The Morning After
Reactions to the Flyers’ moves in the first round of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft seem mixed. Few have complaints about trading RJ Umberger for the 19th overall selection, which was then used to nab Swiss defenseman Luca Sbisa. Umberger proved difficult to sign, either because of salary cap constraints or Umberger’s own stubborness at the signing table. Sbisa is a top-rated prospect who plays intelligently at both ends of the ice, has the size to compete in the NHL, and is projected to quarterback a second powerplay unit.
As for swapping the 27th pick for Steve Eminger, the Flyer faithful seem less thrilled. Check out the comments section on Bill Meltzer’s live draft blog for the reactions, which range from a “wait and see” faith in Holmgren to a virulent belief that Holmgren has sacrificed the Flyers future for a Cup run now.
The latter thought is rather dramatic. Eminger isn’t a Cup-guarantee addition to the blueline, nor would Carlson/Markstrom insure the Flyers’ success for decades to come. Pondering the admittedly strange trade last night, I concluded that Eminger does benefit the Flyers in a few key ways.
1. Saving cap space – Eminger has been a bubble player ever since Washington took him 12th in 2002, bouncing from the Hershey Bears to the Caps to the press box. Even if he receives a raise, he won’t be as expensive as a player with 3 years of solid NHL experience and a big playoff series against Montreal.
2. Blueline depth – Okay, so Eminger isn’t a top-4 man. But the Flyers lacked wiggle room at D, especially if neither Derian Hatcher nor Jason Smith return to the lineup this fall. Eminger provides one more option for the Flyers’ organization as a whole.
3. Defensive potential – Several have pointed out that Eminger has yet to live up to first round choice potential. I’d suggest these people take a look at the tools Eminger possesses – can move the puck, decent size, good skating ability. These outstrip the tools of Nate Guenin (even more of a bubble guy than Eminger) or young Phantoms like Oskars Bartulis who just aren’t ready for the NHL. Put those tools along with some actual ice time in the capable hands of John Stevens and Jack McIlhargey, and Eminger may just blossom into a gem.
4. More moves ahead? – Acquiring Eminger may be just the first pawn in a bigger move. Could Knuble + Eminger be leveraged for a true top-4 defenseman? Or the type of winger that could fill a key spot should Simon Gagne be unable to return?
But is all this worth a first round pick? That remains to be seen. But Paul Holmgren has yet to disappoint the fans in Philadelphia. I think he’s earned some leeway to work the magic that brough Coburn, Parent, and Timonen to the Flyer blueline.