5 Lessons Philadelphia Flyers Must Learn from 2013 Season
The Flyers put together a nice run at the end of the year winning four straight and six of their final seven games to close the season, but it was too little too late for a team burdened by a slow start and serious bouts of inconsistency throughout the shortened 48-game season.
Rest assured Philadelphia will respond next year, but before the team can make a run in 2014, here are five lessons the Flyers must first learn from the 2013 season.
Can't Afford Slow Start
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As previously mentioned, the Flyers may have ended the season on a high note, but it proved to be a moot point as the team was simply never able to recover from a dreadful start.
Philadelphia lost three straight games to kick off the abbreviated year, including showdowns with Atlantic Division rivals Pittsburgh and New Jersey, and dropped six of its first eight outings overall to fall to the back of the division after just two weeks of play.
The Flyers never recovered from that lackluster start as it took the team until March 2 (43 days from the start of the new season) to finally get its record back to .500. What's worse, Philadelphia never got its overall record above the .500 mark until the final horn sounded in the club's final game of the regular season.
In the shortened 48-game season, every game was magnified and losing streaks of as few as three games were devastating to a team's efforts to advance within the conference. But even when the schedule returns to its usual 82-game format next year, the Flyers can ill afford another sluggish start.
Must Have Proven Goal-Scoring Presence
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Who knew the loss of the now 41-year-old Jaromir Jagr would have such a crippling effect on the Flyers' offense this season?
After shelling out $3.3 million last season in Jagr's return to the NHL, Philadelphia simply wasn't prepared to match the $4.5 million the Dallas Stars were willing to provide the future Hall of Famer this year.
At the time, that seemed like the sensible and appropriate course of action. But it became far too apparent as the season moved along that the Flyers desperately lacked Jagr's proven goal-scoring acumen along with the offensive support he provided players like Claude Giroux and Scott Hartnell a year ago.
Philadelphia was far too reliant this season on secondary scoring that simply didn't materialize.
Hartnell, who paced all Flyers with 37 goals last season, buried just eight conversions this year. Max Talbot, who netted a career-high 19 goals last year, scored just five times this season. Meanwhile, Danny Briere, Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier combined for just 18 goals in 127 games this year.
Philadelphia attempted to replace Jagr's offense mid-season with the acquisition of Simon Gagne but the 33-year-old sniper was only able to produce five goals in 27 games after returning to Philadelphia.
The Flyers are blessed with a wealth of young, up-and-coming offensive talent, but clearly those young stars need to be supplemented with some proven goal scorers as well.
Can Never Have Enough Defensive Depth
This is one of the more painful lessons the Flyers learned this season.
Bad puns aside, Philadelphia was starved for defensive depth before the year even began and became embarrassingly low on back-end bodies after injuries to Braydon Coburn, Nicklas Grossmann and Andrej Meszaros.
The Flyers knew their defense corps was suspect last summer, which prompted the team to aggressively pursue Ryan Suter via free agency and then, even more aggressively, pursue Shea Weber with a jaw-dropping 14-year, $110 million offer sheet. Philly struck out with both and ended up adding Luke Schenn through a trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Bruno Gervais via free agency.
That already suspicious defensive unit then became even more troublesome after Meszaros played in just 11 games this year while Coburn and Grossmann missed a combined 33 games with neither skater able to suit up in any of the team's critical April contests.
Defense will once again be a priority this offseason for the Orange and Black as the uncertainty of Meszaros' future lingers coupled with the fact that veteran blueliner Kimmo Timonen is only inked through the end of next year.
The injuries this season did provide learning opportunities for up-and-coming blueliners like Oliver Lauridsen and Brandon Manning but the Flyers will need to continue to augment their defensive unit if they hope to avoid the attrition that so negatively impacted this year's efforts.
Must Remain Patient with Young Talent
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The Flyers' patience will be tested this summer.
Philadelphia must find ways to improve its club this offseason and will likely be approached by many a trade suitor inquiring about one of the many up-and-coming stars on the team's current roster. Yes, the Flyers need to be better next season (particularly on defense), but they can't improve next season at the expense of the years to follow.
Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier didn't exactly take the steps forward this year that Philadelphia was hoping they would. Schenn did finish fifth on the team in scoring but managed just eight goals and 26 points despite playing in all but one game this year. Meanwhile, Couturier ended the year eighth on the club in scoring after producing just four goals and 15 points.
Call it a sophomore slump; call it what you will, but it's far too soon to push the panic button on the 21- and 20-year-old forwards.
That's what Columbus did with Jake Voracek, and the Flyers are currently reaping the rewards of the Blue Jackets' impatience.
Now 23 years old, Voracek was originally selected with the seventh overall selection by Columbus in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. He produced 39 goals and 134 points in 241 games with the Jackets before Columbus' impatience moved Voracek along with the eighth overall pick in the 2011 draft (Couturier) for Jeff Carter. Carter didn't even finish that first season with the Blue Jackets while Voracek is coming off a career-high 22 goals in a lockout-shortened campaign.
Obviously, this is an extreme example, but it perfectly illustrates the patience that is sometimes required to allow young players to learn, grow and eventually, excel at the NHL level.
The Flyers can ill afford to make a knee-jerk panic transaction this summer as it could have tremendously detrimental effects down the road.
Must Have Backup Plan for Bryzgalov
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It's easy to point the finger at Ilya Bryzgalov for the Flyers' disappointing season.
His numbers were completely average (32nd ranked goals-against average, 39th ranked save percentage) but the reality is Bryzgalov had little to no support from the defense corps in front of him. What's worse, the enigmatic goaltender was overworked as a result of misfires by management in finding a suitable backup.
Philadelphia inked Michael Leighton on the first day of free agency last summer, and Leighton provided exactly one game of relief for Bryzgalov—an utterly forgettable 5-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in late January.
The Flyers then acquired Brian Boucher from the Carolina Hurricanes, and Boucher managed just four appearances for Philadelphia in between stints with the team's farm club, the Adirondack Phantoms.
As a result, Bryzgalov was forced to appear in 40 of Philadelphia's 48 games this season and clearly showed signs of fatigue as even this abbreviated campaign wore on.
The Flyers do appear to have learned this lesson, though, as the season came to a close as the club acquired former Calder Trophy winner Steve Mason from Columbus at the trade deadline. In just seven appearances after joining the Orange and Black, Mason recorded a 4-2 mark to go along with a 1.90 goals-against average coupled with an equally impressive .944 save percentage.
It remains to be seen if either Bryzgalov or Mason is the long-term answer for the Flyers, but it's abundantly clear that a lack of goaltending depth severely impeded Philadelphia's progress this season.