For Philadelphia Flyers, Is This the Year?

Matt ChipmanContributor IJuly 29, 2009

PHILADELPHIA - APRIL 25:  Mike Richards #18 of the Philadelphia Flyers skates against the Pittsburgh Penguins during Game Six of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal Round of the 2009 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs  at the Wachovia Center on April 25, 2009 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Penguins defeated the Flyers 5-3 to win the series 4 games to 2.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

It has been well over 30 years since Lord Stanley's Cup took a visit to Philadelphia with a grand parade down Broad Street. The Philly sports fan has been hungry for more ever since. Although they came close with the Legion of Doom and with characters like Dave Poulin and Paul Coffey, they haven't quite made it the distance.

They've been bested in the cup finals by the Islanders, Red Wings, and the Wayne Gretzky-led Edmonton Oilers. However, with all this heartbreak, Philly fans have a bright future to look forward to with many young stars starting to shine.

The Flyers may look like a young team that is somewhat inexperienced, but they have already proved when going to the conference final that they have what it takes, and they have added the veteran pieces of the puzzle to take it to the next level.

At forward the Flyers have the offensive firepower to match any team in the league. This year will most likely sport a top line of Gagne, Richards, and Claude Giroux, with Daniel Briere on the wing with Scott Hartnell centered by Jeff Carter on the second line. However, don't rule out the possibility of a French Connection line of Briere, Gagne, and Giroux, with Carter, Richards, and Hartnell making up the other.

With the summer yet not over, the third and fourth lines are not set in stone but have the potential with Laperriere, Carcillo, Darroll Powe, and possibly James van Riemsdyk to produce high offensive numbers. It is fairly safe to say that with any luck, all top six forwards for the Flyers could have 30-goal seasons. If Jeff Carter breaks 50 goals, better watch out, Mr. Ovechkin!

At defense, the Flyers are deeper than they have been since the lockout. Philadelphia now boasts two top shutdown pairs of defensemen as well as significant offensive capability and potential. Chris Pronger with Braydon Coburn and Kimmo Timonen with Ryan Parent will definitely be a nightmare for the top lines of the Eastern Conference, i.e. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

The third pairing could change some as the Flyers wish to give themselves another scoring forward which could mean moving a defenseman. However, Matt Carle and Randy Jones offer a solid third pairing for putting up numbers as long as Jones' hip stays healthy.

The real question mark surrounding this year's Flyers team is the goaltender situation. It appears as though the Flyers have taken a gamble on another goalie. Brian Boucher proved himself in San Jose as a more than capable back up to Evgeni Nabokov, so there shouldn't be much problem there. Ray Emery, however, with a great season statistically in Russia, has had behavior problems in the past.

The positive note is that Ray's attitude of late is quite jubilant and optimistic. His press conference and several interviews that I've seen have been very positive. If Ray manages to keep a cool head and learn a solid work ethic, his talent will keep the Flyers in contension for the top seed in the Eastern Conference. If Emery flops, we could always bring back Martin Biron.

Paul Holmgren has assembled a young extremely talented core of young forwards who can pass, grind, fight, and score. He has added a lot of meanness and veteran leadership in Laperriere and Pronger to go along with the Flyers' rugged rock 'em sock, em style. The defense is now solid with an offensive upside it hasn't seen in years, with a goalie who may turn out to be a diamond in the rough.

But the real question is whether or not Philadelphia can defeat the Pittsburgh Penguins when it counts. If they can shut down Crosby, Malkin, and Staal and get inside Fleury's head, then it very well might be that Lord Stanley's Cup will be making another trip to Broad Street next spring.