On October 2, 2009 at approximately 7 pm, the Philadelphia Flyers will drop the puck on one of the most anticipated seasons since the Lindros era. After last year’s unceremonious exit from the opening round of the playoffs at the hands of the eventual Stanley Cup Champion, Pittsburgh Penguins, the Flyers made their tee times, had some surgeries and traded some player personnel. Follow me beyond the jump for a recap of what moves were made, an evaluation of the current roster and some pop culture assisted predictions of what the future may hold for the Orange & Black.
Gone baby gone:
Marty Biron (Islanders)
Antero Nittymaki (Lightning)
Joffrey Lupul and Luca Sbisa (Ducks)
Mike Knuble (Caps)
Andrew Alberts (Hurricanes)
Randy Jones (Phantoms)
Here to stay:
Ray Emery (from KHL)
Brian Boucher (Sharks)
Chris Pronger (Ducks)
Blair Betts (Rangers)
Ian Laperiere (Avs)
Mika Pyorala (Swedish Elite)
James VanRiemsdyk (UNH)
On paper, the Flyers have a really strong team from top to bottom. The problem with paper is, it doesn’t take into account the grueling 82 game schedule of hockey, nor the multiple potential 7 game rounds on the road to the cup. Injuries are something that has rocked this franchise since God knows when and it’s just something that can’t be taken lightly. But barring major injuries to important positions along with the presence of steady goaltending coupled with a pinch of luck has the Flyers as a lock for Stanley Cup contention.
With the help of Jessie Spano from Saved By the Bell, I’ve come up with two specific things that Flyers fans should be excited for this season. I’ve also provided one thing that continues to haunt both the fans and the franchise. TIME-OUT!
The Pronger Effect.
As the horrible film sharing a similar title went on to discuss, the smallest change in a scenario, such as the flap of a butterfly’s wings can produce much larger consequences, like turning that gust of wind into a class 5 hurricane. Well, imagine if that butterfly was 6’6 and 230 lbs. Not enough can be said about the impact Pronger will have on both the Flyers, and the face of the Eastern conference. Rather than hear me blabber on about it, I’ve included a handy plus/minus chart of what Chris Pronger brings to the table.
+ Slap-shot: The Flyers haven’t had such a dangerous shot from the blue-line in ages, one that is heavy, accurate and gets to the net.
+ Huge Minutes: he averaged close to 26 min a game last year and has pretty much followed suit so far in the pre-season. What this does is gives the Flyers TWO top d-parings and takes a lot of pressure off Kimmo Timonen. It almost makes the “ordinary” Matt Carle a better defenseman by sharing the ice with Pronger.
+ Nasty Boy: he’s feared throughout the league and for good reason. Watch him demolish some Hab at the beginning of the NHL 98 intro. Not since Scott Stevens elbowed… err, checked his opposing team’s forwards into a fine powder has there been such a feared defenseman on the East coast.
+ Media: from this particular standpoint, he attracts a lot of positive attention to the Flyers as a franchise. It shows potential free agents that we want to win NOW, and it’s an attitude that could infect other players in the locker room.
+ Stanley Cup: its what every player straps on the skates for. He has a ring. And the year before that, he took an uppity Edmonton Oilers team to the brink before bowing out in the seventh game of the Stanley Cup finals. Point is… he’s a stud with the Silver chalice… and wherever he goes, it seems to follow.
+ Leadership: Look for Mike Richards (I hope) to lose that non-chalant “Its only one loss” attitude. His presence in the locker room cannot be over-looked and one hopes that his excellent defensive skills, coupled with his nasty side will rub off on some of our younger d-men, like Coburn.
- Age/Contract: A lot has been said about the suspicious contract they had Pronger sign here in Philly. The investigation into its merit is “on-going.” It lasts for 7 years and totals 34.45 million smackeroos. The majority of the cap hit is front loaded and there was a brief rumor that the Flyers would be off the hook if Pronger retired before the end of his contract. Not so. Look, we all know Chris Chelios was an effective defender well into his twilight years, but realistically, no matter how fit Pronger is… his abilities will start to decline in the next 3 years.
- Suspensions: Earlier I detailed Pronger’s nasty side as a plus, which IT can be. But the other side of that coin is the Flyers were the most penalized team in the league last year. Previously, we had a season mired with suspensions for foul play and it drew a ton of negative limelight . I’m not going to get into any conspiracy theories but it cannot be denied that the Flyers will be watched closely this year for the rough stuff.
My second “excited” was a close call. I’m really eager to see Danny Briere return to that form he had in Buffalo, the season that got him a huge contract from Homer. But after news broke that Blair Betts finally signed after the longest tryout EVAR, I had to tip my hat in the direction of our new look Penalty Kill. Lord knows the Flyers are gonna need it.
Blair Betts: He anchored the league’s number one penalty kill last season in NY and has a knack at winning really important defensive zone draws.
