The Philadelphia Flyers are a young, talented team with a lot of potential. If GM Paul Holmgren plays his cards right, he could be looking at the start of a dynasty in Philadelphia.
Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, Brayden Schenn, Jake Voracek, Matt Read, Wayne Simmonds and James van Riemsdyk are all young, talented forwards who form the best young core in the NHL. Veteran forwards Max Talbot, Danny Briere, Jaromir Jagr and Scott Hartnell are productive leaders who balance out the young guys.
Kimmo Timonen, Andrej Meszaros, Nicklas Grossmann and Erik Gustafsson form a solid defensive corps. In goal, Ilya Bryzgalov and Sergei Bobrovsky form a pretty solid tandem. Contracts aside, they are talented players who get criticized too much because they play in Philadelphia.
There is a lot for Flyers fans to be excited about. But with all that being said, a few things will need to happen this offseason and next season for the Flyers to return to the Stanley Cup.
Matt Carle and Pavel Kubina are UFAs this offseason, and signs point to them leaving Philadelphia. Carle is a good player who just did not elevate his play during the past season, and was especially disappointing in the playoffs.
Without Chris Pronger next to him, he seemed lost and tentative on the ice. Some team will overpay for him, and Flyers fans will be happy to see him frustrate fans elsewhere. Kubina was a midseason acquisition who just never really panned out in the orange and black.
With Erik Gustafsson looking like a solid NHL talent and Marc-Andre Bourdon as a formidable seventh option, the Flyers may only need to sign one veteran defenseman to replace Carle and Kubina.
Ryan Suter is not an option. His price tag will be too high. More realistic UFA options include Barret Jackman, Bryan Allen, Michael Roszival and Dennis Wideman. Wideman will be very highly pursued, and chances are that the Flyers get outbid for him. But Jackman and Allen are both very reliable defensemen, and the Flyers really need to go get one of them.
I put this slide here because I think it could coincide with replacing Carle and Kubina. JVR is a good forward who can score in bunches when he is on his game. Unfortunately, he lacks confidence and has been injured a decent amount in his young career.
At just 23-years-old, JVR is still young enough to make teams wonder about his potential. By next offseason, however, that potential will take a dramatic hit if he does not put up good numbers in the upcoming season. Because of this risk, along with the abundance of forwards on the Flyers roster, JVR needs to get moved.
His value will only decline after this offseason, and his $4.25M cap hit will make Flyers fans cringe as the "bust" label is officially earned. Holmgren needs to shop him around for a defenseman like Luke Schenn, Erik Johnson, or try to package JVR, Bobrovsky and a high draft pick for a top defenseman like Zach Bogosian or Niklas Kronwall.
Hartnell and Simmonds had breakout seasons in terms of production this year. Hartnell poured in 39 goals, while Simmonds tallied 28.
Both set career-highs in scoring, and will need to keep up their production next season. They are integral parts of the Flyers high-octane scoring attack, but their significant spikes causes one to wonder if they can repeat the numbers.
Simmonds relies on rebounds and deflections around the net. Hartnell benefits from being paired with superstar Claude Giroux, so both will have to capitalize on the chances they get at their respective niches.
This one is almost too obvious. Ilya Bryzgalov was one of the most talked about players in the entire NHL this past season for a number of reasons. First was his apology to the fans for his poor play, then his weird but hilarious interviews on HBO 24/7, then his sudden breakout play and shutout records.
He finished the year with average stats, but if you look at his numbers across the season, it looks like a mountain range with all the peaks and valleys.
When he's on his game, he can dominate games and steal wins. But when he is off, the whole team falls with him because of his eccentric personality.
For the Flyers to be successful, Bryzgalov will need to reign things in a little bit and play at a higher level throughout the entire season.
There have been numerous conflicting reports about whether or not Jagr will be back in Philadelphia next season. For the Flyers to be a great team next season, Holmgren needs to get a deal done to keep the Czech winger next to Claude Giroux and Scott Hartnell on the first line.
Although he is aging, opposing teams still respect Jagr's talent. He can still be counted on to score 20 goals, and is a serious threat on the power play.
Even though he won't play more than 65 games, his offensive skill and leadership are imperative to the Flyers success. Giroux is still young, and will benefit from any extra time he gets to spend with one of the greatest players of all time.
Chris Pronger is one of my favorite NHL players ever. He is well respected by everyone in hockey, and loved by the fans of Philadelphia.
That being said, Pronger's time is up. With all of his injuries the past few seasons, and then a number of concussions and head problems now, the Flyers need to move on.
At 37-years-old, Pronger just doesn't have the ability to get back to an elite level. Whether he retires outright or is put on long-term injure reserve, the Flyers will have to name a new captain.
There are a number of possibilities to choose from: Kimmo Timonen, Danny Briere, Claude Giroux and Max Talbot are the most likely candidates. All have been either a captain or alternate captain in the past, and are respected figures on the ice and in the locker room.
I'll have a separate article dealing with this topic in the coming weeks.
Rookies carried the Flyers this past season. Without their contributions, the Flyers most likely would not have made the playoffs, let alone make a run at the Cup.
Brayden Schenn, Eric Wellwood, Matt Read, Sean Couturier, Marc-Andre Bourdon and Erik Gustafsson all played significant minutes throughout the season and performed better than expected.
Read was perhaps the most surprising of all the rookies. The 25-year-old winger from Bemidji State led all NHL rookies with 24 goals, and his play next year will be extremely crucial to the Flyers success.
Schenn and Couturier are both still young, at 19 and 21 years old, respectively, and will look to develop and take on bigger roles next year. Wellwood is a speedy forward who was called up from the Phantoms and brought energy and a little scoring touch to the third and fourth lines.
Bourdon and Gustafsson were both called up at various points throughout the season and played important minutes during both the regular season and in the playoffs. While Gustafsson has the higher ceiling and should be an opening day starter in 2012, Bourdon is dependable and should continue to improve.
If all of these rookies can continue to get better and contribute next season, the Flyers will be very dangerous.