Now that Daniel Cleary has officially re-signed with the Detroit Red Wings, the Philadelphia Flyers are left with an opening in their forward group. Most accounts projected that Cleary would fit on the third line with center Sean Couturier and Matt Read.
That spot was occupied at times last season by Simon Gagne, a player who is greatly admired by the Philadelphia fanbase. Even before Cleary was in the picture, many expressed a desire to bring Gagne back for the 2013-14 season (he is presently an unrestricted free agent and is training privately in Quebec). However, Flyers manager Paul Holmgren stated on Thursday afternoon that the club's vision for this season does not include Gagne.
Holmgren stated that the team plans to fill the vacant forward spot from within and acknowledged prospect Scott Laughton and Austrian product Michael Raffl as potential candidates. Laughton was Philadelphia's first-round selection in the 2012 NHL Draft (No. 20 overall) and impressed many during his five-game stint with the club in 2013. Laughton has largely been viewed as a center and some have questioned moving him to the wing.
Raffl was a coveted prospect last year, who signed with Philadelphia in May. He has spent the entirety of his career in Europe and was projected to play in the Swedish Elite League had he not signed with the Flyers.
The decision to move forward with what they have is likely the soundest course of action for the Flyers. They're constricted because of cap commitments and have several players who potentially could handle a bottom-six role at the NHL level. The club has the entire exhibition season to try out combinations, and if no one is capable of handling the responsibility, it can revisit the situation in the opening weeks of the regular season.
In terms of Cleary, Holmgren stated that he had no hard feelings toward his decision and commented that he knew from the beginning that he wanted to remain in Detroit.
Holmgren said he has no hard feelings w/ Cleary. "He obviously has deep roots with the Red Wings. I actually think more highly of him now."— Frank Seravalli (@DNFlyers) September 12, 2013