poorest offensive season in three years, yet he still led the club in points. He had 37 power-play points in 2014-15. He managed 27 this season with just six PP goals, which is a major reason why the Flyers did not rank among the NHL’s top 10 in power-play efficiency for the first time under Joey Mullen. Look for better production while fully healthy next season.

Taylor Leier
Age: Turns 23 on Feb. 15
Stats: 6 GP; E; 0 Pts; 7:43 MIN
Cap hit: $779,616

Did not play enough to warrant an opinion.

Scott Laughton
Age: Turns 23 this May 30
Stats: 71GP; 7G, 14A, 21 Pts.; -2; 10:26 MIN
Cap hit: $863,333

It was a long time coming to get a full season’s shot with the Flyers for this former first-round pick, who isn’t as versatile from a position standpoint, as others. Laughton had flashes of what he could be, but the fact remains he may never be the 20-goal player the club envisioned when it drafted him in 2012. He replaced Couturier in the playoffs and was concussed – one of several he’s endured as a Flyer over the past three seasons. Laughton’s position on the team is now jeopardized by the appearance of Cousins, who eventually supplanted him in the center role on a third line with Read and Gagner. Training camp will decide whether Laughton remains a Flyer.

Colin McDonald
Age: Turns 32 this Sept. 30
Stats: 5GP; 1G, 0A, 1 Pt.; 0; 8:09
Cap hit: UFA who earned $650,000 last season

Did not play enough to warrant an opinion.

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