MATT CARLE kept his head down, carrying a bag of ice to melt away pain from a lingering, undisclosed injury. Tuesday night's Game 5 could have been Carle's last game in a Flyers uniform.
Carle, 27, one of the Flyers' most steady and underrated defensemen, finished off his 4-year, $13.75 million deal this spring.
He is set to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1. Due to salary-cap tagging restraints, restricting teams from exceeding this year's cap figure before next year's number is announced, the Flyers cannot possibly sign Carle before July 1.
That means Carle's team, with Denver-based agent Kurt Overhardt, will be able to field offers from all 29 other teams when the clock strikes noon on the first day of July.
Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren reiterated that he wants Carle to return. Love him or hate him, Carle is one of the best "moneypuck" players in the NHL, meaning his advanced stats far outweigh what may meet the eye.
"I think Matt had a good year," Holmgren said. "He's up there in numbers and Matt's a good defensemen. I've said that before, if Matt wants to be here, we'd like to have him back."
Carle earned $3.47 million this season, but could jump to near the $5 million range. Bringing him back would go a long way toward shoring up the Flyers' suddenly iffy defense corps. If not, the Flyers could use that money spent on a big-name player, like Nashville's Ryan Suter.
Carle was not available for comment on Thursday. Since negotiations have already taken place, Holmgren said he believed a deal could be worked out "quickly."
"I don't see any reason why we can't work out a deal," Holmgren said. "His demands, when I spoke with him and his agent, nothing was ever out of line. Could we get him under market value? I would say that we probably could. I don't see any issues there."
One of the hot topics of Thursday's clean-out day was the status of Flyers captain Chris Pronger for next season. Not surprisingly, Holmgren did not have any news to report.
Pronger, 37, was ruled out for the season after Dec. 14 with concussion-like symptoms. He played just 13 games this season and was not around the team much after that point. In fact, he was barely spotted in public, spending a lot of time in St. Louis.
Pronger has 5 years and $19.25 million left on his contract. The Flyers would receive a cushion on his $4.9 million salary cap hit if he were to remain on the long-term injury list next season.
"Any chance of returning, I would say your guess is as good as mine," Holmgren said. "I think he still has headaches from time-to-time. I think at some point, I'll sit down with Chris and see where he's at. Probably prior to July 1, we'll make an assessment. I'm still, as it relates to Chris, a glass half-full kind of guy. I believe he's going to play. But I don't know, I don't have anything to back that up."
With Pronger's status for next season up in the air, Holmgren said it would be unfair to mention a replacement to his captaincy. He added that "we make too much of this captaincy thing."
Either way, Claude Giroux, 24, appears to be the heir apparent.
"I think he's got it in him," Max Talbot said. "You look at the playoffs, and even through the season, he was an elite player the whole season, one of the best in the league. But, I think being a captain is not just being a good player. It's about character and it's about, that's why you call it leader. And I think Claude has definitely got that. He's got the passion, he's got the work ethic and he never takes a day off. He's a young guy, but that's the great thing about being a captain, you would be it for years to come."
Giroux said he would be ready to become the team's 19th captain "if the time was right."
For a grade, Holmgren said he would undoubtedly give James van Riemsdyk a "huge incomplete" for the season. Van Riemsdyk battled through a concussion, abdominal tear and foot surgery. He was limping around the team's practice facility in a walking boot on Thursday. Holmgren said he was unsure if JVR would need surgery.
Van Riemsdyk's 6-year, $25.5 million deal kicks in next season, which will pay him $500,000 more than Giroux.
"There was something wrong all the time with him, from his oblique to his stomach to the break in his foot, little bit of a concussion issue," Holmgren said. "I think James is a good young player that unfortunately for us was not a factor for the most part of the year because of injury."
Holmgren did not hint at any big changes this offseason, saying that he believed his young players just needed room to grow and learn.
"I like our team," Holmgren said. "I think a lot of it is just going to be experience. I think a lot of our young players, over the course of 82 games and the playoff games they played in, that experience is good. So I'd like to believe that the younger guys will be better next year."
Holmgren said he "hoped the best" for Mike Richards and Jeff Carter in Los Angeles, hoping they do win the Stanley Cup this year. As far as last summer's trades, Holmgren said, "I'm happy the way it's worked out for us. I wouldn't change anything" . . . Holmgren said it is "business as usual" this summer, despite the fact that there could be a work stoppage in September. He is planning on operating at a temporary, $69 million salary cap, which could change . . . NHLPA team representative Braydon Coburn said he was "optimistic" the season would start on time.