Philadelphia Flyers: 10 Reasons They Have Gotten Better This Summer

Jason Sapunka@moreSapunkaCorrespondent IIJuly 27, 2011

Philadelphia Flyers: 10 Reasons They Have Gotten Better This Summer

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    The Philadelphia Flyers ruined their team.

    Paul Holmgren is out of his mind.

    A cup-contending franchise set themselves back.

    Mike Schmidt once said "Philadelphia is the only city, where you can experience the thrill of victory and the agony of reading about it the next day."

    So, it is no surprise that this summer's moves have sparked a number of negative reactions.

    From the "How could you let him go?" to the "Why would you get him?" amidst a number of "WHY? JUST WHY?" reactions, it might be hard to see that this offseason actually improved the Flyers.

    Here is why.

Ville Leino Plays for a Different Team

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    The Philadelphia Flyers were pleased to see Ville Leino contribute 21 points in 19 playoff games during the 2010 run to the Stanley Cup finals.

    It was also nice to have a player with a $800,000 salary contribute 53 points while playing for Philadelphia's top scoring line.

    However, a 27-year-old who has scored 30 career NHL goals is not worth $27 million. The Buffalo Sabres bit hard on Leino when they signed him to a six-year deal worth an average of $4.5 million per season.

    Leino is a playmaker who relies on puck-handling skills to create openings in the offensive zone.

    Unfortunately, confidence in that playing style contributes to the winger's downside.

    Leino will often lose control or possession of the puck attempting to create a play that isn't a veritably smart option. Turnovers are a common result of his forced plays.

    Though his puck-hanlding skills are somewhat effective, they are less than reliable and defensive pressure involving physical play is an easy counteraction.

    Furthermore, Leino's hesitancy to shoot the puck causes well setup plays to go wasted; it is not uncommon to see Leino pass the puck despite being wide open in the slot for a scoring chance.

    With Leino gone, the Flyers may lose the occasional play setup, but the team will certainly not miss the blown opportunities and turnovers created by him.

Kris Versteeg Was Traded

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    This photo is a microcosm of Kris Versteeg's performance; everyone around him is doing the essential work as he seems lost and useless.

    At times, the winger appeared to be skating around without any idea of what was occurring in connection with the flow of the game.

    When Philadelphia made the move at the trade deadline, acquiring one of the defending Stanley Cup champions' leading scorers seemed like an excellent addition to an incredibly deep offense.

    However, the 24-year-old winger was a disappointing acquisition.

    Despite moving from a mediocre team to one of the deepest and highest-scoring offenses in the NHL, Versteeg somehow saw a drop in his points-per-game average.

    Versteeg had been on pace for 54 points prior to the trade, but performed at the pace of a 33-point player in Philadelphia.

Captain Complacency and Sea Isle Jeff Are Gone

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    The trades that sent Mike Richards to Los Angeles and Jeff Carter to Columbus shocked the NHL world on June 23rd.

    Though many were at a loss of explanation for why two core members of the squad were packed away, the complacency showed by these players should be more than enough of a reason to understand the moves.

    Both Richards and Carter had career highs of 80-or-more point seasons in the 2008-2009 season.

    Richards scored 30 goals along with 50 assists in a Selke-nominated season.

    In addition to these accolades, the 23-year-old captain was known as a physical player who would not only run over the opposition, but was willing to fight for his team also.

    In that same season, Carter's 46 goals was second only to Alex Ovechkin's 56. With 38 assists, Carter totaled a team-leading 84 points.

    However, neither player has come close to matching those numbers since, with both scoring no higher than the 66 points each totaled this past season.

    Though it may be entirely speculative to say off-ice issues affected the on-ice performance of these players, the numbers do not lie.

    Paul Holmgren did not have to make these trades, and no GM trades a captain and leading goal-scorer on the same day without having good reason behind it.

    Personality issues hindered the continued improvement and effectiveness of these two players. With the lackluster attitude eliminated from the Flyers' locker room, the team will be focused on winning this upcoming season.

    (More in-depth analysis of the Richards and Carter trades can be found by clicking the corresponding links).

Leadership Is No Longer a Question

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    Mike Richards was once thought to be a player worthy of captaincy in one of hockey's most passionate cities.

    Unfortunately, the part-time clothing designer/model's leadership was frequently questioned.

    Richards had difficulty dealing with media in Philadelphia, and closed out his time in a Flyers uniform by complaining to referees, lacking emotion and showing a disregard for his teammates.

    With Richards gone, an actual leader will be wearing the "C" next season, and there will be no question for who the Flyers should follow.

    Chris Pronger seems the most likely candidate. Three different times in his career, his presence on a team has transformed that team into a Stanley Cup finalist. He was also captain of the St. Louis Blues.

    Danny Briere served as captain of the Buffalo Sabres prior to signing with Philadelphia. The high-scoring forward was instrumental in leading a season-saving comeback against the Buffalo Sabres this opening round.

    With the Flyers one period away from elimination in Game 6 of the opening round, it was Briere who stood up and got the team fired up for the final period.

    After the Richards and Carter trades, Briere told

    "[T]he message that I got from that was … our goal is to win the Stanley Cup. The last two years, we had the team to win the Stanley Cup and we didn't succeed, we didn't reach our goal. This organization isn't going to sit back and let the parade go by. That's the message I got. Come next year everybody better be ready to go. They're not going to just sit back."

    Briere understands the goal of the franchise.

    In addition to Pronger and Briere, Kimmo Timonen was captain of the Nashville Predators and will continue to contribute in this department.

