Departures: Simon Gagne, Arron Asham, Mika Pyorala, Riley Cote
Arrivals: Jody Shelley, Nikolai Zherdev
The 2009-10 Philadelphia Flyers featured some of the greatest offensive depth in the league. Seven players hit 40 points, while 10 players reached the 10-goal plateau. Captain Mike Richards led the team with 62 points, while Jeff Carter led the Orange and Black with 33 goals. First year player James van Riemsdyk was among league rookie leaders with 35 points, while defenseman Chris Pronger anchored the blue line offense with 55 points—45 of those being assists. The Flyers’ toughness was also summed up with four players surpassing 100 penalty minutes and six with over 70.
The Stanley Cup Playoffs featured breakout campaigns from Danny Briere, Claude Giroux, and Ville Leino, who put up 30, 23, and 21 points in 23, 23, and 19 games, respectively. The trio also came up big in the Stanley Cup finals, helping lead the team within two games of a Stanley Cup.
Look Who’s New in the Neighborhood!
Left winger Jody Shelley, formerly a member of the rival New York Rangers (and the San Jose Sharks before that), joins a deep Flyers' offense that has three lines of capable scoring forwards and a line of energetic toughness, mixed with excitement and leadership. Though Shelley will not contribute much at all with regards to points (his career high is 10, attained in 2005-06 with the Columbus Blue Jackets), the 34-year-old will contribute to the team in the locker room and with his ability to throw a body check here and there and give the top lines some rest. A responsible forward, Shelley had a plus-four rating in 21 games with a New York Rangers squad that missed the playoffs.
The Columbus Blue Jackets thought they hit a home run when they selected Zherdev with the fourth overall pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, but they quickly realized that he needed work. His point totals jumped from 34 in his rookie year to 61 in 2008. But after posting 58 in 2009 with the Rangers, he bolted for Russia, after not receiving the contract offers he thought he was worth. Posting 39 points in the Kontinental League last season, Zherdev returns to a Flyers squad that has one of the greatest supporting casts in the league. Though Zherdev can put up close to a point per game, his defensive game must improve drastically if he hopes Coach Peter Laviolette will play him with the amount of ice time he believes he deserves (Zherdev is a career minus-46 in five seasons).
You’ll Be Sorely Missed
Left winger Simon Gagne was the longest-tenured Flyer before he was traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning this offseason. Though he regularly posted over 20 goals and 50 points at the beginning of his career, his totals dropped due to concussion problems in 2007-08 and though he bounced back in 2008-09, his numbers continued to drop due to injury last season. Gagne still has the talent to post 50 points (if he can stay healthy), but his cap hit of over $5 million was too much for the cash-strapped Flyers to handle. By moving him to Tamp Bay, the team saved over $3 million (after accounting for the Zherdev signing). Gagne’s leadership and offensive numbers will be missed, but his recent troubles playing defensively will be noted when weighing the pros and cons to this transaction.
Watch Out for…
Claude Giroux and Ville Leino. Both players are young and have some of the best potential of any young player in the league—and both had breakout years in the Flyers’ Stanley Cup run. Giroux scored three points in Game Five against Chicago. His 21 points in 23 games with the team ranked among team leaders, while his true contribution was his ability to draw defenders toward him then thread the needle with a cross-ice pass, creating a scoring chance almost every time he was on the ice.
Leino scored nine points in the Stanley Cup finals, including five in the final two games. He was consistently one of the Flyers’ top players, regardless of the fact that he was injured during the series. Look for him to be able to post at least 40 points this season, perhaps more if paired with the right players.
What’s the Outlook?
The Philadelphia Flyers have the best depth in the NHL. Though their top line may not be as glamorous as that of the Pittsburgh Penguins or the Washington Capitals, their top three lines have as much scoring ability as any other team’s lines. With incredible depth at center, plus some versatility (Briere, Giroux, Carter, and Richards have all shown they can play the wing when needed), in addition to great players on the wing, the Flyers are a threat to score for 60 minutes every game. A possible fourth line consisting of Jody Shelley, Blair Betts, and Ian Laperriere will scare the crap out of any team facing them—and might even draw a standing ovation from the Philadelphia fans after each shift.
Alan Bass is a writer for The Hockey News and THN.com. In addition to writing for Inside Hockey and Pro Hockey News, he has also worked for the Philadelphia Flyers. He is the General Manager of the Muhlenberg College hockey team as well. You can contact him at BergHockey24@gmail.com.