Philadelphia Flyers: 4 Biggest Flyers Stories to Follow During the NHL Lockout
As the NHL Lockout labors on (no pun intended), there seem to be fewer and fewer intriguing storylines worth following surrounding the world's fastest game.
Many of the league's high-profile players have already landed overseas while young up-and-coming stars continue to hone their skills in the American Hockey League (AHL).
Meanwhile, a settlement between the owners and the NHLPA seems farther and farther away with each passing day.
Will Young Players Develop in the AHL?
While many of the league's veteran players have bolted overseas, the youngsters have been assigned to their AHL affiliates to continue to develop.
For the Flyers, the two biggest names to watch are forwards Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier.
About to enter his fourth NHL season, it's time for Schenn to turn a corner. After just 18 points in 54 games last season, the former fifth overall pick in the 2009 draft needs to begin to realize some of that potential that made him such a high selection.
And through seven games with the Adirondack Phantoms, so far so good for Schenn. He currently leads all Adirondack skaters with nine points and is registering big points at big times for the AHL club. Just yesterday, Schenn recorded the game-tying goal with just 1:02 left in regulation en route to a 4-3 overtime victory.
Meanwhile, Couturier simply needs to continue to build momentum for himself following an encouraging rookie campaign. In 77 games last season, the former eighth overall pick in the 2011 draft notched 27 points and proved to be one of Philly's more reliable two-way players.
Now as a go-to forward for Adirondack, Couturier is averaging nearly a point per game through the team's first seven tilts. And while his minus-four rating is a bit disturbing early, the fact that Couturier is helping to lead the offensive charge is very encouraging.
Will the Flyers Augment Their Defense?
The biggest concern for the Flyers following the end of last season was their defense.
Now, the biggest concern facing the Orange and Black entering the upcoming season remains their defense.
Philadelphia currently only has four reliable, healthy defensemen. With Kimmo Timonen, Braydon Coburn, Nicklas Grossmann and Luke Schenn, the Flyers have a steady top four on defense.
The problem is that's it. Andrej Meszaros and Andreas Lilja are hurt. Meanwhile, youngsters like Marc-Andre Bourdon, Erik Gustafsson and Brandon Manning are untested.
And despite Philly's reliable top four on defense, the team lacks those fierce game-breakers on the back end that turn good teams into great ones.
Rumors have briefly swirled about Philadelphia's interest in acquiring Montreal defender P.K. Subban (h/t Bertrand Raymond, RDS.ca) and the Flyers were one of several teams hoping to get into the mix for Phoenix blueliner Keith Yandle, but so far neither has come to fruition.
As it stands now, Philly's defense is worse today than it was six months ago. As a team that aims to compete for the Stanley Cup each and every year, the Flyers will likely have to find upgrades for their defense to accomplish just that.
Will There Be Any Positive Updates on Chris Pronger?
The updates on Chris Pronger have been few and far between since his season was shut down last December.
The most recent update came in late September after the 18-year pro visited a doctor in Pittsburgh. According to Flyers GM Paul Holmgren, Pronger is doing better but is nowhere near ready to begin playing again (h/t Sam Carchidi, Philly.com).
It seems unlikely the six-time All-Star will ever play again, but the longer the lockout drags on, the more time Pronger has to rest. As experienced as he is, the hulking blueliner wouldn't need much of a preseason tune-up to jump back into the lineup and have an immediate impact.
Again, it still seems like a stretch to see Pronger back in a Flyers sweater anytime soon (if ever again at all), but it will be interesting to see how the future Hall of Famer progresses during the stoppage.
Who Will Be the Flyers' Next Captain?
Even though the latest reports on Pronger are positive, it still seems highly unlikely that the current Flyers captain will hit the ice if and when the season finally resumes.
So the question remains as to who will wear the "C" in Pronger's place when the Flyers are allowed to go back to work.
The logical choice appears to be emerging superstar Claude Giroux. He's led the team in scoring in each of the last two seasons and emerged as a leader and example setter on the ice during the biggest moments of last postseason.
But there are plenty of other candidates for head coach Peter Laviolette to consider.
Kimmo Timonen has been a captain before with the Nashville Predators and has worn an "A" for several years in Philadelphia. Meanwhile, Scott Hartnell has emerged as a favorite among both his fellow teammates and the fans in Philadelphia. Both would make exceptional choices.
So, with Pronger still on the shelf, Laviolette will be forced to name his new captain before the start of the new season.
Just one of several decisions that will have to be made if the NHL season is ever allowed to resume.