The Philadelphia Flyers, along with every other team in the NHL, are aiming for a Stanley Cup championship. And like every other team in the NHL, the first step toward getting a shot at the prize is the end of the hated NHL lockout.
If the lockout manages to end in time to salvage the 2012-13 season, the Flyers will be taking the campaign seriously no matter how short it is.
The whole team will need to function as a unit for the Flyers to find themselves in the playoffs with a legitimate shot at the title, but a few members of the squad carry a special load.
Here are the eight Flyers who are most vital to the team’s success in the 2012-13 season.
Luke Schenn was brought to the Flyers in exchange for James van Riemsdyk, allowing the Flyers and Toronto Maple Leafs to trade a pair of struggling players with high potentials whose jobs were being filled by more capable teammates.
The Flyers needed defense and had offense, so Schenn and his struggles were brought to Philadelphia.
Schenn is an excellent hitter and shot-blocker, valuable assets for a team that desperately needs a stay-at-home defensive presence. He will need to keep himself in position, but his role on the team is a make-or-break role.
If he falters, the majority of the Flyers defense will be less about capability and more about liability. Should Schenn find his comfort zone, the Flyers can cycle a reliable two pairs of defensemen and concentrate on developing youngsters like Erik Gustafsson and Marc-Andre Bourdon.
No team features a goalie who is unimportant, but in the second year of his nine-year, $51 million deal, Ilya Bryzgalov is a special type of important.
It is important that he become the first difference-making netminder in Philadelphia since Ron Hextall. It is important that he stop giving up deflating goals that kill his hardworking team. It is important that he steal a few games for the Flyers, especially in the playoffs.
GM Paul Holmgren gave Bryzgalov a full endorsement by trading talented backup Sergei Bobrovsky, so there is no room for excuses in Bryzgalov’s game. He needs to prove that last year was no more than growing pains.
Claude Giroux is the face of the Flyers franchise, a distinction that he ran with when Paul Holmgren and Peter Laviolette entrusted him with the offense by trading Mike Richards and Jeff Carter.
This team cannot succeed without another superstar year from Giroux, who is capable of not only making himself a difference-maker, but improving all the players around him.
From here on out, it appears as though the team will be structured around Giroux’s leadership and playing style. Everything the Flyers do is based upon the assumption that Giroux will succeed, and as long as he does, the Flyers will have a shot at the Stanley Cup.
Scott Hartnell made a huge difference for the Flyers last year by finding his scoring touch on Claude Giroux’s left wing.
Hartnell netted a career-high 37 goals in 2011-12, largely thanks to Giroux’s brilliant setup abilities. As Giroux further develops as a playmaker, he will need a linemate who not only can clear space for him, but knows when to pull the trigger.
Scott Hartnell must be that guy. If he returns to being a sub-30 goal scorer, the Flyers top line will be insignificant.
Philly’s defense no longer has captain Chris Pronger. Another key leader, Kimmo Timonen, is in the last year of his contract and may be too fatigued by age to be a dominating presence on the blue line. Matt Carle is departed for Tampa Bay.
That leaves Braydon Coburn to take over the emotional leadership role on the blue line. The Flyers have always had powerful leaders on defense, and Coburn represents the next generation of that.
Role-playing defensemen like Nicklas Grossmann, Luke Schenn and Erik Gustafsson and here to stay, but they require a leader. Coburn will need to prove that he is the guy for the job.
Brayden Schenn will presumably get the big promotion to second-line center after an impressive second half of the season. He shoots, hits and plays with the confidence of a veteran, and the Flyers are now confident in his abilities.
Physicality will become a major part of Schenn’s game, but scoring is key. As the second-line centerman, Schenn will be on a line with Wayne Simmonds and Danny Briere. The mission will be to provide secondary scoring for the Hartnell-Giroux-Voracek unit.
The Flyers might not get the point production from the third and fourth lines that they have gotten in the past, so Schenn and his unit are essential.
The Flyers offense was stellar in 2012-13, but the team also allowed the third-most goals of any playoff team. Defense is obviously a concern on all fronts, and Max Talbot will need to be at the forefront of shutting down opposing offenses.
Talbot surprised the Flyers by notching 19 goals and 34 points in 2012-13, and Philadelphia would certainly endorse a repeat of those impressive fourth-line numbers.
But Talbot’s concentration should be on being a shutdown centerman, capable of matching up with opposing superstars. If his offensive stats need to take a hit, the top three lines can make up for it. Defense needs to take precedence on this new Flyers squad.
It’s all on Peter Laviolette now.
There will be no goaltending carousel, as he has a clearly-defined starter and backup in Ilya Bryzgalov and Michael Leighton. Laviolette’s focus will be on his young corps of players and their development.
Sophomores Matt Read, Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier will all be expected to take on more responsibility while avoiding slumps. Jakub Voracek will need to develop chemistry with Claude Giroux on the top line, or be replaced by someone with a natural connection to Giroux.
On defense, Laviolette has his hands full. Luke Schenn, Erik Gustafsson, Marc-Andre Bourdon and Bruno Gervais will all need to make impacts or else the Flyers will flounder. If Laviolette fails these players, the Flyers will find themselves with one of the most inept defenses in the league.