The State Of Flyerdom: Threat Level Yellow

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The State Of Flyerdom: Threat Level Yellow
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The Department of Homeland Security currently lists the United States as being threat level yellow in regards to a possible terrorist attack. Of the color levels, yellow is in the middle of the five, and translates as being "elevated" in terms of awareness to a possible terrorist attack.

If the Philadelphia Flyers were using this same advisory system, they would be in the same boat as the U.S.

In regards to where they sat at the beginning of the season as a great cup contender and dominant force of the Eastern Conference, they'd be considered the lowest color level, green. After a decent October but lackluster November, the Flyers level was raised to blue, or "guarded". After being shut-out in consecutive games by the Atlanta Thrashers and the Vancouver Canucks, Head Coach John Stevens was let go and the Flyers brought Peter Laviolette into the fold.

After an 8-2 walloping at the hands of the Washington Capitals in their new coach's debut and a 3-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens, the Flyers posted a convincing 6-2 win over the New York Islanders to give Mr. Laviolette his first win.

However, 48 hours later the Flyers were shut-out for the third time in six games at the hands of Brian Elliot and the Ottawa Senators. The Flyers are quite deep into a 2-9 skid, having not posted consecutive wins since the 16th and 18th of November against the Devils and Kings, respectively. 

At this point, some will argue that that the Flyers may be level orange, the level above yellow. Orange translates to "high", meaning that a total franchise meltdown would be imminent.

While in another week that idea may not be all that far-fetched, I will give the Flyers the benefit of the doubt, for now.

Coming into this season, the Flyers were considered a Stanley Cup favorite as an offensive juggernaut. During their 2-9 skid, the Flyers have scored 22 goals, or an average of exactly two goals a game. Eight games prior to their recent slump, the Flyers scored 33 goals. Thats an average of 4.13 goals a game, more then double what they are scoring now.

Because the Flyers were slumping under Stevens, I wouldn't expect them to reignite their offense so quickly under a new coach. Combine that with the fact that starting goal-tender Ray Emery has played the last 2-3 weeks injured, its no wonder the Flyers are slumping.

I personally will give this team another week or two to get the offense rolling before I begin to seriously worry. That is why, currently, I list this team as still in the elevated awareness stage.

But level orange is not far off at all. What does level orange mean you ask? Well, General Manager Paul Holmgrem has already changed the coach. Next to be shipped out will be the players themselves.

One might ask who is first on the chopping block?

Well for starters, lets list the untouchables or the players who will not be traded.

Mike Richards, who's recent slump probably attributes to the pressures as a young team captain more then anything else, is number one. Richards is typically night in and night out the Flyers best forward, if not their best player period. Thus far, he is tied for the team lead in points with Jeff Carter with 25 and leads the team in goals with 13.

However, it seems as though Richards, as the leader of this team, feels most responsible for this teams recent slump. He has been forcing far to many passes per game that just aren't there, as if he wants to throw this team on his back and carry the load offensively himself. I am confident that Richards will soon break out if this streak of poor play sooner rather then later. As our Captain and and one of the cornerstones of this franchise, he's as safe as anyone on the roster.

Youngsters Claude Giroux and James vanRiemsdyk are most definitely untouchable. JVR has been a pleasant surprise thus far this season, going 6-13—19 in 26 games played this season as well as posting a plus-6 rating. The rookie is scoreless in his last six and a minus-2 in that span, but can you really blame a 20 year old rookie for your scoring problems?

Giroux has thus far posted similar numbers to JVR, going 5-13—18 in 29 games played a long with a plus-6 rating. He has not yet turned into the potential 100 point offensive juggernaut management expects him to be, but he has played sound, two-way hockey thus far.

Last among untouchable forwards are Scott Hartnell and Darrol Powe.

Hartnell is a player of rare bread. A combination of size, skill, and grit, Hartnell is probably the Flyers hardest working forward night in and night out. Fans will complain that he takes to many penalties, but that's part of his game. Has anyone ever noticed that whatever line Scott Hartnell is on, works? He is excellent at making rooms for teammates and doing the dirty work in corners.

The bottom-line is, you don't find players like Hartnell everyday. Hartnell currently sits second behind Richards and Carter in points with 21.

Although probably surprising, Darrol Powe at this point is considered untouchable.

The only real bottom-sixer on this last, Powe was scoring at a 20 goal pace before being lost to injury in November. He has way too many intangibles that every team so desperately needs; versatility, face-off ability, defensive awareness, willingness and ability to block shots, physicality, the list goes on and on. Although not a prolific scorer by any means, the speedy 3rd liner can also be slotted into a temporary top six role should an injury arise.

Among defensemen, Chris Pronger is the obvious first untouchable. He has taken the lead over Kimmo Timonen as the backbone of the Flyer blue-line. Currently tied for third in overall points with Hartnell and JVR (4-15—19), Pronger boasts a plus-10 rating, good for second among blue-liners.

