2010-11 NHL Season Preview: Philadelphia Flyers and Their Budding Young Bullies

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2010-11 NHL Season Preview: Philadelphia Flyers and Their Budding Young Bullies
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
Mike Richards (left) and Nikolai Zherdev (right) could prove to be a dynamic duo for the Philadelphia offense this year.

Key Additions: RW Nikolai Zherdev, D Andrej Meszaros, D Matt Walker, D Sean O’Donnell, LW Jody Shelley.

Key Subtractions: G Ray Emery, D Ryan Parent, LW Simon Gagne, RW Riley Cote, D Lukas Krajicek, RW Arron Asham.

It was a bizarrely productive season for the Philadelphia Flyers in 2009-10. Despite having all the right moves supposedly secured during the months leading up, Philadelphia struggled mightily during several parts of the year, having to snatch a playoff berth from the New York Rangers on the final day of play.

Little did fans know then that the Flyers would begin to gain momentum like an overwhelming juggernaut, thrashing the rival Devils, escaping a 3-0 series hole against the Bruins, and tormenting the Canadiens until only one team stood between Philadelphia and their first cup in over two decades. While the Flyers were unable to secure the Stanley Cup in their third appearance over the last 15 years, they certainly didn’t go quietly.

So as the regular season begins to take form, Philadelphia returns with the same general mindset: Don’t go quietly. Philadelphia made a very loud impact during free agency when they traded away Simon Gagne to free up cap space for players like Nikolai Zherdev and Andrej Meszaros. With an improved defense and explosive scoring presence, there is a lot to be excited about in Philadelphia.

From the top, Philadelphia’s homegrown talents will have the reigns unconditionally turned over to the them this year. The departure of Gagne means that the new era of Flyers player, like Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, is in full swing. Both are the kind of player you love to hate, and so long as they’re on your team, you hate to love.

While neither had quite the stellar season last year, they are still well established as threats on the ice. Richards plays a more physical style and will mix it up as often as he will score. Carter, meanwhile, is developing into one of the league’s most lethal snipers and could pot 40 goals once again (he missed the mark last year by only seven).

Behind them, Philadelphia retained Danny Briere and Scott Hartnell, as well as a slew of youngsters who can make big names for themselves in a Philly uniform. Briere is still a solid scorer when healthy and Hartnell may very well be the definition of a gritty, tough, Philadelphia hockey player.

The youth, however, will play a bigger role this season as the Flyers progress. Players like Darroll Powe, Ville Leino, Claude Giroux, and James van Riemsdyk came on in a big way last year, each putting up career numbers while the team soared into contention. Leino and Giroux are already well on their way to becoming top line players, but the most pressure has to be on van Riemsdyk to perform.

A solid rookie season for van Riemsdyk will likely be followed this year by even more scoring, but this time, he’ll have something more to prove. Remember, he was lucky enough to watch his fellow draft classmate Patrick Kane score the Cup-winning goal just a few months ago.

The biggest wild card on the Philadelphia offense is Nikolai Zherdev, who has forever shown the explosive potential to be a 90-100 point player yet never seems to get it together at the right time. Zherdev was incredible in the preseason, showing no rust from leaving the NHL a season ago.

The Flyers are perhaps best rounded out in a way you would expect from Philadelphia. Jody Shelley, Ian Laperriere (currently injured), and Daniel Carcillo were amongst the league’s top heavyweights last year and each could be fighting more for a roster spot than for pride.

Defensively, Philly took a successful formula from last year and capitalized on it with acquisitions that fit their style acutely. Andrej Meszaros is perhaps the most important acquisition, coming into a defense with several other budding two-way players. Meszaros showed great potential in Ottawa before falling off the map in Tampa Bay, so the Flyers could be taking a risk by bringing him in.

Luckily, it won’t be too much of a risk since Philadelphia already boasts the services of Braydon Coburn, Matt Carle, and Chris Pronger. Coburn has been a refreshing change of pace for Philadelphia and is showing all the signs of a strong defender for years to come. Carle, meanwhile, is incredibly quick to the puck and can score better than he’s shown at the NHL level.

And yes, Chris Pronger won’t start the season anywhere near a hockey rink, but he’ll be a threat once he’s healthy again. Pronger is an elite shutdown defenseman in a league focused heavily on the two-way aspect of defenders. He’s gritty, ugly, respected, and hated. And Chris Pronger wouldn’t have it any other way.

The Flyers are wrapped up on D by the aging Kimmo Timmonen, free agent Sean O’Donnell, and youngster Oskars Bartulis.

Even the most jaded skeptics had to be impressed with Philadelphia goaltender Michael Leighton last year. He had never been really given the chance to take the ball and run with it until halfway through last season, when he turned in a 16-5 record over 27 games while also aiding the Flyers in their playoff run. His performance was good enough to keep him around for at least another season to start.

But for Leighton, who hasn’t ever played a full slate of NHL games, the problems are just beginning. A back injury will keep him out of at least the first month of the season, leaving Philadelphia with on-again, off-again goalie Brian Boucher. While Boucher isn’t a bad player, he hasn’t shown that he can play at the top of his game for too long either.

When Boucher is on, he’s tough to beat. The problem is, Boucher hasn’t been on for the past two seasons and looks mediocre at best.


Rookie Watch

With the goaltending options always changing in Philadelphia, the Flyers may be willing to give newly signed Russian goalie Sergei Bobrovsky a look. He’ll likely start the season as a third stringer to Boucher and Johan Backlund, but depending on how long Leighton is sidelined, he might make a few key starts to show he can come from the KHL and be a rock.


Outlook

If Philadelphia can keep its goaltending in check, a question that has plagued the team for over a decade, it has all the tools to be a Stanley Cup champion. But to assume that they completely flake is out of the question. Third in the Atlantic, fifth in the Eastern Conference.

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