After a whirlwind offseason that has resulted in (at least) 8 new faces on the Flyers roster, many have been left wondering who on the current Flyers roster is not just another trade-able chip?
Former homegrown Flyers Captain and face of the franchise Mike Richards was once thought to be such a player. According to Paul Holmgren, that was not the case. Ditto for leading goal scorer Jeff Carter, who was recently signed to a decade-long extension.
All of this begs the question: Which Flyers are indispensable?
When he was acquired from the Tampa Bay Lightning last offseason for a second-round pick, many believed Andrej Meszaros was a project—a question mark brought in for depth purposes only.
One season and one Barry Ashbee Trophy later, Meszaros looks to have taken the first steps towards establishing himself as one of the anchors of the Flyer blueline. With many questioning whether Kimmo Timonen still has the ability to be one of the league's premiere defenders, Matt Carle's ability to play without his future Hall of Fame partner (Chris Pronger), Braydon Coburn's long-term future with the club, Chris Pronger's health and durability and Andreas Lilja's everything, it seems that the Flyers are going to need Meszaros to elevate his game even further if they are to find success in 2011-2012.
When he was first drafted by the Senators, many believed Meszaros had the talent to be a dominant all-around defenseman. During his first seasons playing alongside Zdeno Chara, he looked to be well on his way to meeting or exceeding those expectations. But after a rough few years in Ottawa and Tampa Bay, he looks to finally have gotten his career back on track.
The great news for Flyer fans is that Meszaros still has incredible potential left for growth and he's only beginning to enter his prime. The not-so-great news is that for the team to tread water while Chris Pronger recovers, Meszaros will need to play better than he did last season. A lot better.
During the 2011 NHL Playoffs, James van Reimsdyk had what many Flyer fans believe was a coming-out party at the expense of the Sabres and Bruins. In just 11 games, JVR managed 70 shots on net and nearly 50 scoring chances. In almost every game, JVR was the most dominant player on the ice, bar none.
Even when he was matched-up against the Bruins' monstrous captain and former Norris Trophy winner Zdeno Chara, JVR continued to impose his will. Quite simply, JVR put on one of the most dominant playoff performances in recent memory through two rounds. The scariest part for every other team in the league is that JVR still has a lot of room to grow and develop. Should he ever reach his full potential, 50 or more goals in a season could be the norm.
If the Flyers hope to return to the playoffs in 2012, they will need JVR to continue his stellar play. With Jeff Carter and his 36 goals now in Columbus, he will have an opportunity to be "the shoot-first guy" on the Flyers' top line with Claude Giroux and Jaromir Jagr. Should JVR increase his shots taken to four per game while maintaining a relatively average 12.1% shooting percentage, he would be on-pace to score 39 goals in 2011-2012.
For the Flyers to effectively compensate for the loss of Carter and Richards, JVR needs to step up in a big way. He needs to be a force to be reckoned with night in and night out. And he needs to shoot the puck a lot more than he did for most of 2010-2011.
At the tender age of 23, Claude Giroux has already established himself as one of the premiere young offensive playmakers in the NHL. Like JVR and Meszaros, Giroux still has plenty of room to grow. He's been compared by many scouts to a young Peter Forsberg—and he has the raw talent to make good on that lofty praise. Whether or not he ever will is the question.
Already Giroux has demonstrated he's capable of scoring (76 points in 2010-2011), playing exceptional defense (+20) and finding success playing against the opposition's top defenders (12 points in 11 playoff games). With the loss of playmaking center Mike Richards, Giroux will be expected to continue his ascent to the ranks of the NHL's elite playmakers.
In each of the past two seasons, Giroux has upped his production by at least 20 points, a trend he'll need to continue in 2011-2012 while young guns Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier, Jakub Voracek and Wayne Simmonds develop and find their niche on the team.
Giroux will likely not wear the "C" in 2011-2012, but the departure of Richards and Carter has cemented his status as one of the young faces of the Flyer franchise. Younger players will no doubt look to him for leadership and guidance on and off the ice. The Flyers need Claude Giroux to take his game to the next level on and off the ice in 2011-2012. If he does, look out.
In today's NHL, there are a number of players who have the potential to be game-changers. There are very few who have the potential to change the course of a franchise. And there are only a handful of players with that potential that have ever made good on it. Chris Pronger is one of them.
Since the lockout, Chris Pronger is the only player to have led three different franchises to the Stanley Cup Finals (EDM, ANA, PHI) and one of only nine active players to be a member of the "Triple Gold Club", having won an Olympic Gold Medal, an IIHF World Championship Gold Medal, and the Stanley Cup.
When healthy, he is widely considered to be one of the NHL's top 3 defenseman, even at age 36. And off the ice, he is recognized as one of the great locker room leaders in the game, having worn the "C" for two different franchises (ANA and STL) and the "A" for one other (PHI).
With Pronger already three weeks behind in his off-season training due to back surgery, it is looking increasingly likely the team will be without its future Hall of Fame blueline anchor for at least the first part of the 2011-2012 season. When he does return, there is no player on the roster that will be more critical to the team's success than Pronger.
A healthy Chris Pronger has the ability to lead a young, inexperienced team to the promised land, dominate play on the ice and make a lot of growing pains disappear.
When Paul Holmgren traded Mike Richards and Jeff Carter and allowed Ville Leino to walk, he was making a statement: Peter Laviolette is our guy. In the weeks and months leading up to those blockbuster moves, rumors of dissent between head coach and captain had been swirling. Many in the media questioned whether or not the "Old City Crew" had stopped listening to their coach.
With those moves, the Flyers put everyone in the locker room on notice: Peter Laviolette is here to stay. Usually when unrest between a franchise player and a head coach arises, the coach is fired and the player stays. But when Paul Holmgren realized the same situation that led to John Stevens' dismissal in 2009 was occurring with Mike Richards again, he refused to make the same mistake twice. Just to make sure everyone got the message, he shipped Richards' best friend and leading scorer Jeff Carter to Columbus and allowed Old City crew member Ville Leino to take his act to Buffalo via free agency.
After these moves, there is no doubt that the Flyers locker room belongs to Peter Laviolette and his presumptive captain, Pronger. And any hope the Flyers have of finding success in 2011-12 rests on Laviolettes' broad and fiery shoulders. He certainly has the talent and the ability to lead this Flyers team to the promised land. Paul Holmgren has given him all of the pieces he needs to succeed. The rest is up to Peter.