The Philadelphia Flyers have one thing to prove as a team: that they can win a Stanley Cup.
The goal has eluded them since 1975, and though the franchise is one of the most storied in the NHL, its trophy case tells a different, more disappointing story. This organization of competitors sets the Cup in its crosshairs each and every season.
The goal is simple, straightforward and lofty.
But individual players have something to prove each season before they have their names etched onto Lord Stanley’s Cup. Some Flyers will have to prove they are worthy of new contracts or more responsibility on the team; others will fight for a roster spot.
Still others simply want to prove that last season wasn’t a fluke. And certain goaltenders would like to show that is was.
Here is one thing each important Flyer has to prove in 2012-13.
What to Prove: “Last season was a fluke.”
Nine years, $51 million. That was the contract that brought Bryzgalov to Philadelphia on the same day that Mike Richards and Jeff Carter were traded.
He was supposed to be the solution to more than a decade of goaltending woes in Philly, but instead, he put up a mediocre 2.48 GAA and .909 save percentage, much to the ire of fans everywhere.
Apologists blame the poor performance on the adjustment from Phoenix to Philadelphia. But now that Bryz has had a year to get used to the pressure and attention, whatever Bryz shows up to play the 2012-13 season is likely the Bryz that will be playing out that massive contract.
What to Prove: “I can be the right kind of backup goalie.”
One of the biggest problems facing the Flyers the last two seasons has been the goaltending carousel. When one goalie stumbles a bit, there is always someone to fill in for him.
The trade of Sergei Bobrovsky undoubtedly put Bryzgalov in the No. 1 slot, meaning that Leighton’s only job will be to keep the team in games on the rare occasion when Bryzgalov needs a night off. His job is not to usurp the role from Bryzgalov.
Of course, it wouldn’t hurt for him to have an opportunity to make up for his Stanley Cup-losing gaffe in 2010.
What to Prove: “I can play a full season without letting my age catch up with me.”
Never before last year has Kimmo Timonen looked old. The image of Timonen looking flat-footed and being beaten by defenders late in the season was troublesome for Flyers fans.
Timonen has already been one of the most valuable Flyers in history, but the team needs him to have one more full season in the tank to be successful. If Timonen can hold up, perhaps the Flyers will reward him with a short contract extension. If not, this may be his final year as a Flyer.
What to Prove: “I can be a young Kimmo Timonen.”
Gustafsson is one of Philadelphia’s highly touted youngsters, and he will be looking to be a full-time starter in 2012-13. Gus is small in stature, but he can be an excellent puck-mover, much like fellow defenseman Kimmo Timonen.
This will be a crucial year in Gustafsson’s development, where he proves not only that he can keep up with the game at its highest level, but that he can also produce points in the offensive zone and prevent them in the defensive zone.
What to Prove: “I can be the leader of the defense.”
Chris Pronger is presumed to be finished in the NHL. Kimmo Timonen’s contract ends after 2012-13. For the Flyers, that leaves Braydon Coburn as the leader on the blue line.
This season, Coburn will need to prove that he can be more than just a good defender. He must become a leader for the Flyers, a player to build the entire defensive corps around.
What to Prove: “My development just needed a change of scenery.”
When the Flyers traded James van Riemsdyk to the Maple Leafs for Luke Schenn, both teams felt they had gotten the better part of the deal. Each franchise had traded a player struggling to live up to his potential for a guy with the ability to make a difference where the team needed it most.
Schenn must prove to the Flyers that he is not the third-pair, developmentally stunted d-man from Toronto’s roster. He must become the stay-at-home powerhouse his scouting report said he could become.
What to Prove: “I can shut down anyone in the NHL.”
Nicklas Grossmann was a trade-deadline steal for the Flyers, and the team was quick to extend him.
Grossmann’s role is played entirely in his own end, where he uses his big body to clear the front of the net. With the shaky Ilya Bryzgalov playing behind him, it is up to Grossmann to make Bryz’s life as easy as possible.
Grossmann will be responsible for taking on the best opposing players in the league, and in order to live up to his new contract, he had better be up for the challenge.
What to Prove: “I have a place on this roster.”
Marc-Andre Bourdon is a candidate to start on opening night. The way things look right now, he, Bruno Gervais and Erik Gustafsson will be competing for two spots in the defensive rotation.
Bourdon will be 23 whenever the season starts and has a bright future in the NHL, but given that he is already in direct competition for a roster spot and will be battling further when Andreas Lilja and Andrej Meszaros return, Bourdon has much to prove in a short period of time.
What to Prove: “I still belong in the NHL.”
The Flyers have used enforcers sparingly in the last few seasons, but the team still likes to keep a big body on the roster for showdowns with teams like the Rangers.
Shelley needs to prove he is that guy.
He is 36 years old and can’t fight like he used to, but if he can exhibit the same tough, fearless attitude he has shown throughout his career and not be a roster liability, he can still be relevant in the league.
What to Prove: “I can play my role without getting suspended.”
Tom Sestito is built like a wrecking ball, but he needs to make sure he doesn’t behave like one.
The Flyers like having toughness in their lineups, but Sestito was suspended in the preseason last year and also laid a season-ending hit on Boston’s Nathan Horton. If he can’t control himself, he doesn’t belong on the roster.
What to Prove: “I am not a loose cannon.”
Rinaldo is one of the most exciting, momentum-changing members of the team when he’s playing smart, like this statement hit on Anton Volchenkov.
When he’s not, like this unnecessary shot on Zybnek Michalek, he’s a complete liability. This season, he needs to show that he knows when to turn the intensity on—and when to switch it off.
What to Prove: “I can play a role on both ends of the ice.”
