AS THE FLYERS packed their bags and sauntered out of town last week before the puck drops on another season on Oct. 7, Paul Holmgren hashed out an offseason checklist.

Holmgren was able to cross off one of the items on his list on Saturday when he sent restricted free agent Ryan Parent back to Nashville for the rights to highly coveted free agent Dan Hamhuis.

But Holmgren has just 10 days to ink Hamhuis to an extension before he is free game for the rest of the NHL. Parent just earned Holmgren exclusive negotiating rights until July 1.

Holmgren was not granted permission to negotiate with Hamhuis by Nashville general manager David Poile before the trade. He went into it blind, knowing he has the cap space to sign the 6-1, 209-pound defenseman. Doing so would unquestionably lessen the load that was slung on Chris Pronger's back during the regular season and playoffs.

Pronger, who visibly ran out of gas during the Stanley Cup final, averaged 25 minutes, 56 seconds over 82 regular-season games and 29:03 in 23 playoff games.

Hamhuis, 27, will fit firmly between Kimmo Timonen and Matt Carle on the Flyers' defensive depth chart as a smart and patient puck mover who can also play a shutdown role against opponents' top forwards. Hamhuis and Timonen sometimes skated together in Nashville. Hamhuis will not match Carle's point totals but is reliable and durable, having missed just seven games over the last four seasons.

That will come at a price. Hamhuis' deal likely will exceed the 4-year, $14 million that Pittsburgh's Kris Letang got last summer. Holmgren and Hamhuis' agent, Wade Arnott, are scheduled to begin negotiating today with the hopes of completing the deal before the NHL draft commences on Friday in Los Angeles.

If that happens, signing Hamhuis could limit how the Flyers round out their defense. The apparent goal was to not only strengthen the unit, which Hamhuis does, but also make it deeper. The salary cap, expected to rise about $2 million to $58.8 million, could limit its depth since restricted free agent Braydon Coburn is due a raise.

Coburn, 25, had 19 points and was a minus-6 in a turnover-plagued regular season, but stepped up in the playoffs. His time on ice shot from 21:08 in the regular season to 25:09 in the playoffs. Since Coburn and the Flyers seemed to not be in the same ballpark on negotiating an extension during the regular season, he could be destined for arbitration. Coburn's salary could rise from $1.3 million to close to $3 million if you compare his play with contracts that have been recently awarded.

Bringing in Hamhuis makes possibly parting ways with Coburn - likely through trade - a little easier to swallow. But Oskars Bartulis, the only other defenseman under contract with NHL experience, is not a fifth defenseman in the NHL. The Flyers would also need to fill the void of a sixth, which could be re-signing free agent Lukas Krajicek.

Right now, the Flyers have approximately $8.7 million in cap space, not including the expected $2 million increase and contracts to Hamhuis, Coburn and restricted free agents Dan Carcillo and Darroll Powe.

And paying Coburn his price would limit the amount Holmgren can spend on a starting goalie. Wasn't that the No. 1 item on the offseason checklist?

Michael Leighton could fit under that salary-cap ratio. So could Los Angeles' 21-year-old goalie Jonathan Bernier. Since Montreal dealt Jaroslav Halak to St. Louis last week for two prospects, we know the Flyers won't have either Carey Price or Halak in net next season. Evgeni Nabokov, Marty Turco, Jose Theodore and Dan Ellis are just some of the free-agent goalies available on July 1.

The move for Hamhuis was a shrewd one. With so many question marks and decisions left to be made, we know it is just the tip of the iceberg this offseason - and maybe even this week.

Slap shots

The 2010 induction class of the Hockey Hall of Fame will be announced tomorrow. Eric Lindros and John LeClair are eligible for the first time. In an Oct. 2009 interview with the Daily News, Bob Clarke endorsed Lindros as a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Former Flyer Rick Tocchet, who had 952 points and 440 career goals, and coach Fred Shero are also eligible . . . As it stands today, the Flyers have five picks in this weekend's draft: third round (89th overall), fourth round (119), fifth round (149), sixth round (179) and seventh round (209).

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