LOS ANGELES - Three summers ago, with the second overall pick in its back pocket, the Flyers' front office was operating at full steam. At the NHL draft in Columbus, Ohio, Chicago nabbed Patrick Kane with the first pick and the Flyers selected James van Riemsdyk.
Three years later, with van Riemsdyk graduated to the NHL, the entry draft's location has changed but the mind-set and preparation havenot. In a conference call Monday with reporters, Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren made it very clear his team is preparing for the start of tomorrow night's draft as if it is picking minutes after the Edmonton Oilers, who have the No. 1 overall pick.
"You never know what's going to happen," Holmgren said. "We went through our normal preparation in our scouting meetings at the end of the year . . . so I think our scouting staff is as prepared as we would be if we had a first-round pick. They know the players, they've done their work and we'll go to the draft prepared for anything, which may or may not happen."
Edmonton is expected to take Taylor Hall, from the OHL's Windsor Spitfires. The Bruins, who pick second thanks to their trade with Toronto for Phil Kessel, are likely to select Tyler Seguin from Plymouth (OHL). Hall and Seguin are the can't-miss prospects in this draft, which will be televised live on Versus tomorrow night at 7 from the Staples Center.
After those two selections, it is anybody's guess as to who goes next. As it stands now, the Flyers do not pick until No. 89, which is the 29th pick in the third round.
The draft experts and Holmgren say the 2010 draft class is a strong one, but not as deep as some of the past years.
"It's not a considerably deep draft like the year [Mike] Richards and [Jeff] Carter were drafted [in 2003] but it's a good draft," Holmgren said. "I think obviously there are a couple guys early in the draft that are going to be top-line players. Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin, after that there's some good defensemen at the top end of the draft, but I do think there's a couple guys that are probably ready to play, depending on where they end up."
Holmgren said he would not rule out trading up or making a move to pick a player who may have unexpectedly dropped or who has been flying under the radar, but he isn't actively seeking it. He said he has been in contact with "pretty much every team" but the talks haven't centered around a first-round pick. Holmgren already made a splash by acquiring the rights to Nashville's Dan Hamhuis for Ryan Parent last Saturday. Holmgren and Hamhuis' agent have been negotiating a deal to get the defenseman signed.
"It's more of kind of a feeling-out process right now," Holmgren said. "Everybody's trying to figure out not only their own direction, but what they can do if there's a fit with another team in terms of making a trade that works for both sides. There's a lot of talk right now.
"Our first pick right now is at No. 89 and we feel like we'll get a good prospect there."
Last year, the Flyers sent their only first-round pick to Anaheim along with Joffrey Lupul, Luca Sbisa and this year's first-rounder for Chris Pronger and Phantoms forward Ryan Dingle. With that, they slid down to No. 81 and picked goaltender Adam Morrison. The Flyers' second-round pick this year belongs to Los Angeles, who acquired it in a deal for Denis Gauthier in 2008.
If they hang onto the No. 89 pick, it will be the latest the Flyers have picked since 2004 when they chose Rob Bellamy at No. 92. Since entering the NHL in 1967, the Flyers have begun the process below pick 60 just three times. Holmgren made up for their lack of picks by signing six undrafted free agents out of college and juniors this season. He said he expects forwards Mike Testwuide, Ben Holmstrom and defenseman Erik Gustafsson to all challenge for roster spots next season.
Testwuide, out of Colorado College, was one of the most sought-after free agents.
"We've addressed some of our needs," Holmgren said. "We feel like we did stock our organization with some kids that have a chance. Obviously with this draft, because we don't have a first- or second-round pick at this time, a third-round pick is big for us and we feel like we can get a good prospect there."
Two days after the Flyers' season ended, Holmgren was asked about the first selection. He said it was No. 89, "as of today," with a wink. For him, this is no vacation at a Southern California beach. He might have a few more tricks up his sleeve.
The players association on Tuesday agreed to a 5 percent salary-cap escalator for next season, paving the way for the NHL to introduce next season's salary-cap ceiling at $59.4 million.
The salary floor, the minimum teams must spend, will be set at $43.4 million, almost $5 million more than the initial ceiling set when the new collective bargaining agreement instituted a cap in 2005. Paul Holmgren said the Flyers have "between 8 and 10 million" in cap space under the old number, which will be closer to 11 and 13 million when all is said and done.
The NHLPA also agreed to extend the collective bargaining agreement through the 2011-2012 season. It originally was scheduled to expire in September 2011.
The Flyers' organization made a push, in the form of a letter to the Hall of Fame committee, to have former coach Fred Shero included in discussion for the Hall of Fame's builder category, which was announced Tuesday. Shero coached the Flyers to their only two Stanley Cups, finished his career with a 390-225-119 record and is credited by many for changing the pro-hockey lifestyle with strength and conditioning regimens that were ahead of their time. Some say Shero was the first NHL coach to use video as a teaching tool. Shero passed away in 1990 at age 65 and has been passed over in the 19 HOF elections since. *