After a whirlwind offseason that saw the team jettison ten players from its playoff roster, the Flyers barely resemble the team that came within two games of capturing Lord Stanley's Cup just one short year ago.
Gone is team captain and franchise cornerstone Mike Richards. Gone is the team's best pure goal scorer in Jeff Carter. Gone are two-way wingers Kris Versteeg and Ville Leino. Gone are energy players and fan-favorites Dan Carcillo and Darroll Powe. Gone are veteran role players Brian Boucher and Sean O'Donnell.
In their place, the Flyers have added veterans Max Talbot and Andreas Lilja, promising young forwards Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier, Wayne Simmonds, and Jakub Voracek, top-tier goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, and future Hall of Fame RW Jaromir Jagr.
But can all of these acquisitions offset the departures of so many key players? Read on to find out.
As always, comments are welcome and appreciated.
During his time in Pittsburgh, Max Talbot's hard-nosed play, team-first attitude, and clutch playmaking made him a fan favorite. And it is for those qualities that the Flyers signed Talbot to a five-year deal on the first day of free agency.
While he has never developed into a consistent top-six forward, Talbot does possess some offensive skill. His strength and value, however, lie in his defensive and special teams prowess, where he ranks as one of the best in the world. The Flyers PK unit was rather pedestrian in 2010-2011, finishing 15th in the league. The departures of Richards and Powe, two of the Flyers best penalty killers, figure to weaken the unit further.
The acquisition of Talbot should help the Flyers not only overcome the loss of those two players, but improve the unit overall. During his time in Pittsburgh, the Penguins were one of the top units in the NHL primarily because of his ability to consistently stifle the oppositions top powerplay unit. There is no reason to think that Talbot can't help improve the Flyers powerplay by at least one or two percentage points.
Aside from improving the powerplay, Talbot should provide leadership in the locker room and a veteran presence on the ice. He's known around the league as one of the best "glue guys"—a trait that will be invaluable in uniting the Flyers locker room full of new faces.
On the stat sheet, the Flyers can probably expect about 25 points (12G, 13A) from Talbot, which would be an average year for him. He certainly has the potential to score 30 or even 35 points, but for the sake of being conservative, let's figure he has an average year.
Andreas Lilja was brought in to replace the departed Sean O'Donnell and serve as a number 6 or 7 defenseman for the team. He does not bring much in the way of offensive skill, but he is a solid positional defender who blocks shots, makes solid (if conservative) decisions with the puck, and plays the PK well. The downside to Lilja is that he's frequently injured and has missed over 150 games during the past four seasons.
Lilja will likely see some additional ice time while Chris Pronger recovers from surgery, but once Pronger returns it seems likely he will be asked to serve as a seventh defenseman for the club while youngster Oskars Bartulis gets a chance to showcase what he can do at the NHL level.
In addition to his solid defensive play, Lilja also brings Stanley Cup experience as a member of the Red Wings 2008 Championship team.
Should Lilja receive consistent playing time, he does not figure to contribute significantly on the scoreboard. His career averages of 2 goals and 8 assists for 10 points are a safe estimate of his productivity, assuming he's able to stay healthy.
While Jagr no longer possess the monstrous legs of his youth, the future Hall of Fame RW does still own one of the best pairs of hands in the world, along with exceptional vision and size. Make no mistake: this Jagr is not the Jagr of old, the player who captured four consecutive Art Ross trophies, a pair of Lester B. Pearson Awards, and a Hart Trophy. The current version of Jagr is a shadow of his former self, but if the IIHF World Championships were any indication, that shadow can still be very dangerous.
Anyone expecting Jagr to be flat-out dominant on a consistent basis is going to be disappointed. A more realistic expectation is for Jagr to provide stability on the powerplay, some offensive playmaking, superior finishing ability around the net and occasional dominance for shorter stretches of the game. He will most likely be placed on the Flyers top unit with emerging superstar Claude Giroux and powerhouse James van Reimsdyk, so Jagr should have plenty of opportunities to use his massive frame and killer instincts to capitalize on chances generated by Giroux and van Reimsdyk.
The acquisition of Jagr should also help stabilize the Flyers powerplay, as he is more than capable of quarterbacking the unit from the half-boards. With Chris Pronger's status still uncertain, having a veteran presence on the PP should do wonders for this young Flyers team.
In terms of actual productivity, its seems fair to expect Jagr to at least match Ville Leino's total of 53 points over the course of an 82-game season. A fairly conservative estimate of 23 goals and 32 assists for 55 points is all the team really needs from Jagr. Anything more is a bonus.
