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Flyers GM Holmgren's slogan for offseason: Who and how much?

FLYERS GENERAL manager Paul Holmgren was not in the mood to talk about the summer and what he needs to do for the Flyers.

FLYERS GENERAL manager Paul Holmgren was not in the mood to talk about the summer and what he needs to do for the Flyers.

The team he put together last summer was not finished playing yet. It was last Wednesday afternoon and even though they were down 0-3 to a clearly better Pittsburgh team and the chances of getting to the final were slim and none, there was still at least another game to play.

Slim meant there was still a chance and Holmgren is a hockey man who knows the series is not over until someone wins four games.

"I don't want to talk about what my emotions will be," he said. "You want to win your last game and if we don't, well, I'll be disappointed."

That's easy to understand. When the Flyers started the series, it was Holmgren's "Why not us" that was printed on the front of the team's new T-shirts. And he believed in it.

But now that the Flyers have ended their season with a 6-0 loss yesterday in Game 5 in Pittsburgh, it is time to address the "why" part of the slogan.

Holmgren's task is not as clear as it was last season. When the Flyers finished the worst season in their history last year, they needed a fleet of new faces and all of them had to be top players.

This summer, Holmgren's focus is going to be much narrower. The base of the team he built, the one that showed it was talented enough to get to the Eastern Conference final - a year after finishing dead last in the NHL - is intact.

Keeping it that way will be the first task. The Flyers have restricted free agents that include R.J. Umberger, Jeff Carter and Randy Jones. Losing any of those players would be a blow. Holmgren has to find the salary-cap space to sign them.

And then, he must add to the defensive corps. Jason Smith is an unrestricted free agent; he will not fit into the Flyers' plans and neither will Jaroslav Modry.

Derian Hatcher's health will be an issue. He missed a lot of hockey with persistent knee problems. He played well when he was in the lineup, and shouldered a lot of the defensive load when Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Coburn were injured against Pittsburgh. Still, he is a question mark.

Vaclav Prospal looked good a few weeks ago, but does he look the same now? His performance in the last two rounds suggest not.

"You have to look at it in the salary-cap world," Holmgren said. "You can't make a 3- or 5-year plan. You have to look at each year as the task at hand.

"We'll have our issues this summer because some of the young guys we have to sign [to try] to strengthen areas we need to get better. So that's the juggling act we have to go through to make some hard decisions this summer."

What is likely to make it harder is a trend that started last summer where other teams make offers to restricted free agents who have not yet signed.

If the Flyers can't match some huge bid for an Umberger or Carter, it makes it hard to keep them.

"I don't think we're in any danger," Holmgren said. "But having said that, there is work to be done."

And there are free agents to be found. Last summer, Holmgren brought in the top center on the market (Danny Briere) and the top defenseman (Timonen). He probably isn't looking for that caliber of player this time, but he needs at least one puck-moving, mobile defenseman and he can't wait around to see if Ryan Parent can be that guy.

"We've got to continue to try to get better at the defensive end of the game," he said. "I think we made strides with [the signing of Timonen] and the development of Braydon Coburn and probably the development of [Jones], but we've still got a ways to go in terms of the type of team you need to be, to be in the new game.

"I still think you need the physical element, but we still need to have better puck-moving ability back there, and it might just be one guy, I don't know. Maybe we have that guy in Ryan Parent. I don't know yet.

"But there are some decisions that will have to be made." *