Once again the Flyers are orange. The black jerseys that Philadelphia has worn for years have been dropped for the more traditional look. The former orange thirds have become the new home jerseys as the blacks will now be scheduled in for specific games. The change comes at an important cross-roads in the team’s history of course; one that leaves many to speculate whether or not the 2009-10 Philadelphia Flyers have an identity crisis.
The team though would not agree with this. For the players and organization there is no question as to who they are, who they want to be, and where they plan to go. The sweaters may match those of the great Bobby Clarke, Bill Barber, Rick MacLeish, and Reggie Leach, but the Flyers have assembled their own cast of offensive heavyweights. Ray Emery isn’t going to pretend to be Bernie Parent either, but behind arguably the best defense the orange and black have ever iced, he may get nearly as many wins this season.
Despite jokes and jealousy this team is not going to make any promises about playing nice with the other kids on the block. They’re not specifically dirty, though from the cries of outrage at the Pronger trade from the other half of the state you’d never know. If anything this team had displayed its soft side a little too much in past seasons. There won’t be any headhunting or mistakes to jeopardize a chance at the Stanley Cup, but if players like Pittsburgh forward, Chris Kunitz, think they will skate around with their only purpose being to tag smaller Flyers such as Kimmo Timonen at every opportunity, then they might find himself on the wrong end of Chris Pronger’s favorite pass-time. It isn’t just the monster defenseman that teams will have to worry about though. The entire roster from top to bottom is revamped and out for blood.
For any other team the loss of 52 total goals in one offseason could be devastating. Mike Knuble became a cap casualty this summer and traveled south down I-95 to team up with Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals. Joffrey Lupul was part of the trade that brought Pronger to Philadelphia in the first place. Instead of actively looking for legitimate production replacements for the two wingers, the organization decided to stick with what it had. Paul Holmgren believed in his prospect pool as well as the lesser known additions to the camp. That trust may have paid off in a big way.
Already cemented for duty are all four Flyers who scored over 30 goals last season. Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Simon Gagne, and Scott Hartnell are not mysteries. The four were Philadelphia’s top offensive producers last season and will look to keep that pace going in 2009-10. Philadelphia and Detroit were the only two teams in the NHL to have four different players hit the 30 goal mark while Philadelphia and Boston were the only two teams to have six different players score 20 or more goals. The only question left for the Flyers with two of their 20-goal-scorers, Knuble and Lupul, both gone was where they were going to find offensive depth to keep up their high-flying offense of seasons past.
Danny Briere, who missed the majority of last season with a series of groin injuries, came back on in the latter half of the season in a big way. Though often considered one of the most overpaid forwards in the NHL his offensive abilities speak for themselves. When healthy he is arguably the most offensively creative and talented forward in the Flyers’ deep lineup. A 30 goal, point-per-game season out of Briere should not be too hard to come by with the talent in this lineup. Since the beginning of training camp his has shown how healthy he is by tearing up other teams all preseason long.
The other player the Flyers are expecting to step up in a big way this season is Claude Giroux. He was originally expected to make the roster out of camp last year but due to some minor set-backs, was given the opportunity to prepare for the professional game a little more in the AHL. He got off to a slow start but was on the Flyers regular game roster by the end of December. A minor concussion due to an elbow from Corey Perry set him back another month, but when Giroux finally broke out at the NHL level there was no stopping him. He dominated teams for the last two months of the regular season and was the Flyers best forward in the playoffs. There’s no question that if Giroux has a big season this offense could be the scariest in the NHL just based on their best six forwards.
With some concerns outside of the top six though, the Flyers’ offense may not have gotten as high a grade as it currently does without the emergence of two possible stars in preseason. Though they have not proven themselves completely yet, former second overall selection James van Riemsdyk and undrafted Swedish Elite League star Mika Pyorala have turned quite a few heads during camp. Both rank among the Flyers most productive forwards in preseason, and each bring something unique to the table. As of right now these two are not just fill-ins to replace Knuble and Lupul but legitimate weapons themselves making this offense the scariest the Flyers have possibly had since the 70′s.