Over the past two seasons, Ilya Bryzgalov has quietly emerged as one of the primiere netminders in the NHL while playing for a mediocre-at-best Coyotes team. His 78 wins during that span are the most of any NHL netminder, his SV% of 0.921 is solid, and his 2.39 GAA is excellent.
In terms of actual ability, Bryzgalov has a plus glove side and an average to above-average blocker side, with decent lateral mobility and exceptionally good positional awareness and technique. He can be streaky at times, but he possesses the fundamentals and awareness to consistently make the first save against NHL-caliber competition, even on "off" nights. When he's "on", he can be flat-out dominant.
The Flyers signed Bryzgalov to a monster 9-year deal worth over $51.5 million with the expectation that he will be team's first legitimate franchise goalie since Ron Hextall. Judging by his recent body of work, it seems he is more than capable of filling the void that has haunted the Flyers for the better part of two decades.
Bryzgalov's numbers figure to receive a substantial boost from playing behind one of the NHL's most talented defense corps and one of the best two-way teams in the league. Flyers coach Peter Laviolette prides himself on putting a well-conditioned and defensively responsible team on the ice night in and night out, something which Bryzgalov should have no problem with whatsoever.
The Flyers should expect Bryzgalov to improve on his past two season's numbers in 2011-2012. He'll be playing on a much better team and behind one of the best defenses in the league. The presence of Sergei Bobrovsky should both motivate and aid Bryzgalov, as "Bob" can take 20-25 starts away from Bryzgalov in order to keep Bryz fresh down the stretch.
I'd expect Bryzgalov to play about 60 games, finishing 37-18-5 with a 2.26 GAA and 0.926 SV%.
When he was taken with the seventh pick in the 2007 NHL entry draft, many believed Voracek would quickly establish himself as one of the NHL's premiere playmakers. During his first three NHL seasons, the young Czech has yet to live up to those lofty expectations, but has not been a bust by any means. To date, he has recorded 134 points (39G, 95A), which is more than Jeff Carter had to that point and only 7 points shy of Mike Richards' total.
There is no question that Voracek possesses the talent to blossom into a dominant scoring winger. He has a rare combination of size, speed, and skill, along with excellent vision and a very good hockey sense. The Flyers are hoping that another Czech player on the roster who once had a similar scouting report (Jaromir Jagr) will help him make good on his potential. This is not to say that Voracek will ever be the next Jagr; it is merely to suggest that he has the talent to become a point per game or better player.
Like the departed Ville Leino before him, Voracek should benefit from playing alongside Danny Briere. The difference is that Voracek is far more talented than Leino and possesses the ability to dominate on the wing, something Ville never was able to do on a consistent basis.
By all indications, Voracek seems primed for a breakout season, just as Carter was before the 2008-2009 season. While I don't expect him to match Carter's totals of 46 goals and 38 assists for 84 points, its certainly reasonable to think that Voracek could net 21 goals and 41 assists for 62 points.
Few remember that only about a year ago, Wayne Simmonds was discussed as the centerpiece of a deal for Ilya Kovalchuk—a price Kings GM Dean Lombardi balked at—before he was sent to the Devils. In the interim, very little has changed. Simmonds is still considered to have the size and skills to develop into a prototypical power forward in the mold of someone like Milan Lucic.
In 2010-2011, Simmonds himself admitted he had a "down year" and has been working diligently to bounce back and continue his development. Aside from his offensive ability, Simmonds brings a very solid two-way game to the table, as well as a non-stop motor and a very physical brand of hockey. He is a team-first player and isn't afraid to drop the gloves or dish out big hits in the corners to stand up for teammates. He isn't afraid to play in the rough areas of the ice, especially in front of the net and he doesn't shy away from contact. All of those traits should endear him to both Laviolette and the Flyer fans.
In terms of offensive production, look for Simmonds to take the next step in his development. Like Voracek, he has yet to break the 20-goal mark as a professional. And like Voracek, that will change in 2011-2012. Simmonds now bears a striking resemblance to the Milan Lucic of 2009-2010. Both had significant offensive upside but had yet to fill out their frame, and both play a very similar brand of hockey. Neither is a natural goal scorer, but both have solid offensive abilities and upside. In case you were wondering, Lucic had a breakout season the very next year, notching 30 goals and 32 assists for 62 points.
While I don't expect Simmonds to score 62 points, I do think it's reasonable to assume he'll score around 23 goals and 25 assists for 48 points.
