5 Burning Questions for the Philadelphia Flyers' 2013-14 Season

Garrett BakerSenior Analyst ISeptember 21, 2013

5 Burning Questions for the Philadelphia Flyers' 2013-14 Season

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    The Philadelphia Flyers are one of the most polarizing teams in the NHL heading into the 2013-14 season because of how many questions there are surrounding the roster.

    They have a bit of everything: There is a goaltender controversy, a mix of promising young players and talented veterans and a couple high-profile offseason acquisitions, all of which adds to the intrigue.

    The answers to the big questions surrounding the team will determine the outcome of the season. The Flyers could finish at the top of the conference just as easily as they could plummet to the bottom.

    Here are five burning questions for the Philadelphia Flyers' 2013-14 season.

Will the Defense Hold Up?

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    This is perhaps the most pressing of all questions concerning the Flyers' upcoming season. Their defense is what ultimately let them down last year, and 35-year-old Mark Streit is the only addition to last year's group.

    Braydon Coburn, Andrej Meszaros and Nicklas Grossmann are all unexciting veterans who struggled with injuries last year. Streit and Kimmo Timonen are both over 35 and play a smart but mostly offensive game.

    Erik Gustafsson and Luke Schenn are really the team's only "young hopes," and while Schenn is a legitimate, burgeoning top guy, Gustafsson is only a middling prospect at already 24 years of age with limited NHL experience.

    They need to stay healthy and play well together as a unit or nothing else will really matter.

Will Schenn and Couturier Step Up?

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    Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier are both just a few years removed from being top prospects. Schenn, who was property of the Los Angeles Kings in 2011, was considered the top prospect in the entire league, and Couturier, who ended up being selected eighth overall in the 2011 draft by the Flyers, was a favorite to be the top overall pick.

    Since then, things haven't been quite as optimistic for the two centers, although there is still a ton of hope and promise there. They both showed flashes of elite potential as rookies in 2011-12 but were disappointing in 2013.

    Entering their third seasons, the time is now for these two to prove their worth. Whether or not they step up could mean the difference between making the playoffs or not.

How Do the Veteran Additions Fit?

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    The Flyers made a few exciting, interesting but somewhat questionable signings this offseason when they inked defenseman Mark Streit, center Vincent Lecavalier and goalie Ray Emery. 

    The low-risk, one-year Emery deal makes the most sense as a depth move, but the other two are pretty weighty investments. Streit, already 35 years old, is signed to a four-year deal, while the 33-year-old Lecavalier is inked for five years. 

    Both are former captains, which is both reassuring and concerning—it's great to have more leadership, but were Kimmo Timonen, Scott Hartnell, Max Talbot and Claude Giroux not enough?—for a team with young talent. 

    How well they integrate with the locker room and how they produce on the ice will be a major factor in Philly's success.

Is Giroux Elite?

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    This is a question that is burning only because of its severity, not because of its likelihood (or lack thereof). I am almost 100 percent certain that Claude Giroux is an elite hockey player and leader.

    But the fact that it is not 100 percent certain yet leaves at least room for discussion, because if Giroux doesn't build on his 93-point 2011-12 season and the Flyers falter, there will be a lot of second-guessing about his captaincy, which could end up being a slippery slope.

    Most people would say his 2013 season was "fine" or even "pretty good," but that just isn't going to cut it. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Steven Stamkos and Pavel Datsyuk are sensational, year in and year out, and that is what makes them elite. 

    I am almost positive Giroux will cement himself in that discussion, but the fact that it isn't a guarantee makes it worth discussing. 

Is Steve Mason for Real?

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    The short and sobering answer here is "probably not." Steve Mason is perhaps the most polarizing player on the team right now, because there is a lot riding on his shoulders even though we are not too familiar with him. 

    Here is what we do know: He is 25 years old, won the Calder Cup in 2008-09, was awful for four years after that and then played well in seven games for Philadelphia at the conclusion of the 2012-13 season.

    Those seven games and the great rookie season have people's hopes way too high right now. He has a below-average career save percentage of .905, and his work ethic and maturity were seriously questioned in Columbus

    He's still pretty young for a goalie, so there is reason for hope. But those maturity issues don't just go away, and goalies are really weird creatures. But Mason is in the driver's seat for Philadelphia right now, so we all just have to hang on tight.