Philadelphia Flyers: 7 Bold Predictions for the Team's 2011-2012 Season
In less than two weeks, beginning with the stunning trades of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, Philadelphia Flyers GM Paul Holmgren has completely revamped the team that went to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2009, leaving fans with many questions concerning the future of the perennial contenders.
Here are seven predictions for the Philadelphia Flyers' upcoming season.
1. Claude Giroux and JVR More Than Make Up for Richards and Carter
Giroux shows his quick strike ability in Game 2 against the Sabres
Arguably the most important reason that Paul Holmgren could trade his two star centers was the rapid improvement of two new stars, Claude Giroux and James van Riemsdyk. Giroux put up career highs with 25 goals and 76 points, while van Riemsdyk—who had a similar regular season as his rookie year, with 21 goals and 40 points—emerged as a star in the playoffs, with seven goals in 11 playoff games.
Van Riemsdyk also finished third in shots in the postseason with 70 despite playing in just those 11 games. If a big, fast-skating forward with a wicked shot sounds familiar to Flyers fans, you're probably thinking of Jeff Carter. Van Riemsdyk should score between 30-to-35 goals next year, consistent with the 30.2 that Carter averaged over his six years in Philadelphia.
Giroux should continue his rapid ascent as well. With Carter and Richards gone, he will now see even more time on the power play and penalty kill, and be counted upon as the team's top center and forward. While I don't think that 100 points is completely out of the question, I fully expect him to get to 90, with somewhere close to 30 goals and 60 assists.
Look for Giroux and van Riemsdyk to be the main reasons—offensively, at least—that the Flyers won't lose that much firepower this season.
2. Ilya Bryzgalov Does Not Live Up to His Contract
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
The domino effect that imploded the Flyers roster in the last two weeks undoubtedly began with Ed Snider's demand that the team find a top goalie, which they found in Bryzgalov. After the Carter and Richards trades freed up the required cap space, he signed a nine-year, $51 million contract, which Snider admitted he pushed for heavily.
Unfortunately, there is no evidence to back up any claim that he is capable of living up to it.
Bryzgalov is a top 10 goalie in the league, but by no means is he Tim Thomas. Moreover, Tomas Vokoun, who is arguably a better goalie with a better track record, just signed a one-year contract worth only $1.5 million with another contender, the Washington Capitals. Bryzgalov, with an annual cap hit of $5.67 million, certainly isn't worth that difference.
He is also arguably best known for being a playoff choke artist, and while I expect him to provide an immediate improvement, albeit over a potential future star in Sergei Bobrovsky, he will be hard pressed to meet the massive expectations fans have for him.
3. Jaromir Jagr Shows That He Has Something Left
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
In a somewhat surprising move, the Flyers signed Jagr to a one-year, $3.3 million contract on the first day of free agency.
The future Hall of Famer and former Penguins star spent the last three years playing for Avangard Omsk in the KHL, where he managed to put up good numbers in the league's shortened schedule (50 points in 49 games last season).
A fitness freak, Jagr should be able to adjust to the rigors of the 82-game schedule and provide some veteran leadership on a team that is all of a sudden much younger than it was just two weeks ago.
Jagr, a physical forward who is one of the strongest on the puck in the history of the game, will certainly take advantage of the smaller NHL rinks. While he may not be quite the passer that the departed Ville Leino was, look for him to match or surpass Leino's 53 points and be a key to the team's success this season.
4. Brayden Schenn Makes a Big Impact in His Rookie Year
Schenn explodes for 4 goals during the 2011 WJC
Schenn was the biggest piece acquired in the Mike Richards trade, and is expected to do great things over the course of his career in Philadelphia. There is no reason to think that can't start this season.
He has been compared to Mike Richards as far as his style of play is concerned, and while he may never be an elite offensive talent, he should be a very good two-way player and team leader as he matures as a player.
The last few weeks of roster change have left the Flyers with Claude Giroux, Danny Briere, Blair Betts, and Maxime Talbot as the only centers on the roster. With Talbot's contract potentially being against CBA rules (although, in all likelihood he will be on the team), Schenn should have a very good chance to make the roster on opening night.
If he does, look out. He will be a star in this league one day, and I would expect him to put up a solid first season, scoring around 40 points.
5. Wayne Simmonds Becomes a Fan Favorite Very Quickly
Jeff Gross/Getty Images
The other piece of the Mike Richards trade, Wayne Simmonds is the type of player that Flyers fans, and all hockey fans, really, love to watch.
The 22-year-old winger plays a very physical brand of hockey, and he has a bit of a scoring touch as well. With increased playing time, the former 40-point scorer should certainly reach 50 points regularly during his career.
Simmonds is a hard-nosed player who will make his mark very rapidly with his new team (while wearing Jeff Carter's old number, interestingly enough) and will quickly become a fan favorite in Philadelphia during his first season here.
6. Danny Briere Is the Flyers Most Important Player
Briere shows his superb offensive ability against the Bruins in the 2010 Playoffs
Briere, who scored a career high 34 goals last season, will be counted upon to once again perform very well for the Flyers.
Without the assistance of former linemate Ville Leino, he will have to rely more on his natural scoring ability, which he has done many times before throughout his career.
He has been a clutch playoff performer throughout his career for the Flyers, and will now be called upon even more during the regular season as well.
Considering how young Claude Giroux and James van Riemsdyk are, Briere will have to be consistent throughout the entire season, something that hasn't always been his forte.
If he falters at all, the team as a whole will likely do the same.
Although he will not be named captain, with that honor going to Chris Pronger, he will likely serve as an assistant captain and need to be a force for the team both on and off the ice.
I do believe he is more than capable of doing these things, but the pressure on him will be immense.
7. The Flyers Will Fall Short in 2011-12, but Have a Very Promising Future
Giroux scores in overtime in the Stanley Cup Finals in 2010. Look for the team to return soon, but not this season.
This offseason, the Flyers have taken one step back so that they can take two steps forward in the future. This team, as it is built now, will not win the Stanley Cup this season (although if they do, you won't find me complaining).
They are a very young, inexperienced team and, for the most part, they haven't played together before. Look for the Flyers to bow out in the second round of the playoffs once again.
However, the future looks incredibly bright. Given a year to develop, the core of Claude Giroux, JVR, Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds, Danny Briere, Chris Pronger, and perhaps eventually Sean Couturier will be a strong contender for the Stanley Cup in 2012-13.
Flyers fans have waited for a Stanley Cup since 1975, and I think the time will come soon for this team.