The Philadelphia Flyers are in the midst of one of the greatest seasons in franchise history. General manager Paul Holmgren and coach Peter Laviolette have assembled a great mix of seasoned veterans and young talent on the ice that have caused nightmares for opposing coaches around the league.
However, fans will continue to have doubts in their minds until Lord Stanley's cup makes its triumphant return to the City of Brotherly Love. With that in mind, here are a few questions that will need to be answered before the Boys of Broad Street can return to glory:
1) Can they stay healthy?
The Flyers have been very lucky (knock on wood) in regards to avoiding the injury bug this season. Chris Pronger did miss a period of time earlier in the season, but the depth Holmgren brought in on the blue line this past offseason made Pronger's absence bearable.
What would happen if one of the front line forwards goes down, however? The Flyers can boast that they are one of the deepest teams in the league, but an injury to a key player could not only affect said depth but also have a drastic impact on the chemistry they have established on the ice up to this point.
2) Can Danny Briere continue his scoring ways?
The Flyers signed Briere to a lucrative long-term deal after he averaged nearly 30 goals per season in Buffalo and made a name for himself with his stellar play in the postseason. His career in Philly, however, has been far from prolific. Briere seemed to regain his scoring touch during the Flyers' postseason run a year ago, and he carried that success over to this season.
Briere currently leads the team with 27 goals (the most he has scored while in Philly), but more importantly, he has brought a playmaking dynamic that has proven to be hard to defend. The Flyers will need Briere to maintain his stellar level of play if they want to make another run at The Cup.
3) Can the Flyers figure out their special teams woes?
The numbers on paper are not terrible. Philadelphia is currently ninth in the NHL on the penalty kill and 17th with the man advantage. However, as proven by their 1-0 loss at the hands of the Kings yesterday, the issues on the power play are well documented.
Traditionally, teams must be exceptional on special teams in order to win it all, and the Flyers have been, well, just average. Every opportunity must be taken advantage of in the postseason in order to put teams away, but at least Laviolette still has some time to get this figured out. If the Flyers fall short of their lofty goals, it will be interesting to see what their numbers were on the power play.
4) Can Laviolette find someone to compliment Mike Richards?
Richards is obviously a fan-favorite in Philadelphia—and rightfully so. He brings the same qualities to the ice as the legendary Bobby Clarke, and he leads by example every time he laces up his skates. The Flyers' captain is also a key contributor on both sides of the puck. He is currently tied for second on the team with 49 points, despite not having formidable linemates. While the other top lines on the roster have thrived so far this season, the Richards line has been inconsistent at best.
Laviolette has tried many different options along the way, using the likes of Andreas Nodl, Nikolay Zherdev, James van Riemsdyk and even bruiser Dan Carcillo at times. The Flyers have been linked to trade rumors involving Erik Cole of the Carolina Hurricanes, and also Kris Versteeg of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Regardless of the route that Holmgren and Laviolette choose, they will, without a doubt, need to find a viable option to pair with their fiery captain.
(Update: The Flyers have traded their 1st and 3rd round picks in the 2011 draft to Toronto for Kris Versteeg.)
5) Which netminder is the best choice for this team?
Laviolette has been the ultimate puppetmaster with his goaltenders this season, riding the hottest glove right up until it begins to cool. The veteran Brian Boucher has been a very nice surprise for the Flyers, but the emergence of Sergei "Bob" Bobrovsky has taken the league by storm. Most fans would rather see Bob between the pipes on a regular basis, as he seems to be the closest thing to a franchise goalie since the days of Ron Hextall.
One thing is certain, Laviolette will need to decide which goalie gives his squad the best chance to win a championship, because it is no mystery that a hot goaltender in the postseason can carry a team all the way to The Cup. If Bob turns out to be a hall of fame netminder, the first "Thank You" card that Flyers fans will need to deliver should go to Boucher, as he has proven to a exceptional teacher and mentor to Bobrovsky.