The current call-ups in case of injury are prospect Patrick Maroon, who was expected to make a serious push for the Flyers roster as a scoring forward before an unfortunate injury during rookie camp, Lukas Kaspar, a first round selection from a couple of years ago who may have never gotten the right opportunity in San Jose, Andreas Nodl, who played half a season with the Flyers last year, and Krys Kolanos, who has had injury issues since being drafted in the first round but can play adequately as a fill-in. Right now it looks to be another exciting year for the offense.
With the muscle movement in full effect during the Flyers offseason, Ian Laperriere made for the perfect under-the-radar acquisition. He provides a bumper-car veteran on the fourth line who is not afraid to get vocal in the locker room. He, like the other bottom-rung forwards on the roster, will not particularly “wow” anyone, but his defensive capabilities along with an inherent willingness to protect his teammates could go a long way. When added to Dan Carcillo and Arron Asham expect to see plenty of “togetherness” in the box this season one way or another. Riley Cote, though not as skilled as the others, will also provide the team another scrapper whenever he suits up for games.
Darroll Powe emerged last season as a speedy burst of energy that can play top nine-minutes if need be. While he doesn’t necessarily possess the skill to be a finisher at the NHL level he will make some noise. He plays a crash and bang style of hockey that fits in well with the rest of the offense, and his versatility makes him useless in all kinds of ways.
The real hidden gem on the Flyers bottom-rung unit may just be someone who has yet to sign a contract. Blair Betts, penalty-kill extraordinaire of the New York Rangers, came into Philadelphia’s camp as an invitee though there were many who expected him to earn a contract wherever he went. He certainly had offers, but Philadelphia caught his eye. Throughout preseason he has done nothing but impress. His penalty killing abilities will give useful breathers to players like Mike Richards and Jeff Carter who would be able to save their energy for 5-on-5 play. His ability to win key face-offs will also come in handy in a fourth line checking role. He is expected to sign a contract sometime this weekend since the Flyers recently made moves to clear up cap space and contract space.
Prospects Jonathan Kalinski and Jared Ross both performed well during stints with the orange and black last season and would likely be the first call-ups should there be injury trouble among the bottom six.
With the recent announcement that Randy Jones would be waived this upcoming weekend things have changed for the defense. With Jones out of the lineup the Flyers free up tons of cap space and even more headaches. Though he was a decent puck-moving offensive defenseman, a serious injury before the 2008-09 preseason sidelined him for more than half a year. When he came back he was not as mobile. Jones, who was a defensive liability at times before, was now often a disaster, especially on a pairing with Andrew Alberts who left for Carolina this offseason. Jones mentioned that he was feeling much better this offseason, but his play has not backed up his claims. Coach Stevens and General Manager Paul Holmgren have both noted that they are disappointed with the blueliners progress. His replacement will likely be Danny Syvret, a 24-year-old prospect who finished third in scoring on the Phantoms last season. He is not the most impressive defenseman ever, but he offers a better and cheaper solution to the Jones dilemma. On a pairing with young shut-down defenseman Ryan Parent, who logged big minutes with Kimmo Timonen at the end of last season, Syvret will be able to utilize his offensive capabilities more often.
The other pairings penciled in for the 2009-10 season are Timonen and Braydon Coburn, who proved to be one of the best pairings in the Eastern Conference during the 2007-08 season before being broken up last year, and Pronger paired with Matt Carle. Carle has had his consistency issues but remains the same blueliner that helped turn around the Flyers’ season last year when injuries crippled their defensive core early on. If he can find stability with Pronger there’s no limit to the offense he can provide for the Flyers. Pronger on the other hand has to be the rock to make up for some of the mistakes Carle will make in his own zone every once in a while.
