No team in the NHL went through a bigger offseason makeover than the
Philadelphia Flyers, which came as a big surprise to the rest of the league. How will these changes set them up for the new season?
First, they acquired the rights to goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov,
which then made it clear that they would have to make another trade to free up
some cap space to sign him. While most assumed leading scorer Jeff Carter would
be the marked man, he wasn’t the only one traded.
The Flyers dropped a bombshell when they traded away
captain Mike Richards to the Los Angeles Kings in a second pre-NHL draft
blockbuster. In tandem with the trade of Carter to the Columbus Blue Jackets,
the Flyers refaced their roster with two massive trades.
While most people expect the Flyers to take a step back
next season, the reality is that they traded away scoring, which is an area
where they have plenty of depth, but they’ve finally addressed the clubs
biggest need: goaltending.
You might not believe it now, but don’t be shocked if
this team is the 2012 Stanley Cup champion.
What they’ve got:
The question is what don’t they have?
Even after trading away Carter and Richards, the Flyers
still have an embarrassment of riches upfront.
Daniel Briere, Claude Giroux, Scott Hartnell, James van
Riemsdyk were all 20 goals scorers last year and they’ll lead the way. For good
measure, the Flyers signed veteran Jaromir Jagr to provide some offensive depth
while the acquisitions of Wayne Simmonds and Jakub Voracek should give the
Flyers roughly 15 goals each from those two third or fourth liners. If Brayden
Schenn or rookie Sean Coutrier give the Flyers any production, they’ll be in
On defense, the Flyers are anchored by Chris Pronger, who
is still one of the top defensemen in the NHL. The Flyers will get a huge boost
from the consistency along their blue line as Matt Carle, Kimmo Timonen,
Braydon Coburn and Andrej Meszaros will all return with him.
The key for the Flyers this season – and for the next nine
years that he’s signed – will be the play of Bryzgalov. In previous situations,
he had to be the team MVP for his squad to win. In Philadelphia, he just has to
be respectable and the Flyers will be a championship contender.
Here’s a look at who the Flyers have tried to win with
between the pipes over the last decade:
Sean Burke (37-years-old)
Jeff Hackett (35-years-old)
Without question, Bryzgalov’s body of work is far more
impressive than any of the aforementioned scrubs.
The bigger issue here is team confidence. The Flyers – as
most teams do – tend to go as their goaltenders do. This season, as often has
been the case in many other seasons, the team was more confident when they
could trust their back end and was quite deflated when a cheap goal slipped
through. It affected their play team-wide.
Having Bryzgalov gives this team somebody they can trust
and that alone will make a huge difference.
What they need:
The Flyers biggest need is for their young stars to
continue to deliver. By trading away proven commodities like Carter and
Richards, the Flyers have put a bigger burden on their up-and-coming stars like
Giroux and van Riemsdyk. Giroux is just 23-years-old while van Riemsdyk is just
22. That’s a lot of pressure and expectations on such a young duo.
Even the acquisitions that the Flyers made this offseason
are all of the younger variety as Simmonds is 22, Vorucek is 21 and Schenn is
The Flyers will need many of these players to step up –
particularly in the playoffs – as they have traded away a lot of experience and
a lot of proven performers. It’s one thing to shine as a secondary contributor
but now the spotlight will shine brighter and they’ll have to deliver.
The Flyers have a veteran defensive corps, which can calm
the storms – particularly now that they have a good goaltender behind them –
but one could make the case that their defensive unit is a tad over the hill.
Andreas Lilja was the only addition to the blue line this
offseason, and he’s 36-years-old. Pronger is also 36 and so is Timonen. Age
could be a concern as the season wears on.
The plan is simple for the Flyers: get their offensive
youngsters to keep playing at the level that they are at and hope that the new
faces fit into place. Their blue line has to stay strong and their goaltending
has to improve significantly with the addition of Bryzgalov.
But the reality is that these three goals are realistic
Most people want to write the Flyers off after trading
away Richards and Carter, but at a closer look, this team looks like it is
better built to win a championship. As long as the young forwards deliver, the
Flyers are in great shape.
When’s the last time the Flyers have had to worry about
goal scoring? Expect them to be a serious Cup contender in 2012. In the betting odds the Flyers 10/1 with Bodog.