BT's 2009/10 NHL Season Preview: Philadelphia Flyers
There are so many different weapons in the Atlantic Division.
Of course the Pittsburgh Penguins have their big three, augmented by Chris Kunitz, a dynamic defense, and Marc-Andre Fleury; The Devils sport Martin Brodeur and Zach Parise—two players that really determine the fate of New Jersey; then in New York, if the Rangers' key players can stay healthy, their offense will be improved, while the Islanders are on their way up with some great young talent.
But that still doesn't count out the Philadelphia Flyers.
A dynamic offense and one of the best defensive cores in the league? Now that's something.
2008/09 Season: 44-27-11, 99 points, fifth in East—lost in six games to Pittsburgh Penguins in first round of the playoffs.
Additions: Ole-Kristian Tollefsen—D (1 year/600k), Ian Laperierre—F (3 years/$3.5mil), Brian Boucher—G (2 years/$1.85mil), Chris Pronger—D (Trade w/Anaheim).
Subtractions: Mike Knuble—F (FA), Luca Sbisa—D (Trade w/Anaheim), Joffrey Lupul—F (Trade w/Anaheim), Martin Biron—G (FA), Andrew Alberts—G (FA), Antero Niittymaki—G (FA), Derian Hatcher—D (Retired).
The Flyers lost some scoring over the offseason in trading Joffrey Lupul and watching Mike Knuble make is way to Washington, but the big thing for the orange and black was the acquisition of Chris Pronger, who immediately makes any defense better upon his arrival.
It's between the pipes where the final question lies for the Flyers.
A Bundle of Boucher Grazing an Emery Board...
The Flyers will have a very different look in goal this year.
Instead of relying on the inconsistent Antero Niittymaki or the French connection of Martin Biron, the Flyers have added to the "Broadstreet Bullies" persona.
With the addition of Ray Emery, the Flyers not only pick up a goalie with a well-documented history of on and off-ice discipline issues, they have nabbed themselves a chippy tender whose never afraid to do what's necessary for a win.
The gung-ho attitude almost seems to be a necessity for any goalie that's set to deal with the Philadelphia faithful, and Emery's brash style will play well with the fans if he stays out of trouble.
But isn't that the key? If Emery stays out of trouble, he can easily be a 30-win goaltender in the NHL with his size and athleticism. His numbers in Ottawa alone are proof of that, as in his first two "full" seasons (the first being only 39 games), Emery recorded a combined 56 wins and saw big improvements in his goals against and save percentages across those years.
He also saw a Stanley Cup finals series—something the Flyers haven't seen since they were swept back-to-back alongside Washington by Detroit's mid-90s mini-dynasty.
If Emery can't stay out of hot water, the attention will be much greater than it was in the KHL (Emery had a documented run-in with a team trainer with regard to the wearing of a sponsored hat that did receive some press over here), and we may see him publicly crumble once again.
Fortunately for the Flyers, they have a backup who is not only experienced in filling in for his starters at a moment's notice, but a man who is familiar with Philadelphia.
Brian Boucher was once the man in Philadelphia, bouncing back and forth in the starter's role early in his career, and even leading the Flyers through 18 playoff games in the 1999 playoffs.
Since leaving Philly, Boucher has travelled around a variety of organizations, and aside from setting the consecutive shutout record with the Phoenix Coyotes, has had limited success.
Boucher seemed to rediscover himself in San Jose last year, backing up Evgeni Nabokov and getting back to utilizing his size and confidence in the crease, making him an ideal backup whether he's behind Martin Brodeur or Jim Carey.
If Emery fails, it's unlikely Boucher can shoulder an entire season's worth of the load, but he's a quality option to have behind the volatile former Sen.
Don't 'Prong' the 'Co-Bear'...
Defensively, the Flyers have some of the best there is to offer.
If you aren't aware of how good Kimmo Timonen is, then Alan Bass may have a bone to pick with you.
Timonen consistently uses sound positioning and great footwork to neutralize his opponents, while his smarts and stability only add to the package. He has some of the best "hockey eyes" in the league, underscored by the fact that 40 of his 43 points last year were assists.
He kills penalties, plays the power play, and is deadly on even strength, but alongside Chris Pronger (whether metaphorically or physically) the two will be deadly.
While the seven-year extension given to the latest Flyer seems a bit long (considering Pronger will be 42 by the end of it), these aren't season previews for seven years from now—they're this season.
Pronger is still one of the biggest, meanest (most say dirtiest), and most powerful defensemen in the game. Playing alongside Scott Niedermayer only made him better and Pronger's production should see no fall off with Timonen feeding him the puck at the point if they match up on the power play.
From there, youngsters Braydon Coburn and Ryan Parent are finally starting to find their footing at the NHL level. Coburn is starting to utilize his size to his advantage—a key when you consider he's 24 and entering the prime of his career. He's also got a sound offensive game, allowing him to chip in 27-30 points for a season (he may top out at 35) with 10-goal potential.