Everyone already knows what Pronger is all about. He is arguably the best overall player on the entire roster which is saying quite a bit when skaters like Richards, Carter, Briere, and Gagne populate the offense. Along with Timonen he provides a one-two punch of elite defensemen to tackle the deepest rosters in the Eastern Conference. On top of all that he is the complete player. He provides superior offense on the blueline, a rocket from the point, a true “hammer” in the defensive unit, invaluable experience on a young team, and the vocal locker room presence that the Flyers were lacking last season.
Ole-Kristian Tollefsen is another key to the defense though his role is limited. He is mean kid, much like Pronger, but does not nearly bring the rest of Pronger’s arsenal to the table. As a defenseman who can swap in with Syvret he gives the Flyers a crash and bang blueliner who will drop the gloves if need be. Since the Flyers lacked a true mean-streak defenseman last season, Tollefsen is a useful intimidation addition to the unit.
Depending on how the situation plays out with Jones he could end up as a call-up even though it is not likely since, should he be claimed on re-entry waivers, it could be problematic for the Flyers’ cap situation. Okars Bartulis offers another option as well as some rookies who could have key roles with the Flyers in the future; Kevin Marshall, Marc-Andre Bourdon, and Joonas Lehtivuori.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A+
Last season, with roughly the same group of special teams skaters, the Flyers were near the top of the NHL in both the penalty kill and powerplay. That’s a very good thing seeing as how they were the second most penalized team and had the fifth least powerplay opportunities. Since some double-standards will never change the Flyers have embraced that aspect of their game. If the league is going to watch them more closely anyway, then their philosophy is to be better at special teams than everyone else.
The Flyers led the league in shorthanded goals last season, but don’t expect as many this year. While it would be effective to put Richards, Carter, and Gagne out on the penalty kill again, those three will not likely be getting as much man-down time as seasons of the past. The addition of Laperriere and the likely signing of Betts will go a long way toward giving the Flyers’ offensive powerhouses a break so that their 5-on-5 play will not suffer. Giroux has emerged as a very good defensive forward but won’t likely be utilized on the penalty kill often this year. Instead another sophomore, Powe, will get some opportunities. Of course the kill only gets better with the addition of a guy like Pronger. The Flyers are going to be in the box often this season, but that does not mean they have to treat it as a disadvantage with this deep a roster.
Since the Flyers are also not going to be given a lot of chances on the powerplay they have to make the most of their opportunities. Two straight offensive units made up of a combination of Richards, Gagne, Briere, Carter, Giroux, Hartnell, and van Riemsdyk along with Pyorala for fill-in duties will be devastating. Richards will not have to play the point this season of course with the addition of Pronger. The powerplay defense is equally deadly with four defenseman that could possibly break 40+ points in 2009-10; Timonen, Pronger, Coburn, and Carle. There’s no question the Flyers’ special teams is at the top of the NHL.
It’s impossible to make Emery into something he’s not. There is so much backwards reporting out there belting out apocalyptic hymns that it is impossible to get a real read on what the Flyers’ newest netminder can accomplish. Despite one season of trouble in Ottawa, Emery has proven to be a consistent starter. He was consistent when he took the Senators to a Stanley Cup and consistent when he played in the KHL. So before anyone takes too much stock into the goalie that will supposedly add the “tragic” to this soon-to-be, according to every NHL analyst with a pen and a paycheck, tragic anti-hero of a team (since if the Penguins are the heroes, someone has to be the villain), it is important to use our brains instead of mindlessly following the people who get paid to find flaws.
The Flyers have had an issue with goaltending for a while of course stemming all the way back to Ron Hextall. While none have been able to capture the Stanley Cup it doesn’t necessarily mean that there was anything wrong with them. The Flyers have missed the playoffs once since the departure of Hextall. This also doesn’t mean that the teams that the Flyers made the playoffs with were anywhere near as good as the one they have currently assembled.
Emery is, at worst, a lateral move talent-wise from Martin Biron. The goal in Philadelphia is to get Emery to stay consistent, and a revamped defense should go a long way toward accomplishing that goal.
As far as Emery possibly imploding and alienating the entire locker room, there’s a article floating around devoted just for the sheep in the audience.