Rest Richards: There was much ballywho last year in regards to Mike Richards’ penalty killing abilities and his record setting shorthanded goal scoring abilities as well. Having the likes of Betts and Laperiere takes a huge load off our captains surgically repaired shoulders. That allows him to get more PP time and keeps him fresh for the playoff run.
Mean got Meaner: When you can ice a potential lineup with the likes of Cote, Asham, Laperiere and Carcillo, you’re gonna rack up the penalties. In Timmy P’s preview for the Flyers, he relayed the fact that taking penalties isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as long as it establishes your physical presence and keeps the opposing team honest in the corners. If one of your big guns takes a penalty to send a message, you gotta have the PK to kill it off and keep the momentum it created. Now if only Hartnell would chill.
Every year it’s the same issue. Goaltending. The off season saw the Flyers walk away from their two “decent” goaltenders who wouldn’t necessarily lose you a game, and put all their money on an underdog with the potential to steal you a game. Signing Ray Emery to man the pipes left a lot of people scratching their heads, me included. But after watching him closely in the pre-season, I can’t help but feel like we’re in for a treat this year. That being said, it has been almost 2 years since this man stopped a NHL caliber puck. He reminds me of Roman Cechmanek in some ways. He’s a big goalie and very athletic… and he never appears to give up on a shot.
Also an unknown is the ability of Brian Boucher to win you the handful of games he starts in relief of Emery. He’s currently out of commission with a lower body injury and the Flyers must suffer through the erratic netminding of 3rd stringer Backlund. Unless the Flyers draft a guaranteed NHL caliber goalie or sign one through free agency, the position will always be a point of controversy and ultimately failure. Hopefully Razor can change that.
A series of outlandish predictions for the coming season, some of which I will ignore when they turn out to be false, and others I will rub in all your faces when they actually happen.
1. Briere leads the Flyers in scoring - Health aside, all the stars are aligning for this to happen. Figure he assists on most of Carter’s goals and gets significant top line PP time. Not a long shot.
2. Timonen/Pronger win the Norris - The presence of one helps the other. I expect both to put up huge offensive numbers and figure that teams will have a hard time avoiding a match-up against either of our top lines.
3. Pyorala scores 20 – He’s not known as a pure scorer but has 3 goals in the pre-season. He’s known for digging out pucks in the corners regardless of his opponent’s size and looked really good on a line with Richards and Gagne. I think those two start to find him in the right place at the right time, and he cashes in.
4. Gagne doesn’t last the season – The longest active tenured Flyer is getting up there in age. He’s had concussion problems in the past and hip and groin issues recently. I see him playing 50 games this year before going down. He also won’t make Team Canada.
5. The Flyers will have one of the top 3 PK/ PP in the league – Barring injuries, this team will have the best collective special teams in the NHL. This is most valuable when the post season begins and goals per game take a nosedive.
6. JVR returns to Phantoms – This is one I hope to God doesn’t happen, but you have to wonder how he’ll react to being so young in the NHL. Giroux learned a lot in his demotion after all those expectations crushed him in last year’s camp. He’s already starting out on a third line pairing, which limits playing time. You hope he can take the place of Knuble on the Flyers top PP line in front of the net, but he’s behind Hartnell in the pecking order.
7. Carter scores 30 early, doesn’t break 40 – He’s a streaky bastard. That’s all I can say. And as the Flyers headed into the playoffs last season, he started to lose some steam. People say it’s because of injuries, which very well could be. All I keep seeing is that sure goal on Fleury’s doorstep in Game 2 and I think “what could have been?”
8. John Stevens gets fired – This would be one of those things where you’d say, “No way… if the team does well, then he’s fine.” Well, stranger things have happened up the turnpike, where the GM replaced the coach for the playoffs even when they had one of the best records in the league. He’s so laid back that it’s a jarring counter to the feel of the team and the city. Stevens talked about implementing a “hunt the puck” system that is perfect for the speed and size of this Flyers team. I don’t know how likely this one will be, but don’t be surprised when it happens.
My biggest thing this season will be to watch how the Flyers fair against the Penguins. They’ve eliminated us twice in the past two playoffs and have dominated our season series. The move for Pronger was in direct relation to the inability to check both Crosby and Malkin. I’m not looking for perfection, but definitely competitiveness. I’m also not asking for Pronger to pull a Hatcher on Crosby and knock out his front teeth. I’d find shutting him out to be much more satisfying as he’s quickly becoming one of the best Flyers killers in NHL history. He had an amazing playoff run and made me change how I look at him as a player.
I look to Mike Richards to take some steps in closing the gap between the two franchises, whether it be through offensive or defensive play. Plus, they have to work on their discipline issues (see below) if they want to make it anywhere this season. The Flyers are facing a really tough opening week (Canes, Caps, Pens, Devils) and need to get off to a good start. Enjoy tonight’s game and the season as well.
"Its like 10,000 goons, when all you need is a knife..."