Jaromir Jagr

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    Another leader in the locker room will be two-time NHL captain Jaromir Jagr.

    Though Jagr's veteran presence and offensive production are helpful and welcome additions to the Flyers, the most important aspect of Jagr's acquisition may be his size.

    At 240 pounds, Jagr will be the heaviest forward on Philadelphia's roster, and will be a menace for opposing teams to stop.

    During last season's sweep at the hands of the Boston Bruins, it was clear that the Flyers lacked the ability to compete against a large, physical team.

    Jagr gives Philadelphia the size necessary to win puck battles in the offensive zone.

Holmgren Established Additional Playoff Experience

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    Paul Holmgren's moves this offseason have made it clear Philadelphia has only one goal; to win the Stanley Cup.

    In addition to trading away the complacent Richards and Carter, the Flyers have added a proven leader in Jaromir Jagr.

    The other two free agency signings of July 1st were Maxime Talbot and Andreas Lilja. All three players have won a Stanley Cup. This seems to be more than a coincidence.

    Jagr, Talbot and Lilja have been to where Holmgren wants this team to be.

JVR Will Breakout in 2011-2012

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    James van Riemsdyk was the Philadelphia Flyers' compensation for a franchise-worst season in 2006-2007. After Chicago selected Patrick Kane with the first overall pick, the Middletown, New Jersey native was selected second.

    During the playoffs of just his second NHL season, "JVR" tied for first among Flyers goal-scorers, and contributed the third-most points of the team.

    As a power forward, van Riemsdyk needed time to develop his style for effectiveness at the NHL level.

    During the series against Boston, JVR was one of the few effective Flyers, showing the ability to skate through an otherwise effective defense.

    JVR's tenacious drive to the net is paired with a 100 mph slap shot—a combination that has the young winger primed to dominate.

    Though it is simply a matter of development, JVR will certainly contribute more to the Flyers next season than he did in 2010-2011, effectively making the team better.

Offensive Depth Was Not Lost

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    Amidst the flurry of unloaded players, the Flyers have added just as many adequate replacements.

    Wayne Simmonds produced 40 points in the 2009-2010 season before dropping to 30 in this past season in what Simmonds called "a down year" in an interview.

    Also acquired from Los Angeles is hockey's No. 1 rated prospect, Brayden Schenn.

    Schenn was impressive at the Flyers' prospect camp, scoring a hat trick during the scrimmage. Figuring out how his skills will translate to the NHL is an uncertain task.

    During the 2009-2010 WHL season, Schenn totaled 99 points in 59 games. That same season, Jordan Eberle played in 57 games and logged 106 points. This past season, Eberle played in 69 NHL games and scored 43 points.

    Schenn could very well be a 40-point player this season.

    The Flyers have seven returning forwards next season (Danny Briere, Scott Hartnell, Claude Giroux, James van Riemsdyk, Jody Shelley, Blair Betts, Andreas Nodl). The remaining five spots have been replaced with new teammates.

    Here is a look at the players gone and their replacements.

    Former Player 2010-2011 Point Total Replacement Expected 2011-2012 Point Total
    Jeff Carter 66 Jaromir Jagr 40-55
    Mike Richards 66 Jakub Voracek 40-55
    Ville Leino 53 Wayne Simmonds 35-50
    Kris Versteeg 33* Brayden Schenn 30-45
    Darroll Powe 17 Maxime Talbot 15-25

    *Versteeg's total was computed by multiplying his point-per-game total in Philadelphia over 82 games.

    Though the offensive production will likely see a decrease, to say the depth is gone would be dishonest.

    The 2011-2012 Philadelphia Flyers are still capable of scoring 230 or more goals as a team.

Defense Is Still Intact

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    Despite being backed by a goaltender regarded as backup-caliber talent, the Flyers managed to be 11th in the league in fewest goals-against.

    With a healthy Chris Pronger, the starting six is challenged by few teams in the league in terms of defensive prowess.

    The group consisting of Pronger, Kimmo Timonen, Andrej Meszaros, Braydon Coburn and Matt Carle will be returning next season.

    Sixth man Sean O'Donnell has been replaced by Andreas Lilja, who is relatively similar in terms of potential contributions to the team.

    Philadelphia's defense is one of the NHL's best.

Philadelphia Has a Starting Goalie

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    After more than a decade of disappointing and subpar netminders, the Philadelphia Flyers have signed Ilya Bryzgalov.

    The Flyers enter the season without doubt and uncertainty between the pipes—a concept the organization has been unable to call familiar since 1996.

    The accolades for Bryzgalov are plentiful, but in short he's a Vezina-nominated goaltender who can carry any team. Holmgren didn't fix the goaltending problem just by acquiring a proven starter, he signed one of the game's best.

    Furthermore, with rookie Serge Bobrovsky backing Bryzgalov, the Flyers have one of the best pairs of goaltenders in the entire league.

    Bobrovsky was Philadelphia's No. 1 last season, playing 54 games that resulted in a .915 save percentage and 2.59 goals-against-average.

    The player that was good enough to keep Philadelphia near the top of the league standings for most of the regular season is now the backup.

    With Bryzgalov and Bobrovsky playing behind an excellent defense, paired with a talented, deep offense, there is no reason to believe the Flyers aren't any further away from winning the Stanley Cup than they were last season.

    Paul Holmgren's moves solved all of Philadelphia's problems; the Flyers are a better team heading into the 2011-2012 season.