While everyone concentrates on the position between the pipes they continue to ignore what could be the Flyers’ greatest weakness: coaching. Stevens was of course the same coach who inherited a basement Philadelphia Flyers team in 2006-07 from Ken Hitchcock and turned it into a Eastern Conference Finalist the following year. THN even named Stevens the 2007-08 Coach of the Year for his effort. Unfortunately the change between seasons was created by Paul Holmgren in the front office and not behind the bench. While Stevens remains a decent coach he has issues with playing anything that resembles a system. He sometimes judges players too quickly and often throws the wrong skaters into his “doghouse.” The biggest issue with his style may be his lack of emotion which in reality the opposite of what a bunch of “Broad Street Bullies” need behind their bench.
The result of Stevens’ lack of emotion seems quite obvious at times. In the very last game of the 2008-09 season the Flyers took on the Rangers. Philadelphia was playing for home-ice advantage, and New York was just focused on staying healthy for the playoffs. A sloppy effort and no whip-cracking in the locker room led to a best of seven series out of Pittsburgh instead of Philadelphia for the first round. Then in game six of that series Stevens failed to keep his players’ heads in the game with a gigantic lead and thoughts of a game seven already creeping. That game seven clearly never happened.
Stevens has had trouble at times getting his team to come out strong out of the gate, and at other times he has failed to keep them focused enough to play 60-minute-hockey. With Richards, Timonen, Briere, Gagne, and Carter all in the locker room as players who have spent a decent amount of time in a leadership role, many could speculate that the team should be okay despite Stevens. The problem with these leaders though is not their on-ice leadership which is normally spectacular, but their vocal leadership. With the permenant departure of Derian Hatcher due to a serious leg injury the Philadelphia Flyers severely lacked a vocal leader. The additions of Emery, Laperriere, and Pronger especially are also an attempt to circumvent the situation. It may just work. If the Flyers have a strong season it will be once again despite Stevens, not because of him.
The Flyers have had one of the deepest prospect pools in recent years. While Giroux, Parent, and even van Riemsdyk are likely to be full-fledged Flyers this season it would be easy to believe that the pool is nearly depleted of high end talent. The thought that the Flyers may have mortgaged too much of the future to bring Pronger over from the Anaheim Ducks with Sbisa and two first rounders going the other way also doesn’t help matters. The organization never would have made that trade though if they weren’t confident in the group of prospects remaining in the pool.
Patrick Maroon, at the top of the list, was at points even favored to beat out van Riemsdyk for a roster position on the Flyers this preseason after having a great start to his professional career with the Phantoms last year. A poorly timed injury may have cost him his spot on the opening roster, but that doesn’t mean he’s done competing. He has yet to be cut and is performing better in every game he plays. If he does get sent down to the AHL and demonstrates that he belongs among the Flyers’ top scorers he will get his chance to wear orange and black this season. The other key forward to the organization is Andreas Nodl, who played a big chunk of the Flyers’ season last year. He made the
opening day roster right out of college but had a hard time finding his scoring touch even when he was sent back down to the AHL in favor of Claude Giroux at the end of December. He was among the cuts the team made so far so that he can look for his scoring with the Phantoms for a while. If theFlyers need him though he is ready to get a call-up and occupy a top nine position.
Defensively the Flyers have a pair of heavyweights from the QMJHL in Kevin Marshall and Marc-Andre Bourdon. Both come highly decorated out of Canadian Juniors and carry a mean-streak. Marshall excels as a shut-down defenseman and Bourdon excels offensively. As a pairing of the future they could be a devastating tandem for the orange and black. With the depth the Flyers already have on defense it makes sense to let them progress at their own pace in the AHL.
There are also other guys in the Flyers pool that are works in progress though they could jump to NHL action if need be. Jonathan Kalinski and Jared Ross both saw NHL time last season and performed well in specific roles. Lukas Kaspar and Krys Kolanos, though older, are both former first round selections that the Flyers signed this offseason. They could be used to fill holes in the offense if injuries become a problem.