Philadelphia Flyers Midseason Report: 5 Players Who Must Improve
The year has been one full of surprises, many of them pleasant, such as the emergence of Claude Giroux as a superstar, the resurgence of Jaromir Jagr’s career and the contributions of a number of young players on the team. These have all rocketed a team whose future seemed questionable to the third-best record in the Eastern Conference.
However, despite the fact that the first half of the season can be labeled nothing but a success, some players on the roster have not pulled their weight thus far.
With the New York Rangers and Boston Bruins turning into dominant forces in the East, and teams like the New Jersey Devils and Ottawa Senators starting to hit their strides, the Flyers will need to start firing on all cylinders in order to remain the cream of the crop in the Eastern Conference.
Here are five players whose second-half performances could make or break the season for the Flyers.
Danny Briere has been with the Flyers since the start of the 2007-08 season, and his tenure in Philadelphia has come with its fair share of concerns about Briere’s abilities.
In the last two seasons, Briere began to silence his critics with his playoff performance in 2010 and a career-high 34 goals in 2010-11. His slow but steady emergence as a top scorer on the team was undoubtedly part of the reason GM Paul Holmgren felt comfortable trading away major point-producers like Jeff Carter and Mike Richards.
This season, Briere has only 13 goals and 29 points in 37 games played—modest numbers for most players, but well below the pace at which Briere is expected to produce.
Before his hat trick against Ottawa on Saturday, Briere only had 10 goals on the season.
Will he step up?
If said performance against Ottawa is any indication, Briere is beginning to find his stride and should experience much more success in the second half of the season.
In Briere’s time as a Flyer, he has usually had more success as the season goes on, and is a proven playoff performer. Perhaps he needs big, opposing defensemen to start to succumb to the grind of the long campaign before he can muscle his 180-pound frame to the front of the net.
Expect Briere to be one of the team’s top performers in the second half of the season.
Within minutes of the Mike Richards trade, Brayden Schenn went from being off the collective radar of Philadelphia hockey fans to their potential on-ice Messiah.
Schenn, considered one of the top prospects in the league coming into the season, was expected to make his mark on the NHL in 2011-12.
Perhaps the expectations of the Philly faithful were a tad inflated, but even conservative hockey fans assumed Schenn would crack the top three lines and produce at a modest pace.
Instead, the most hyped name in Philly sports (not including every Eagle signed this offseason) has been nonexistent on the score sheet. His line after the team’s first 40 games: 12 games played, one goal, one assist.
Schenn will not be (and from a coaching standpoint, never was) expected to carry the team at any point this season, but as a player who plays on a scoring line when healthy, his point production needs to improve.
Will he step up?
Well, his numbers for the second half certainly can’t be worse, can they?
Statistically, Schenn is a lock to improve, as long as he stays healthy. In recent games, he has been a factor on the ice, whether he scores or not, and appearing to be more comfortable on the NHL stage is a gigantic mental milestone in a player’s development.
However, the reality of the season has been a reminder that most players are not of the Sidney Crosby/Steven Stamkos pedigree; they do not simply come into the league and take opponents by storm.
Schenn is developing, but don’t expect him to be the sort of player that changes an opponent’s preparation at any point this season.
Of the Flyers’ top four defensemen (Kimmo Timonen, Andrej Meszaros, Matt Carle and Braydon Coburn), Coburn has the lowest totals in goals (tied with Timonen), points and plus-minus.
Coburn’s totals are especially disheartening because he signed a four-year, $18 million extension in November. Since that signing, his performance has left questions about whether or not the former Thrasher is worth a $4.5 million cap hit.
He has not been unreliable in the defensive zone, but with blue-line superstar Chris Pronger done for the season, players like Coburn were expected to step up their performances as they moved up the depth chart.
Quite frankly, Coburn has not.
He should be utilizing his size around the Flyers net and shooting the puck more in the offensive zone.
Will he step up?
In all likelihood, Coburn will remain a frustration for the remainder of the season.
It is no secret that the Flyers are looking for a defenseman to fill Pronger’s void on the roster, and if they acquire a prominent blue-liner, Coburn will see his responsibilities dwindle.
This will benefit the Flyers because a more productive player will get some of Coburn’s ice time, but it will likely reduce Coburn to third-pair minutes and further limit his contributions to the team.
If the Flyers fail to place a new defenseman ahead of Coburn on the depth chart, the pressure on the $18 million man will only increase as the season rolls on.
James Van Riemsdyk
James van Riemsdyk was, for all intents and purposes, the top playoff performer on an abysmal playoff team in the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs.
At times, he appeared to be one of the only players on the ice striving to win at all costs, and this gutsy end-of-season attitude earned JVR the respect of the Philly faithful.
When Richards and Carter left town in the summer, JVR was among the young forwards expected to bear the burden of offensive production for 2011-12.
Instead of becoming one of the team’s best scorers, JVR trails three newcomers on the stat sheet this season. The aging Jaromir Jagr, surprise rookie Matt Read and Czech playmaker Jakub Voracek have all made more of an impact than van Riemsdyk, the supposed heir to Jeff Carter’s goal-scoring throne.
Will he step up?
JVR has been shuffled around the Flyers lines this season as Peter Laviolette tries to find the chemistry that will make the Jersey boy produce. The constant reconfiguration of lines has yet to produce results for van Riemsdyk.
Right now, it is possible that JVR will exceed his career highs in goals (21) and points (40), but not by a significant margin. His frustratingly slow development, especially when compared with the player taken ahead of him in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft (Patrick Kane), has JVR’s time to prove himself in Philadelphia running out.
He could take the team by storm in the second half, but it seems unlikely. Don’t be surprised if van Riemsdyk becomes trade bait at the deadline.
For all the underwhelming performances on the Flyers roster this season, the most egregious can be summed up with two series of numbers.
$51 million over nine years and a $5.67 million cap hit.
3.07 GAA and .891 SV%.
For the next nine years, Bryzgalov will take up nearly $6 million of the Flyers’ cap space, and he’s performing at a pace where the Flyers will need to score four goals per game to win.
No player on the Flyers roster has been worse, and Bryzgalov would not be earning his keep even if he had a Tomas Vokoun-like contract of one year, $1.5 million.
Caveat: Nine years is a long time. It gives Bryzgalov plenty of time to find his groove in the City of Brotherly Love. 40 games does not a career make.
But for the Flyers to win this year—and for the fanbase to be comfortable with the inflated contract Holmgren threw at Bryzgalov—the Master of the Universe needs to concentrate on becoming a Master of the Goal Crease.
Will he step up?
The only reason Bryzgalov continues to get starts is because backup Sergei Bobrovsky, whose numbers are significantly better at 2.56 GAA and .914 SV%, still has a penchant for giving up incredibly weak goals and deflating the team around him (see: Winter Classic).
While Bryzgalov gets scored on more, at least opponents have to work to find the back of the net.
That said, at $51 million, Bryzgalov is not making enough saves to earn a starting role on the team.
Bobrovsky will continue to get starts, and if he develops the proper technique to match his lightning-quick reflexes, coach Peter Laviolette will have an easy choice on his hands: put Bobrovsky in the crease and put Bryzgalov in the doghouse.
It's not all bad for Bryz, though. He can find a hot girl while he's in there.