Philadelphia Flyers 2011-12: All in All a Good Season

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Philadelphia Flyers 2011-12: All in All a Good Season
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
The 2011-12 Flyers Ultimately Fell Short of Their Goal

There will be plenty of room for negativity and criticism in the coming hours and days after the Philadelphia Flyers fell in five games to the underdog New Jersey Devils, but a calm, rational eye will see that what this team did this year should be labelled as a success.

After the Flyers were humiliated in a four-game sweep to the Boston Bruins in the 2011 playoffs, it was obvious big changes had to be made.

The Flyers goaltending was so awful that coach Peter Laviolette kept spinning netminders Brian Boucher, Sergei Bobrovsky and Michael Leighton in and out of goal so much that they should've been on a Lazy Susan.

The locker room was splintered.

The Captain and the coach did not get along. The captain's best friend and him ignored the coach's request to partake in a promise to the team to stay sober for thirty days.

The older veterans on the team and the younger players who seemed to prioritize enjoying the nightlife and the young ladies of the Jersey Shore were at odds.

The culture of the team needed to change, and the Flyers needed to get an actual, real life No. 1 goalie.

On June 23, Paul Holmgren made one of the boldest and best moves of his career: He shipped Mike Richards and Jeff Carter out of town and signed goalie Ilya Bryzgalov.

 

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Ilya Bryzgalov turned into the Number One Goalie The Flyers Have Needed

Though people will scoff now (especially that Richards and Carter and their LA Kings are still in the playoffs and the Flyers are out), both long- and short-term, these moves were brilliant.

Carter and Richards were merely the first dominoes to fall.

Ville Leino, a flash in the pan 27-year-old rookie during the Flyers 2010 Stanley Cup, used his success in the playoffs to score a lucrative contract from the Buffalo Sabres.

Dan Carcillo, a man who nearly embarrassed the Flyers on practically every other shift with his play and his cartoonish antics, would be traded to Chicago.

Brian Boucher, a journey-man goaltender who was on his third stint with the Flyers and was part of the goaltending fiasco of the 2011 playoffs, was cut loose and signed with Carolina.

Kris Versteeg, the 2011 trade deadline deal who was supposed to bring his scoring power and Stanley Cup winning experience to Philadelphia, was cut loose after a very disappointing two-month stint with the Flyers.

Blair Betts was cut loose, returned and never played for the team during the season.

Darrell Powe ended up in Minnesota.

This was an almost total overhaul.

 

Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
Wayne Simmonds Blossomed Into a Dominating Power Forward

And then in November, the team lost their best defenseman and team captain (the de facto team captain since his arrival in 2009) Chris Pronger to career-ending post-concussion syndrome. A development that could've, and in all reality, should've totally derailed the season for the Flyers.

The players who came to the team to start the 2011-12 season: Brayden Schenn, Jakub Voracek, Sean Couturier and Wayne Simmonds from the Carter-Richards deals, Ilya Bryzgalov via trade with Phoenix, Matt Read, Max Talbot and Jaromir Jagr through free agency all excelled.

With the Carter and Richards deals, the Flyers got four players who were younger, faster and with the potential to all be better than the two players the team cast away.

With Carter and Richards out of the picture, there was room for Claude Giroux to blossom into a superstar.

With Ilya Bryzgalov the Flyers finally found a No. 1 goalie.

After a slow start to the season, the much-maligned goaltender got increasingly better through January and early February and from late February through the end of the season was arguably the best Flyer on the ice every game.

Along the way, he racked up six shutouts (six more than the three Flyers goalies from 2010-11 mustered combined) and the most since Roman Cechmanek had six shutouts in 2002-03 season.

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
With The Absence of Richards and Carter Allowing More Ice Time Giroux Became a Superstar

 

Bryzgalov also shattered John Vanbiesbrouck's shutout streak when he had four shutouts (three in a row) and gave up just two goals over a five game span in March.

After posting ugly GAA and Save percentage numbers in the wide-open first round, defensively challenged series against the high-powered Pittsburgh Penguins, it's safe to say that Bryzgalov was the only Flyer to show up every game in the second series loss to the Devils.

With the exception of Claude Giroux's heroics in Game 6 against Pittsburgh and Danny Briere's in Game 1 vs. New Jersey, you could argue that Bryzgalov was the Flyers' best player on the ice for the last seven games of the post season.

All of this goes to say that the Flyers made a lot of changes coming into the year.

It was supposed to be a rebuilding year with the new goaltender and all of the young players on the team. There were stretches of games when the Flyers had six, seven and even eight rookies all in the line up at the same time.

Teams with that amount of inexperience and that amount of roster turnover are not expected to excel.

This was supposed to be a rebuilding year.

Typical rebuilding years for franchises do not see the team in the hunt for their conference's best record the way the Flyers were late into March.

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The Flyers Celebrate Their Sweet Series Victory vs. Pittsburgh

 

Typical rebuilding years don't see teams finish with the league's sixth best record out of 30 teams.

Typical rebuilding years don't see teams upset the Stanley Cup favorite in the first round of the playoffs.

The changes made to the team in the 2011 offseason were for the best.

They made the team better short term and long term.

If you remember even the season the Flyers made it to the finals they squeaked into the playoffs, thanks to a shootout during the last game of the season against the New York Rangers.

If you remember, the team's horrid play in February, March and early April of that season had GM Paul Holmgren promising big changes in the offseason.

The 2010 team caught lightning in a bottle and a lot of breaks as they made it to the Stanley Cup Finals where they fell to Chicago.

Had that final game shootout have gone the Rangers' way, last season may have been the rebuilding year instead of the season spent treading water that it was.

The Flyers have talented youth, they have a goaltender who has shown down the stretch that he can be the man, they have an offense that can go toe to toe with anyone, they have a coach that has won in the past here and elsewhere, and they have a GM who is not afraid to make the aggressive moves this coming offseason that are needed to fix the chink in the armor known as the Flyers defense.

It was a bittersweet post-season in 2012.

Beating the hated cross-state rival Pittsburgh Penguins was certainly a highlight for any Flyers fan and falling to the New Jersey Devils, the team that has so many times frustrated the Flyers in the playoffs, is hard to swallow.

But if you take a realistic and rational look at the team and where it is going, the 2013 postseason holds a lot of promise for true greatness.

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