Flyers coach Peter Laviolette, conceding the "empty feeling" of the Stanley Cup Finals loss to the Chicago Blackhawks hasn't gone away, took a glimpse at the club's future Monday and liked what he saw.
Being with the Flyers from the start of training camp in September, he said, will have a positive effect on next season. He hinted that all the huffing and puffing the Flyers did down the stretch just to qualify for the playoffs took its toll in the postseason, which ended with a hard-fought loss in Game 6 of the best-of-seven series.
In a wide-ranging conference call with reporters, Laviolette downplayed the suggestion the Flyers might make a deal because they had a surplus of centers, said that goalie Michael Leighton "has given himself every opportunity to be considered a No. 1," and added that he wants the team to take "a better course" toward the playoffs next season.
Asked if he would try to reduce Chris Pronger's regular-season minutes, Laviolette said, "You've got to remember where we were at Christmas. This wasn't a year like Chicago had, where you can try and spread those minutes around and get everybody in a comfortable position with their time on ice.
"We were a team since Christmas that was in a stretch run. . . . Every game was important. Every game was a must-win. When you're in 14th in the conference and in 29th place overall, you can't afford to" experiment with the lineup.
Pronger, 35, averaged nearly 26 minutes per game in the regular season and an NHL-high 29:03 in the playoffs.
"Chris Pronger has handled those minutes his entire career," Laviolette said. "Would it be great if we could play him 22, 24, somewhere between 20 and 25 minutes a night in the regular season? Sure. But we've got to make sure we win hockey games, that we finish high up in the conference and that we secure home ice for the playoffs."
Laviolette, who was hired Dec. 4, said the Flyers were "conditioned at a high enough level" to win the Cup, but added he will be able to implement new things since he will have the team from the start of the season.
"Training camp for me is an opportunity to get everyone on the same page, work through some things, maybe even try things you might not try in a stretch run, because you just don't get that opportunity," he said. "You have to win every game, every period and every shift, and experimenting with different things isn't probably the best idea, so training camp you get to try a few more things."
In exit interviews with his players, Laviolette stressed the importance of being in top shape when camp opens.
"I want to make sure training camp is really high-tempo and that our players make sure that they get everything they need . . . so when the puck drops we come out and take a better course," he said.
In other words, he does not want the Flyers' playoff hopes to hinge on a shoot-out in the final game of the regular season.
"Chicago had a good year; they finished in the top of their conference, they won a lot of hockey games, they gained success from that and then they entered the playoffs that way," he said. "That's more of the run you'd like to have as opposed to the way we had to come in."
The Flyers are nearly $9 million under the cap - a number that could grow to $11 million if an expected $2 million cap increase goes into effect.
But that $11 million is deceiving because it does not account for the four restricted free agents who figure to get raises: Braydon Coburn ($1.4 million salary last season), Dan Carcillo ($938,000), Ryan Parent ($765,000) and Darroll Powe ($532,000).
Those players will make, conservatively, a combined $4 million next season, leaving the Flyers with about $7 million maximum of cap space.
The Flyers must also decide whether to re-sign unrestricted free agents Leighton ($600,000- last season), Arron Asham ($640,000), and Lukas Krajicek ($700,000).
The NHL draft is June 25-26, and the Flyers are expected to explore the goalie market during trade talks at that time. Among their options: signing a free-agent goalie, using Jeff Carter as trade bait, or re-signing Leighton and making him their No. 1 goalie.
Carter, Mike Richards, Danny Briere and Claude Giroux are all best-suited to play center. That's four centers for the top three lines. Blair Betts is the fourth-line center.
Laviolette, who will move his family from Florida to this area later this summer, said the surplus of centers was a positive.
"With that ridiculously top-heavy skill set up front that you're talking about, we just came within a couple wins shy of winning the Stanley Cup," he said. "If we move forward and we return with those skilled centermen, I feel we can move them around. Having centermen in your lineup, I don't think it's a negative. I think it's a positive."
Breakaways. If Montreal were to trade goalie Carey Price to the Flyers, it would want Giroux, sources said. That makes a deal with the Canadiens virtually impossible. . . . The Flyers announced that Ville Leino (hip) and Carcillo (sports hernia) would undergo minor surgical procedures and will be ready for training camp. . . . Peter Forsberg told the Swedish newspaper Expressen that he had been offered a contract to join the Flyers on March 2 after injuries sidelined Carter and Simon Gagne. He said he didn't accept because of his own injuries.