Philadelphia Flyers: Why They'll Be Better in 2012-13
The NHL may still be bleeding from the lockout, but the 2012-13 season is not dead yet.
While NHL players spend their days in Europe, in the AHL or at the negotiating table, there still remains hope that a new collective bargaining agreement can be reached and a shortened season can be salvaged.
For a team like the Philadelphia Flyers, which is made up largely of young players hitting their stride, having a 2012-13 season is incredibly important. A year off is a year of vital chemistry and development missed, which could have long-term effects on the ability of the franchise to establish a solid core group of players.
Should the NHL and NHLPA finally agree on the terms of the new season, the Flyers will find themselves a better team than they were last year.
Fewer Rookie Mistakes
The Flyers had an impressive group of rookies in 2011-12, but they were rookies nonetheless, and that fact was never more evident or devastating in Game 3 against the New Jersey Devils in last year's playoffs.
As shown in the video, the Flyers had a very tired unit on the ice when Daniel Briere softly cleared the offensive zone. Briere and Wayne Simmonds pressured the Devils in the neutral zone, but rookies Brayden Schenn and Erik Gustafsson, both nearly out of gas, tried to make it to the bench.
The move left two Flyers on the wrong half of the ice and two more heading to the bench, and the Devils had a pre-packaged three-on-one that resulted in the winning goal, ultimately giving New Jersey momentum in the series.
Rookie mistakes can be costly, and the more time guys like Schenn, Gustafsson and others play at the NHL level, the fewer mental mistakes will be played on the ice. Another season makes those players a year more comfortable playing against hockey's best players.
A Shortened Season Benefits the Flyers
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Nobody likes a lockout, aside from the owners who want to get out of the contracts they handed out. But there is no denying that certain teams can benefit from a labor stoppage.
The Flyers are one of those teams.
The team's already-suspect defense was dealt an additional series of blows in the offseason when Andrej Meszaros was forced to undergo surgery on his Achilles tendon (via ESPN) and Andreas Lilja had hip surgery (via Sporting News).
The more time it takes for the NHL and NHLPA to reach an agreement, the fewer games the Flyers have to play with a depleted roster. The team's defense becomes stronger with each game that it does not play; if Meszaros misses only half the season instead of three quarters, the Flyers will find themselves in a better place in the standings.
Additionally, important veterans like Kimmo Timonen and Danny Briere should perform better with fewer games. Timonen, one of the most important players on the Flyers, began to show his age in 2011-12, and he may not have enough energy to last a full 82 games and playoffs.
Likewise, Briere struggled in the regular season before turning it on in the playoffs. A shortened season means each game is more important, and that is where Briere thrives.
Bryzgalov Can Bounce Back
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Ilya Bryzgalov was one of the biggest disappointments for Philadelphia sports in recent memory, as the netminder signed a massive nine-year deal to join a franchise that hasn't had consistency in net since Ron Hextall retired.
Rather than bring stability to the crease, Bryzgalov took the term "erratic" to a new level, proving to be as much of an enigma in the crease as he is in front of a microphone.
The culture shock of moving from hockey-apathetic Arizona to hockey-crazy Pennsylvania played a major role in Bryzgalov's struggles. The media not only paid attention to the Flyers, but they proved to be almost as rabid and passionate as the fans, something Bryzgalov was not prepared for.
The second year of his contract offers Bryzgalov a big second chance, one in which there are no surprises. The media blitz cannot sneak up on him now, and with backup Sergei Bobrovsky gone, his job doesn't appear to be on the line on a nightly basis.
The Flyers' front office has given Bryzgalov all the resources to succeed this season (and nearly landed Shea Weber to boot), The excuses are gone. Bryzgalov's real test begins this season, and if he passes, the Flyers become instant Cup contenders.
The Offense Will Be Tougher
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The Flyers offense surprised everyone last season en route to becoming the third-best scoring group in the league. This offseason has seen the team make a few minor changes, but the psyche of the squad has gotten even tougher.
The Flyers will be rolling four lines that will be very good at getting their hands dirty. Scott Hartnell will be able to take a grittier role on a top line that features Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek, two players who play bigger than their body size would indicate.
On the second line, the Flyers have a complement of one of the game's more impressive power forwards in Wayne Simmonds, who will be teamed up with wrecking ball Brayden Schenn. Schenn became more willing to use his body as 2011-12 wore on, and he is poised to be one of the more physical scoring forwards in the league someday.
Sean Couturier will continue to strengthen his 6'3" frame and is teamed up with Ruslan Fedotenko on the third line, a gutsy veteran with two Stanley Cups under his belt. And toughness has never been a problem for Max Talbot or Zac Rinaldo, who will be part of the team's checking line.
The offense may or may not score more goals than it did last year, but it will almost certainly score grittier goals. The Flyers will get in front of opposing netminders and down in corners, making them one of the roughest offenses in the league.