Leading blue-liners in that statistic is Matt Carle with a plus-13. Carle has been Pronger's defensive partner all season, and currently sits third in points among blue-liners with 15. Those who say Carle's trade value may never be higher then right now are probably right. But with an inconsistent second pairing of Timonen and Coburn, can the Flyers really afford to lose Carle at this point? Right now, he has to be considered untouchable.

Last among untouchable blue-liners is rookie Oskars Bartulis. The Latvian native has performed remarkably since being called up a mere 15 games ago. He has no goals, three assists, and a minus-2 rating in that period, but stats alone do not mirror Bartulis' great play. He has been a consistent, two-way defender for the Flyers so far, and has not only earned himself a permanent top six role, but a new three-year contract as well.  

Richards. Giroux. vanRiemsdyk. Hartnell. Powe. Pronger. Carle. Bartulis. Not a bad list of players at all. But any Flyer fan will tell you there are some big names missing from that list.

No name is bigger then center Jeff Carter. Although Carter is tied for the team lead in points, he has struggled mightily this season. Goalies have figured out his tendencies. His lack of physical play is catching up too him.

Those that watch the Flyers every night can see Carter seems to be only a shell of the player that almost scored 50-goals last season. He is no longer a dominant offensive force on the ice every night. Don't get me wrong, 25 points in 29 games is nothing to laugh at. But stretches of 4 and 5 games with no points at all is unacceptable, especially when your suppose to be carrying the load offensively.

Moving Carter would bring a significant return, and more then likely, the change this team so desperately craves. Philly faithful may riot at the thought of trading Carter, but is it really that unthinkable? Will the Flyer's be able to afford Carter after next season when he's an UFA anyway? While I personally am not ready to give up on Jeff Carter, if his play does not pickup soon, he could be gone by the trade deadline, or sooner. 

Also missing from that list are defensemen Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Coburn. As much as I'd like to omit Kimmo from the trading block, I simply cannot. He's expendable now that we have Pronger, especially because of his salary. However, Timonen is still a huge part of this defense, and again, makes quite the pretty penny.

But if the right offer came a long from a team that desperately craves a number one defencemen and powerplay quarterback, say, the Dallas Stars or Columbus Blue Jackets, would Paul Holmgrem say no? I don't think he would if it was a Kings Ransom. Because that is indeed what it will take to acquire a player as talented as Kimmo Timonen, a Kings Ransom. Coburn, who has consistently been Timonen's defensive partner for the past three seasons, will likely be the first to go. 

When first brought over from the Atlanta Thrashers, Coburn was still trying to find his place in the NHL. Through the 07-08 and 08-09 seasons, Coburn elevated his game to that of a legitimate top four NHL defensemen.

This season, Coburn has literally hit a brick-wall in his development. He has struggled mightily in terms of his defensive game, and so far this season seems to be good for one bad turnover a game. He hasn't had a monumental collapse yet, but it's clear that he's struggling.

Coburn, right now, is an enigma. Do the Flyers trade him now while he still has some value? Or do they resign the Restricted Free Agent to a cheap extension for another year or two? It depends on Coburn's asking price. The Flyers cant afford another 3-4 million dollar a year d-man.

If Coburn is asking for what we would have paid him last year and the year before, I say dump him. More then likely, the former 8th overall pick in 2003 needs a change of scenery. Besides, with the emergence of Bartulis and guys like Kevin Marshall and Marc-Andre Bourdon waiting in the wings, is anyone going to care if Coburn's gone?

I wouldn't.  

The Flyers probably have another week and a half to two weeks before major roster shuffling occurs.

I personally don't expect the Flyers to perform that well in the next month or so. Starting goaltender Ray Emery's injury requires around six weeks of rest. While back-up Brian Boucher isn't a bad goalie, he's also no longer an NHL starter. With 17 games to play over the next six weeks, no matter how you slice it, Johan Backlund will be seeing time in net. The idea of Backlund back in net after his terrible pre-season performance would likely make any Flyer fan cringe. Regardless of who's in net, the team as a whole still needs to perform better.

While this squad is quite capable of making the playoffs without any changes, I don't think they will. What relieves me is that Paul Holmgrem knows this. He has yet to publicly state such a fact, but I know he knows it. He's no idiot. Changes are definitely coming in the next month or two.

Their significance, however, is unknown. Hopefully major lineup changes make this team the legitimate Cup contender everyone knows they can be.

Should a roster shake-up fail, or not occur at all, Flyerdom may be looking at a code red. Red would be a severe level of awareness on the Homeland Security chart, which translates to missing the playoffs completely to a hockey fan. While I would rather remain in yellow than lose our season entirely and be in red, something must be done, and done soon.

Because although the State of Flyerdom remains elevated at yellow, a code red meltdown is not far off. 

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