Top Shelf: Skidding Flyers still hoping to salvage season

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Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - The Philadelphia Flyers are eternally optimistic if nothing else.

No matter how bad things appear to be going for the Flyers, the franchise always believes it can throw money at the problem and resurrect the team's Stanley Cup hopes.

But with the way things are going in 2014-15, Philly may have no choice but to admit defeat and enter a long overdue rebuilding phase.

The Flyers have tested the outer limits of the NHL's salary cap ceiling, but have little to show for their numerous bad investments. With the club about to enter a road-heavy part of the schedule it's entirely possible that Philadelphia will find itself with little to play for by the time early January rolls around.

Philadelphia enters Tuesday's game in San Jose having lost four straight and eight of its previous nine outings. The tilt is the second stop on a five-game road trip and part of a stretch that will see the Flyers play 13 out of 17 games as the guest.

With a 2-8-1 record away from the City of Brotherly Love, things could easily get worse for the Flyers before they get better.

It's still early, but even at this stage of the season it's no good to be where Philadelphia is in the standings. The Flyers are already eight points out of the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, and the situation seems even bleaker when you realize how little organizational depth Philadelphia has to combat its myriad issues.

The Flyers are basically a one-line team on offense, with little scoring coming from guys not named Claude Giroux or Jakub Voracek. The defense is no better and the cap issues make it difficult for Philadelphia to fix the problems at either end of the ice.

Short of firing the head coach Craig Berube, who was hired when Peter Laviolette got the axe three games into last season, the Flyers are running out of ways to shake their sleepwalking team out of its slumber.

Previous attempts to rouse the club have fallen short of their intended goal, like when general manager Ron Hextall was overheard ripping his team with a profanity-laden tirade following a listless performance in a 2-0 loss to the New York Rangers on Nov. 19. The GM's explosion seemed to have little effect, however, as the Flyers have fallen in five of six games since Hextall blasted his club.

Since screaming and yelling didn't work, the Flyers now seem to be trying to motivate the club with shocking scratches. Defenseman Andrew MacDonald and forward Vincent Lecavalier were the recipients of this treatment, as Berube tries to shake up his team and possibly save his job.

MacDonald was scratched before Philly's 5-2 loss against the Rangers on Saturday, and Lecavalier told the Philadelphia Daily News he is out for Tuesday's game against the Sharks. If both Lecavalier and MacDonald watch tonight from the San Jose press box, the Flyers will have $9.5 million in salary, or 13.7 percent of the team's total cap space, sitting as healthy scratches.

For Lecavalier, it also will mark the first time he's been made a healthy scratch during a standout career which includes a Rocket Richard Trophy, a Stanley Cup title and several All-Star Game appearances. Being moved to the fourth line this season was enough of an indignity for the 34-year-old, but being told Sunday that his services wouldn't be needed at all was a shocking revelation for Lecavalier.

"It's very hard to take," Lecavalier said. "It was a tough night, when you're told something like that."

And it's not just Lecavalier and MacDonald who aren't pulling their weight for Philly -- the club is jam-packed with either overpaid veterans or young guys still trying to prove they belong on an NHL roster.

Hextall isn't to blame for the club's current woes, having only taken over the GM spot from Paul Holmgren in May. Holmgren, with Flyers owner Ed Snider likely prodding him along, kept doubling down on the notion Philadelphia was always a free agent signing away from becoming a Stanley Cup contender.

It's now Hextall's job to convince the owner and Holmgren, who was promoted to team president, that getting healthy cap-wise is the best way back to respectability. Philadelphia has some toxic contracts on its books, but there will be contending teams with plenty of cap space who may be willing to rid the Flyers of some of those bad investments.

Although the Flyers did turn around and make the playoffs after a terrible start in 2013-14, it's going to be difficult to sell the public on this edition of the Orange and Black.

Even Mr. Snider isn't liking the odds of this team turning into a winner, especially when the improvement will likely need to come from within the organization.

"It's not going to be an easy fix if we can't get more production out of our players," Snider recent told the Daily News in a phone interview. "You can't be a one-line team and win in this league."

BRODEUR A BLUE

Martin Brodeur figured if he waited long enough, an injury would lead to him getting back between the pipes for an NHL team.

The strategy worked, as the St. Louis Blues signed the free agent goaltender to a one-year contract on Tuesday following an injury to No. 1 netminder Brian Elliott.

When the Devils opted to not re-sign Brodeur in the offseason and officially hand the keys over to goaltender Cory Schneider, the aging netminder had a difficult time finding a new home. But Brodeur and his agent were not discouraged by the lack of interest during the initial free agent frenzy and bided their time for a team in need to come calling.

Just over five months after free agency began on July 1, Brodeur finally found a partner in the Blues following a brief tryout period.

The 42-year-old Brodeur is a future Hall of Famer who leads the NHL in numerous all-time records, including wins (688) and shutouts (124). Also a three-time Stanley Cup winner, the former face of the New Jersey Devils franchise has little to play for other than the love of competition.

"Hockey's fun," Brodeur said. "I just couldn't see myself stopping right now. I'm glad I have the opportunity to continue it."

With Elliott deemed "week-to-week" by the club with a lower-body injury, Brodeur will join youngster Jake Allen as St. Louis' top goaltending options for now. Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock indicated Brodeur will be more than a glorified backup for Allen, saying "if he's here, he's going to play."

It will be odd for fans seeing Brodeur in a new uniform after he spent nearly 25 years with the Devils after being drafted by the team way back in 1990. The weirdness of the situation is not lost on the old goaltender.

"It's going to feel great, it's going to definitely be different," said Brodeur said. "Not just for me, but for the fans. I've turned the page, and this is a new beginning that hopefully will come off with something great."