Before the start of the 2010-2011 NHL season, Sean Couturier was considered to be the consensus #1 overall pick in the 2011 NHL Draft. Unfortunately, Couturier contracted a particularly serious case of mononucleosis that set his development back and allowed other lesser-known prospects like Ryan Nuget-Hopkins to leapfrog him on many draft boards.
Despite the bad case of mono, the 18-year-old Couturier had a fine season for the Drummondville Voltigeurs, scoring 96 points (36G-60A) in only 58 regular season games to finish fourth in scoring in the QMJHL. During his previous season (2009-2010), Couturier led the QMJHL in scoring as a 17-year-old. As a minor historical note, the last 17-year-old to lead the QMHL in scoring was a kid named Sidney Crosby.
Couturier has been likened by many scouts to a young Joe Thornton or a more offensively gifted Jordan Staal. He possesses a large frame (6'4"), excellent on-ice vision and hands, a well-developed two-way game, and a very good (if under-used) shot. He will have to continue to work to fill out his frame and improve his skating, but all indications are that Couturier will develop into a legitimate top line center at the NHL level.
The problem the Flyers face is what to do with their most recent draft pick. At his age, Couturier is not eligible to play in the AHL, leaving him with only two options: either playing in the NHL or returning to the QMJHL. At this point, there is little Couturier can gain from playing against inferior competition in the Q. Flyers GM Paul Holmgren has already stated that he believes Couturier is NHL ready and expects him to compete for a roster spot in training camp.
Should Couturier make the Flyers opening day roster, its reasonable to expect him to contribute between 25 and 50 points. At this point, an estimate of 40 points (18G-22A) seems to be fair.
To give some context, Jordan Staal, a player to whom Couturier has drawn frequent comparisons, scored 42 points (29G-13A) in his rookie season. Thornton scored 41 points (16G-25A) in his first full NHL season. Logan Couture, another player to whom Couturier has drawn some comparisons, scored 56 points (32G-24A) in his rookie season. A lot will depend on Couturier's ability to fill out his frame before training camp and his ability to acclimate himself to the Flyers system. If he is able to do that, he could be a solid third-line contributor for the Flyers in 2011-2012.
The crown jewel of Paul Holmgren's offseason acquisitions was the 19-year-old Brayden Schenn, widely considered to be the best player in the world not playing in the NHL. The Saskatoon native was the fifth overall pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, and has since established himself as an exceptional talent both in the WHL and in International competition. He recently took home MVP honors from the 2011 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships, as well as All-Star and Top Forward honors.
Scouts have frequently compared Schenn to the player for whom he was traded: Mike Richards, although they are quick to add that Schenn has significantly more offensive upside. He has also been likened to Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks—lofty praise to be sure.
The scouting report on Schenn says that he plays a solid two-way game but possesses the high-end skill set to allow him to dominate at the NHL level. He has very good poise and patience with the puck, exceptional on-ice vision, and a very dangerous wrist shot. He isn't afraid to partake in the physical parts of the game or to drop the gloves if provoked. He's a team-first player and a natural leader on and off the ice. If that sounds familiar, it's because that report is virtually identical to both Richards' (who didn't have the "high-end skill set") and Toews' (who did).
Flyers GM Paul Holmgren has basically said Schenn will be on the opening day roster, although he did not mention where, going as far as to say that Schenn can play center and wing equally well. Should Couturier make the team, it is likely he would center a line with Simmonds and Schenn.
In terms of production, Schenn figures to be a bit above Richards' rookie total of 34 points (11G-23A) but probably a shade below Toews' total of 54 points (24G-30A), putting him at around 44 points (17G-27A).
The departures of Richards (23-43-66), Carter (36-30-66), Leino (19-34-53), Versteeg (21-25-46), Zherdev (16-6-22), Carcillo (4-2-6), O'Donnell (1-17-18) and Powe (7-10-17) represent a projected loss of 127 goals and 167 assists for a total of 294 points.
The acquisitions of Talbot (12-13-25), Lilja (2-8-10), Jagr (23-32-55), Voracek (21-41-62), Simmonds (23-25-48) and Schenn (17-27-44) represent an projected gain of 98 goals and 146 assists for a total of 244 points before Couturier is considered. With Couturier's projected production added, those totals increase to 116 goals and 168 assists for a total of 284 points.
Assuming the presence of Ilya Bryzgalov in net reduces the Flyers goals allowed per game from 2.63 to 2.39 (a reasonable assumption), the team will effectively gain an additional 24 goals, which should help bridge the gap between the goals lost and the goals gained.
In short, the Flyers project to have a team in 2011-2012 that is every bit as capable of contending as was the 2010-2011 squad.