After the massive overhaul Paul Holmgren and Co. gave the Flyers during the 2011 offseason, what can fans expect from the team in the 2011-2012 season?
Can the new-look Flyers, with youth, size, and speed, compete against veteran, playoff-hardened teams like the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning in the fiercely competitive Eastern Conference? Will Claude Giroux and James van Reimsdyk embrace their new roles as faces of the storied Flyer franchise? Can Ilya Bryzgalov live up to the $51.5 million payday he received?
Bold predictions to all of these questions and more await.
As always, comments are always welcome and always appreciated.
When the Flyers made JVR the No. 2 overall pick in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, they believed they had found the next great power forward. Through most of the 2010-2011 regular season, he appeared to be a solid, if not spectacular, player. One who showed flashes of brilliance, but still had a lot of work to do if he hoped to prove himself worthy of being the second overall pick.
But during the latter part of the season and into the playoffs, it all seemed to finally come together for JVR. He was, quite simply, one of the most dominant players in the playoffs through the first two rounds. He showcased his speed and strength. He imposed his will on two strong defensive teams game-planning against him. In just 11 games, JVR recorded 70 shots on goal, with seven of them finding the back of the net. Seven goals in 11 games on two of the top three goaltenders in the world. Not too shabby for a 22-year-old kid.
In 2011-2012, look for JVR to continue to blossom. With Jeff Carter and his 449 attempted shots (335 on net, 114 missed) in Columbus, van Reimsdyk will have many more opportunities to pull the trigger on his exceptionally good shot. With the arrival of playmaking great Jaromir Jagr, he should have ample opportunities to use his size, speed and skill to make life miserable for opposing defenders and netminders.
Even if he attempts only four shots per game (significantly less than his 6.4 shots/game during the playoffs), JVR will be on-track to score 40 goals, assuming he continues to shoot a fairly average 12.1 percent. With van Reimsdyk, it was never a question of talent. It was a question of whether or not he'll ever have the chance to be a No. 1 option on a line with Jeff Carter and Claude Giroux.
Well, Jeff Carter is gone and Claude Giroux showed the world that he's content to be an all-around offensive playmaker. The No. 1 option role belongs to JVR, and 40 goals is certainly possible.
The silky-smooth Giroux continued to establish himself as one of the league's elite playmakers with a 76-point campaign in 2010-2011. He then went on to lead the Flyers in scoring during the playoffs, with 12 points in 11 games despite receiving a lot of attention from the Sabres and Bruins. And, just for good measure, Chris Pronger wasn't on the ice. No one was distracting teams for focusing their full attention on the Flyers' 23-year-old star.
Giroux can expect more of the same treatment in 2011-2012. With Mike Richards and Jeff Carter gone, he will be expected to be a focal point of the Flyers offensive attack again. And if the playoffs were any indication, he's more than ready to take the next step. I've personally heard professional scouts comparing Giroux to a young Peter Forsberg and, the more I see of him, the more I think they are dead-on with that comparison. He's the complete offensive package and he's only going to get better.
In each of his past two seasons, Giroux has managed to increase his point totals by at least 20, despite the additional attention he has received on the ice. With a blossoming power forward on his left in James van Reimsdyk and an all-time great on his right in Jaromir Jagr, there is no reason to think Giroux can't eclipse the 90-point mark in 2011-2012.
After signing on the dotted line of a nine-year $51.5 million contract, the pressure on Ilya Bryzgalov to perform in Philadelphia will be extreme on a good day. Despite that, expect the Russian netminder to post one of his best seasons in 2011-2012 while playing behind one of the best defense corps in the NHL.
During the past two seasons in Phoenix, Brygalov managed to compile a 2.40 GAA and 0.921 SV percentage. Keep in mind, that's playing in the rough-and-tumble Western Conference with an average-at-best defense corps. The Atlantic division may not be a picnic, but at least Bryzgalov will have some help at both ends of the rink in Philadelphia.
Look for Bryzgalov to post a line of 2.28 GAA, 0.925 SV percentage in 2011-2012. That should get him some attention from the league's GMs when it comes time to cast their ballots for the Vezina. He likely won't win the trophy, but he'll be a contender. And for a Philadelphia team that hasn't had a true No. 1 netminder since Ron Hextall, close is good enough.
When the Philadelphia Flyers traded franchise cornerstone, fan-favorite and Captain Mike Richards to the Kings for a package with Brayden Schenn as its centerpiece, the pressure on Schenn went from "significant" to "absolutely insane." Hailed by many as the best prospect not in the NHL, Mike Richards with more offensive ability and a better version of Jonathan Toews just to name a few, all eyes will be on the 19-year old from Saskatoon to live up to the hype.
And live up to it he will. Look for Schenn to post a solid first season, notching between 35 and 55 points, earning himself some time on the powerplay and eventually replacing Claude Giroux on the penalty kill.
If all goes well for Schenn, he'll end up in the Calder conversation, but likely won't win. If he does, it will likely only be the first of many NHL awards and honors to follow. But to live up to the hype, all he has to do is score 50 points, play shut-down defense and showcase some of his trademarked feistiness to win over the Philadelphia faithful. It's a tall order, to be sure. But it's one Schenn has the talent to fill.
He may be 39 years old. He may have lost a step or two. He may no longer have the monstrous legs he once did. But Jaromir Jagr is still Jaromir Jagr. He still has the world-class hands. He still has the otherworldly hockey sense. He still has the drive and the desire to dominate. And, if his recent conference call was any indication, his detractors have only thrown more fuel on the fire.
Don't get me wrong, I think Jagr's Art Ross days are behind him. But I do think a driven, focused Jagr on a line with Claude Giroux and James van Reimsdyk is certainly capable of scoring 60 points in 2011-2012.
Jagr may not be able to dominate for 40 or 50-second stretches like he did in the '90s, but if the 2011 World Championships were any indication, he can still impose his will on defenders. He can still finish with the best of them. And he can still make plays that will leave opposing teams wondering what in the world happened.
He doesn't need to be the Jagr of old. All the 2011 version of Jaromir Jagr needs to do is be a positive influence in the locker room, steal the media spotlight away from the younger Flyers and score 60 points. If he can do that, he'll be worth every penny of the $3.3 million the Flyers paid him.
If all of the above predictions come to fruition, expect the Flyers to finish atop the Atlantic Division for a second consecutive season in 2011-2012.
The Flyers have the talent to win one of the most competitive divisions in the NHL. With the roster moves they've made to add size and speed along the wings, the leadership change, and a full training camp for Peter Laviolette to whip his new toys into shape, the sky is the limit.
The team's biggest need heading into the offseason was addressed when Ilya Bryzgalov signed what amounts to the last contract of his career. The weaknesses exposed by the Bruins have been fixed with the additions of Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds, Jaromir Jagr and Brayden Schenn.
In 2011-2012, the Flyers will boast one of the largest, quickest and youngest groups of forwards in the NHL. Now that Peter Laviolette finally has the right pieces for his aggressive, forecheck intensive system, look for the Flyers to be the ones dishing out the punishment next season.