Barring any significant move by General Manager Paul Holmgren or another debilitating injury, the Flyers’ lines will appear as follows:
Scott Hartnell—Claude Giroux—Jakub Voracek
Wayne Simmonds—Brayden Schenn—Danny Briere
Ruslan Fedotenko—Sean Couturier—Matt Read
Eric Wellwood—Max Talbot—Zac Rinaldo
Kimmo Timonen—Nicklas Grossmann
Braydon Coburn—Luke Schenn
Erik Gustafsson—Bruno Gervais
The Flyers’ offensive lineup offers no significant surprises.
The only thing the first line lacks is a universally accepted nickname that plays off of the fact that all three forwards have a redhead complexion. I’m a personal advocate of The Orange Line, a nod not only to the ginger genetics on the line, but the team’s unmistakable uniform color and the SEPTA train line that gets many fans to the stadium.
Giroux’s goal totals should see a slight surge, as Voracek is a pass-first forward and Giroux has a knack for finding open areas. Hartnell will look to earn his six-year extension by breaking the 30 goal mark for a second consecutive season.
The second line is the wild card for the Flyers. Assuming Briere does not match his abysmal offensive season from 2011-12 and Simmonds remains comfortable playing in front of the opposing net, the success of the line rests largely on the development of sophomore Brayden Schenn.
It took Schenn until the Winter Classic to score his first goal as a Flyer, but after that outdoor matchup, Brayden appeared to hit his stride. Playing a full season and eclipsing 35 points should allow Schenn to make important contributions in the top six forwards.
Playing with sophomore Matt Read and role player Ruslan Fedotenko, Sean Couturier will likely see his focus remain on the defensive side of the game. The line will score opportunistically, but point production will not be this line’s goal.
Likewise, Wellwood and Talbot will score from time to time on the fourth line, but the role of the bottom six forwards will be to keep the game close and support the injury-riddled defense.
The defense could look slightly different, as Braydon Coburn and Nicklas Grossmann looked reliable when paired together last season. But the shuffled lines more evenly distribute size for the Flyers.
Still, with Kimmo Timonen aging and Grossmann not known for his skating, it may serve the Flyers to separate their two least mobile blueliners.
The third pairing is intriguing, as Gustafsson is an excellent puck mover but lacks size, while Bourdon has shown that he can throw the body around. Gervais is not much bigger than Gustafsson but brings more NHL experience to the table.
These three could be rotated based upon performance or matchups, and one could be sent down to the AHL when Andreas Lilja returns if the third pairing seems to be a liability.
The biggest impact the offseason made on the goaltenders is not simply the fact that promising backup Sergei Bobrovsky was traded to Columbus, but that the move represents a complete endorsement of Ilya Bryzgalov as the team’s No. 1 guy.
Leighton is built to be a backup, starting anywhere between ten and 20 games to give Bryzgalov a rest, but Bryzgalov has spent most of his career starting more than 60 games.
The new goaltender depth chart is a sign that Paul Holmgren and Peter Laviolette are giving Bryzgalov the reins, removing the mind games that came with splitting time with another goalie.
Of course, if the move does not yield results, next offseason could get messy.
Whether the Flyers like it or not, this team is going to have to score to win, much like they did last year.
The offense is capable of producing on all four lines but is not as offensively well-rounded with the absence of James van Riemsdyk and Jaromir Jagr. The top six will feel more pressure to produce.
The defense has already suffered too much before the preseason has even begun, and any additional injuries would be downright debilitating for this team.
But the problems also present opportunities for players on the cusp of an NHL career, like Gustafsson, Bourdon and the AHL’s Brandon Manning. A leap forward in the development of any one of these players could not only ease the immediate pains the Flyers are feeling, but serve as a long-term answer to future defensive questions.
Finally, the pressure will be on Bryzgalov to put 2011-12 behind him and earn his nine-year, $51 million deal. Though his inaugural season with the Flyers was chaotic and disappointing, the Flyers have given him the best tools they can to prove himself this year.
No longer will the team be flipping a coin to pick its starting netminder. Bryzgalov can stop looking over his shoulder and begin concentrating on the puck. With a diminished defense in front of him, his mind is going to have to be clear.
Or at least, as clear as it can be.
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