Now that the NHL preseason is officially under way, here are the Top five questions facing Philadelphia this preseason. What does the team need to address before the regular season starts October 1, and how these issues will shake out over the next few weeks? What are the uncertainties -- big or small -- for this Flyers team as the 09-10 season nears?
1.) How are the health of top forwards Daniel Briere and Simon Gagne? Daniel Briere signed a huge eight-year conract and now heading into his third year it could be his biggest in the NHL. Last year the 31-year-old center played a career low 29 games because of injuries to his abdomen and groin. Although the sample size was small Briere still had an impact on the power play with 10 of his 25 points coming on special teams. This former All-Star and five time 25 or more goal scorer, has done everything he can to prove in the offseason to prove he is healthy and back ready to contribute to this team. Simon Gagne left a Team Canada's orientation camp early due to groin problems not a good sign for a team that dealt with Briere on and off again problems last season. Gagne has since skated with the team in preseason camp and reported a clean bill of health. An early injury problem for a skater that has missed significant time in his career due to injury is going to be a big problem for the Flyers, and look for the Gagne to prove to the fans and himself that he is ready.
2.) Will JVR stay on active roster or spend time seasoning in the AHL? James Van Riemsdyk was selected 2nd overall in the 2007 NHL entry draft and after leaving New Hampshire early played his first pro games with the AHL Phantoms. In 11 games (including postseason) the 6’3’’ forward only scored one goal and added another assist. The big center/wing came to camp nine pounds heavier shined with 4 goals in the rookie game and even scored in the first preseason game is making his case for the roster. I could see this situation following the path of both Claude Giroux and another second overall pick Bobby Ryan, where both of those players were sent to the minors and forced the hand of the organization by being dominant down in the AHL. Van Riemsdyk will benefit in the long run by starting the season in Glens Falls an proving he is ready to be a pro both on and off the ice.
3.) Who will win the last open Winger spot? They all sit near each other in the locker room at the Flyers training facility as they know the fourth line has an open roster spot. Most come with former NHL experience, but all come with desperation to want to live the high life in the NHL. Blair Betts, Mark Bell, Jason Ward and Krys Kolanos are the Vets. Jon Kalinsky, Jon Matsumoto, Andres Nodl and Patrick Maroon are the young guns. The early leader in the clubhouse and who I ultimately think will win the last roster spot and 50th NHL contract will be former
Ranger Blair Betts. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound Betts, is a versatile center who makes his mark on two things the Flyers need help in this season, the penalty kill (3 SHP last season) and face offs (52 percent for his career). Betts has also played in the tough Atlantic Division and knows what it takes to compete with teams like the Penguins, Devils , Islanders and most importantly Rangers.
4.) How will the power play mesh with Chris Pronger on the point? The Flyers spent most of last season with a forward on the point and played a style that scored goals down low. Now with Mike Knuble (11 points per game) big body gone and Chris Pronger (28 power plays) big shot here in Philadelphia the Flyers can shift Mike Richards down low and move their power play focus up top. Pronger along with the slick skating Kimmo Timonen give the Flyers a fearsome top pairing that will create more space which will improve the already talented scorers down low.
5.) How will Ray Emery look in his first NHL action? Ray Emery’s has not faced an NHL shot since he gave up four goals in 18 shots in a March 24th, 2008 game vs the Canadiens. In Emery’s first taste of NHL competition since then the net minder stopped 23 of the 25 shots he faced in the first preseason game vs. the Red Wings. Razor will be looked as the biggest question mark surrounding a team with so much talent. People often forget that this is a goalie that has appeared in more Stanley Cup appearances (one with Ottawa in 2007) than the two castoffs (Biron and Niittymaki) combined, and the coach that was fired (John Paddock) because of his antics was on board for this move. The 26-year-old goalie with the images of boxers on his helmet will be the ultimate high risk high reward for this team, and most likely the key to which direction this season will head for the Flyers.