What a fantastic time of year for Philadelphians! Beautiful weather, the Eagles begin another quest for that elusive Lombardi Trophy, the Fightin' Phils are in the thick of their World Series defense and the Orange and Black is back as the Flyers open training camp.
Indeed, I could write for days on all 3 of my beloved hometown teams but I will channel my fanaticism towards the Flyboys and attempt to come up with 5 major questions for this team as they make a run at bringing back Lord Stanley's Cup to Broad Street. Hopefully I can come up with some good answers too!!
1. Can Danny Briere be the impact player he once was?
Answer- Boy I hope so. Briere's dazzling playmaking skill and finishers touch around the net is sorely needed. With the departures of Mike Knuble and Joffrey Lupul this past offseason the Flyers have a goal scoring void left up front. GM Paul Holmgren is banking on Briere filling up some of that void. Coming off a disappointing season in which he was hampered by a groin injury, Briere is reportedly in phenomenal shape. When healthy he is a 30 goal, 50 assist weapon that can make the Flyers power play unit one of the deadliest in the league.
2. Where did the grit and determination go?
In the Flyers magical run to the Conference Finals in 2007 it was hard to play against them. It seemed every puck that went into a corner, a Flyer came out with. Opposing players in front of the net? They payed the price. That team seemed to want it more than their opponents night in and night out. That effort resulted in a dramatic Game 7 OT victory on the road in Washington and a dismantling of the heavily favored Montreal Canadiens. Last year that effort and determination was nowhere to be found. A stagnate start to the year and an embarassing finish which led to the Flyers losing home ice advantage on the last day of the season were the defining characteristics of a team which had a "what me worry?" attitude and no sense of urgency. With the additions of Chris Pronger and Ian LaPierrere, veteran warriors who would as soon saw off their own limbs with a skate before lose, the urgency and fight should be back this year. Teams will not want to play the Flyers, especially in Philadelphia. It will be a war and they will leave bruised and battered and hopefully with a loss.
3. Can Ray Emery be the answer to this franchise's goaltender woes?
I'm not even going to go into detail of the history behind the Flyers goaltenders because frankly, it's pretty dismal after Bernie Parent and Pelle Lindberg. Coming off a spectacular playoff run in 2007, Martin Biron was expected to be the guy. He played out of his mind in net and facing a contract year in 2008 surely he would be equally impressive. Wrong. A lackluster performance by Biron and an equally unimpressive showing by Anterro Nittymaki led to both netminder's departures via free agency. Suprisingly the Flyers signed troubled yet talented NHL outcast Ray Emery, formerly of the Ottawa Senators. After an ugly break up in Ottawa, no team would touch Emery and he was left with no choice but to play in Russia's KHL. After a sucessful season abroad, GM Paul Holmgren believes Emery has matured both on and off the ice, and that he can return to the form that once led him to the Stanley Cup finals with Ottawa. It is a risky move by Homer but one with huge potential. Emery is without question the most athletic netminder in the league and has a tremendous talent to stop the puck by all means necessary. He is here on a 1 year deal and has something to prove. Look for Emery to have a great year.
4. With so many guys in camp, who will actually make this team?
Here's how I see this team shaping up...
Extra Forwards- Powe, Ross, Kalinski, Nodl, Cote
Extra Defensemen- Tollefsen, Svyret,Marshall
***Really bummed about lack of a spot for Powe because I like him alot but the Flyers are stocked at Center and Blair Betts is too valuable a Penalty Killer and faceoff man to not make this team. We will have to see how the young guys do in actual preseason games but thus far JVR and Mika Pyorala have been studs thus far in camp and I expect them to be on the ice October 8th.
5. Is this the year?!?!?!?!?
Any year can be the year!! This team is the most talented Flyers team we have seen in many years. They have a tremendous blend of speed, skill and grit. An upgrade in goal (IMO) and an improved defense will show up in the win-loss column. The additions of LaPierrere and Betts will take alot of defensive pressure off of Carter And Richards and keep them fresher in the offensive zone. A healthy Briere will make us all forget about his contract. Ray Emery will quickly become a fan favorite and the combination of Pronger and Timonen will allow us to matchup with the Penguin's Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.