Parent meanwhile provides all the offensive instincts you could ever want. Thinking of the Nashville Predators featuring a rotation of Weber, Hamhuis, Suter, and Parent right now is scary, but Philly's defense will undoubtedly benefit from the former Pred.
Parent has been gradually worked into the NHL rotation over the past few seasons and if his offensive game catches up to him, he'll be a great mid-pairing offensive mind.
Another defenseman who's provided some solid offensive support is Matt Carle. Although he may never reach the 40-point plateau again (especially buried in Philadelphia), Carle offers the flexibility to move up and down the depth chart, as well as a great power play option for the Flyers.
Depth wise, Philly will feature Ole-Kristian Tollefsen, who'll make defenders think twice about cutting across the ice when Randy Jones isn't out there. Both players can be exploited by their excitement in the hitting game, but the low-pairing physicality will be great for the Flyers' depth and protection if youngsters Oskars Bartulis, Marc-Andre Bourdon, and Kevin Marshall get a shot with the big club.
"I'll Have a Pint of Richards." "White, Orange, or Black?"
Up front, the Flyers will have no trouble scoring goals.
Last year, the black and orange scored the fifth-most goals in the league, relying on six players with 25 goals or more.
The two-way playmaking threat of Mike Richards is back this year as Flyers' captain, threatening to score another 30 goals. Richards has proven to be one of the most devastating scorers in any situation in the NHL, as he led the league with nine shorthanded points last year and fell into the top fifteen of powerplay points amongst forwards.
The bounce-back season of Simon Gagne was a sigh of relief for many Flyers fans and while he didn't get back to the 40-goal plateau last year, if Gagne continues to play well and avoid head injuries, he'll be more prone to all-around seasons that see him make plays as well as he shoots.
When given the opportunity, Scott Hartnell provides plenty of grit alongside his 60-point (30-goal) season, and his gutsy, aggressive, wrecking ball style of play will only wear down the opposing defenses, opening up holes and tiring out opponents for Jeff Carter.
Carter was the hottest player to start the season last year in the NHL, but cooled off considerably in the second half. The man who ended up second in the league with 46 goals will need to find a level of consistency this year—a funny thing to say when you consider that level of production. If he can find a way to sustain himself over an entire season though, watch out.
A question on the minds many Flyers fans will be how does the team offset the production lost in Mike Knuble and Joffrey Lupul.
Well, it's really very simple with these three easy steps:
1) Pray to whichever religious figure you choose to closely relate yourself to that Daniel Briere stays healthy. Briere is small and shifty, and has proven that he can really create anywhere out on the ice.
Last year, Briere fell victim to the injury bug as fans were treated to just a small sampling of his talents with 25 points in 29 games. He may not match his 95-point season from Buffalo, but he's certainly an all-around threat that can fill some twine for the Fly-Boys, and a second 70-point season in Philly will cool the losses.
2) Hope that Claude Giroux's explosive playoffs (five points in six games) is a sign of his true development.
Giroux is one of the most electrifying youngsters out there, and not only did the playoffs prove it, but a three game stretch against Boston and Toronto (he played Toronto twice) late in the season where Giroux had seven points in three games showed what he may be able to do with a full season.
3) Cross your fingers that James van Riemsdyk is ready. Although the young power forward may not be potting anywhere near 30 goals this year, his speed topples that of Mike Knuble, while the strength for the young power forward will come, as he could be netting 20-25 goals within his first few seasons in the league.
After that, depth is the word in the City of Brotherly Love.
While the Blair Betts tryout won't turn many heads offensively, the Flyers not only hurt the Rangers by taking the other half of their top end penalty-killing duo, but they improved their sixth ranked penalty from last year.
In the same light, Riley Cote, Aaron Asham, and Ian Laperriere aren't going to score that much, but they'll remind the opposition just how physically devastating the Flyers are, while Daniel Carcillo has the offensive potential to be a solid second line fill in, he just chooses to use his fists for fights instead.
Darryl Powe will see his second tour of duty for the Flyers this year and may hit ten goals or 20 points, but he may also see some time alongside youngster Patrick Maroon if the Flyers are so inclined to bring up the former London Knight for a taste of NHL action.
So What's It All Mean...
The Flyers are there offensively, and they now feature two of the top defenders in the league.
The main concern is the goaltending.
In a division like the Atlantic, Ray Emery is in a neck-and-neck battle alongside Marc-Andre Fleury for third behind Martin Brodeur and Henrik Lundqvist.
Then again, if Rick DiPietro is healthy, this isn't factoring him in to the equation.
The advantage that Emery has is that while Brodeur, Fleury, and Lundqvist will be forced to stand on their heads to keep their teams in games (and don't misunderstand—Emery will as well, just not as many), Rayzor just needs to keep cool in the crease and stop pucks.
If he can do that, then the top of the division is within grasp.
If he can't? The Flyers may be in for a dogfight.
Predicted finish: Second in the Atlantic.
Bryan Thiel is a Senior Writer and an NHL Community Leader for Bleacher Report. If you want to get in contact with Bryan, you can do so through his profile, or email him at email@example.com. Also, be sure to check out all of his previous work in his archives.
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