Amazingly, Fedotenko holds the title of “most significant free-agent signing” for the Flyers in the 2012 offseason, largely due to some free-agency whiffs.
His role on the Flyers is not totally clear. He could be a fourth-line shutdown player or a third-line opportunistic scorer. Either way, the veteran will be expected to be responsible on all ends of the ice. He need not be flashy, just reliable.
Fedotenko will focus primarily on showing that he can be a bottom-six X-factor anywhere on the ice.
What to Prove: “I know how to use my speed effectively.”
The first thing Flyers fans noticed about Wellwood was his incredible speed. This season, he needs to show that he knows how to use it.
If Wellwood can start winning physical puck battles, he will be one of the most effective bottom-six forwards in the Eastern Conference. If he continues to be pushed around, his value is very limited.
What to Prove: “You won’t see me in a sophomore slump.”
For all the talented rookies to play for the Flyers last year, it is surprising to know that Matt Read was the most productive. He didn’t receive the hype of Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier, but Read’s 24 goals were the most among rookies in 2011-12.
His quiet offensive contributions will cease to be quiet if Read goes into a sophomore slump. This team needs goals from all four lines, and if Read cannot repeat or build upon his rookie success, the Flyers offense will quickly become one-dimensional.
What to Prove: “I am the most versatile player on the team.”
If any Flyers fans didn’t like the team signing the hated ex-Penguin last year, they’ve certainly shut their mouths by now. Talbot played the penalty kill and spent a lot of time on the third and fourth lines, yet he still contributed 19 goals.
Talbot has little to prove in 2012-13 besides simply doing it all again. If injuries become a factor for the offense, he may get to prove his value on the power play as well. It isn’t a stretch to consider Talbot one of the most versatile Flyers on the roster.
What to Prove: “Paul Holmgren refused to trade me for good reason.”
Any team talking trades with the Flyers this summer inevitably asked for Sean Couturier, and who could blame them?
Couturier clearly has a bright future in the NHL as a shutdown centerman capable of lighting the lamp. He spent the first round of the playoffs matched up with Evgeni Malkin, and not only did he go toe-to-toe with the league MVP, but he notched a playoff hat trick in his second career playoff game.
Unless Couturier falters big time in his development, Philadelphia will be glad Holmgren refused to trade his young center.
What to Prove: “My 28 goals weren’t a fluke.”
Wayne Simmonds was brought to the Flyers because he’s tough as nails and has a perfect Broad Street Bullies attitude. But over the course of the season, the 24-year-old surprised everyone by putting up 28 goals, many of them “garbage goals” that brought back memories of John LeClair.
Simmonds’ goal for 2012-13 should be to repeat that unexpected offensive performance. The Flyers not only have a guy who can get hit in the face with a puck during warm-ups and still play the game, they have a guy who can play the game and score two goals.
That scoring touch makes him one of the most valuable members of the team.
What to Prove: “I don’t wait for the playoffs to start scoring.”
Danny Briere struggled in the 2011-12 regular season, and while he turned on the scoring touch in the playoffs, he must prove in 2012-13 that he can be a difference-maker all year long.
Last season, his teammates were able to pick up much of the scoring slack, but as a top-six forward, Briere cannot put up another measly 16 goals. This regular season needs to be a statement for Briere.
What to Prove: “I can play like Mike Richards for 82 games.”
The June 2011 Mike Richards trade brought Brayden Schenn to Philadelphia, and with him came the comparisons of Schenn to the ex-Flyers captain.
All eyes were on Schenn to start the season, and he got off to a slow start made slower by injuries. But once the calendar turned to 2012, Schenn began to show why he was a young Mike Richards.
If he can score goals, block shots and throw the body around for a full season, Richards will be an afterthought for the Flyers faithful.
What to Prove: “I know when to shoot.”
Jakub Voracek is one of the most exciting players on the ice, possessing some nifty puck-handling skills. However, his presumed role on Claude Giroux’s right wing is one of great responsibility.
Voracek has been hesitant to shoot in his career, fancying himself as a setup man. Unfortunately, Giroux is becoming one of the best setup men in the business, and he needs the guys on his wings to be quick to pull the trigger.
For Voracek, that means less puck-handling and a bigger shoot-first mentality. If he doesn’t learn that quickly, Peter Laviolette may be forced to shuffle lines.
What to Prove: “I have a permanent spot on the top line.”
Scott Hartnell began 2011-12 in the bottom six and on Philly’s bad side, but by the end of the season, he was the team’s top goal-scorer and had earned himself a six-year extension with the squad.
Hartnell can play a role whether he is scoring or not, as I argued in an article last month, but in 2012-13, he needs to prove that he is Giroux’s permanent wingman. He got his contract extension because he proved that he can be an offensive force, and if he fails to repeat his fruitful 2011-12 campaign, Giroux’s talents will be going to waste.
That would result in Laviolette dropping Hartnell down to the second line.
What to Prove: “I have what it takes to be captain for a long, long time.”
At the moment, the Flyers captaincy is still stitched to Chris Pronger’s jersey, which hangs untouched in the Flyers locker room. There is no word yet on whether or not the team will select a new captain this year, but whether the position is left vacant or given to a veteran, 2012-13 is going to be an audition year for Claude Giroux.
He became the central leadership figure on the offense the moment Mike Richards and Jeff Carter were traded, and he is perfectly suited to fill the role once played by Bobby Clarke. He needs to learn how to keep his emotions in check, as his postseason headshot on New Jersey’s Dainius Zubrus resulted in Giroux being suspended for an elimination game.
If Giroux can prove that he can balance his passion with professionalism, the countdown to anointing Giroux captain will begin the moment the season is over.