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With only a few moves, Flyers look to be better at key spots

GM Ron Hextall didn't do much wheeling and dealing, but the moves he did make seems like good ones.

GENERAL MANAGERS, no matter the sport, typically keep things close to their vest when talking about the state of their rosters. And for good reason.

But when Flyers boss Ron Hextall said in the weeks leading up to the draft that he didn't think there would be much roster turnover this offseason, perhaps all his cards were on the table.

The Flyers were around $2 million under the NHL's $71.4 million salary-cap limit going into the offseason. But Hextall was able to work a little magic to improve the roster, even if the result was what he said was about $350,000 in space right now.

Hextall was being honest when he spoke in late June, because there hasn't been much roster turnover from last season's team, which finished 33-31-18 and 14 points out of the playoffs. Twenty of the 23 players with NHL contracts on the club's current roster were in the organization last season. The moves he has made, however, appear to have made the team a bit better.

Gone from last season's roster are feisty forward Zac Rinaldo, defenseman Nicklas Grossmann and backup goaltender Ray Emery. In their place are forward Sam Gagner, defenseman Evgeni Medvedev and backup netminder Michal Neuvirth.

Gagner is an obvious upgrade over the player he replaced, though it appears Rinaldo's "energy" is all the rage in Boston this week. The Bruins' website published an article headlined "Rinaldo Re-Energized," and the word energy appeared 15 times.

Rinaldo had trouble channeling that energy in the right places during his time in Philadelphia. He led the team in penalty minutes each of the last four seasons. He was suspended for eight games in January, his third suspension in four seasons, following an illegal hit to Penguins defenseman Kris Letang.

Rinaldo has 572 penalty minutes in 223 career games. That's 2.56 penalty minutes per game with only 24 career points. Hextall was able to send him to Boston for a third-round pick.

Rinaldo told reporters in Boston this week he didn't "plan on getting suspended," and said, "I don't plan on taking stupid penalties; that's the last thing I want to do, is hurt my team.

"Changing for the better will happen."

The Flyers have been down that road before.

Gagner, who turns 26 Aug. 10, was acquired when the Flyers traded Grossmann and the contract of Chris Pronger to Arizona at the draft. He could bring some firepower to the Flyers' top line alongside captain Claude Giroux and winger Jake Voracek, who led the team with 81 points last season. Gagner, who has played all three forward positions, also could be used as a center on the second line if new coach Dave Hakstol elects to keep left wing Michael Raffl with the top line.

Gagner tallied 41 points last season - 17 more than Rinaldo has in his career - and many think there's more offensive talent to be seen from the sixth overall pick in the 2007 draft.

Between the pipes, Neuvirth gives the Flyers a solid, younger backup to Steve Mason, with starter's experience. The inconsistent Emery struggled last season in 31 games, with a 3.06 goals-against average.

Questionable among the Flyers' newcomers is Medvedev, a 32-year-old who has spent the last seven seasons playing in Russia's KHL. The 6-3, mobile, puck-moving defenseman seems to fit in better with Hakstol's idea of a quick defense much better than Grossmann did. But he is one of eight defenseman under one-way contracts after the club re-signed Michael Del Zotto last week. That also includes Radko Gudas, who was acquired when the Flyers traded Braydon Coburn to Tampa Bay in early March but has been sidelined with a knee injury.

Add to the equation the potential for 18-year-old, first-round pick Ivan Provorov to make the team out of training camp, and the situation on defense isn't any less crowded than it was last season.

The blue line is the only spot that sticks out when thinking about what other potential moves Hextall could make.

If no trades are made, it's entirely possible the Flyers would waive Brandon Manning to open a spot if Provorov impresses, but Hextall has said he won't rush any of the organization's coveted, blue-chip blue-liners.

Right now, it seems this is the group expected to open training camp on Sept. 17, and probably be here beyond that. Not that the Flyers really have much a choice with their cap situation.

On the surface, they have improved. How much, exactly, won't be known until the season opens in October . . . and maybe not even until January. With a new coach comes the implementation of new systems, new strategies and new ways of going about business. Therein lies the uncertainty.