The Flyers put together an unbelievable run to the Stanley Cup Finals last year, during which they had oceans of both good luck and bad luck.
The Orange and Black were picked by many to win the Eastern Conference, but the road they took to get there was downright bizarre. They had goalies going down like bowling pins, needed to adjust mid-season, a new coach with a radically unfamiliar style, faced boiling tensions in the locker room, and seemed to forget how to score goals at multiple points during the season.
At the same time, though, they got contributions from a number of unexpected heroes, including Michael Leighton in net and Ville Leino up front.
Philadelphia dealt tremendously with adversity throughout their run, proving their heart and their mettle with a shootout win that propelled them into the playoffs, an incredible comeback from a 3-0 series deficit, and many other notable accomplishments.
Now, a Flyers franchise that has been notorious for falling short of expectations will try to return to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2010-11.
The good news for them is that their locker room issues are all but in the past, they have had plenty of time to adjust to Peter Laviolette's system, and they have finally have proven to themselves and the world that they can be a contender. Their core of skaters should be improved upon last season (when it was already quite powerful), but the main issue for the Flyers is goaltending.
A plethora of options exist, but none seem certain to pay dividends. The Flyers can re-sign Michael Leighton, who was great except for when the Flyers needed him most, bring up prospect Johan Backlund, or look outside the organization for help.
No goalie on the market is a sure bet (as if any netminder is these days), as even the best ones on the market (such as Jose Theodore, Tim Thomas, and Evgeni Nabokov) come with their fair share of baggage, so it's too soon to tell both who will be stopping pucks for Philadelphia and how good of a job that player will do.
Either way, the Flyers seem destined for great things next year. A fair share of the struggles they faced last year were caused by uncontrollable forces, and almost all of the issues they needed to deal with are the sorts of things that don't happen in back-to-back years (e.g. a plethora of injuries to goaltenders, a coaching change, locker room tension that has since dissipated, etc.).
Now, while the Flyers are also unlikely to get four playoff shutouts out of a waiver-wire pickup, acquire a Conn Smythe-caliber forward (i.e. Ville Leino) for a third-line defenseman and a late-round draft pick, or overcome any more 3-0 series deficits, these positives are things they can build on, accomplishments whose impact will carry into next year—whereas the same can't be said for the negative aspects of last season.
The Flyers were extremely impressive in the playoffs last year, and they clearly earned the Prince of Wales trophy. It was a great run for Philadelphia, yet given the likelihood that next year's Flyers squad will be even better, the Orange and Black might be hoisting a decidedly larger trophy come 2011.