The 2011 offseason has been a tumultuous one for Flyers fans. The team traded away a pair of home-grown stars in Jeff Carter and Mike Richards along with about half of the team's 2010-2011 roster. Chris Pronger's health is still in question. Pundits everywhere are saying the team took a massive step back.
But all is not lost. There are plenty of reasons for Flyers fans everywhere to be excited for the 2011-2012 season. And without further ado, they are...
Brayden Schenn is one of those players I cannot wait to see in NHL action. I've read the scouting reports, watched his WHL tapes and attended prospects camp. But I'm most excited to see what he's able to do once he's donned the Orange and Black for the first time.
Every scouting report says that Schenn is going to be a special player at the next level. Everything he's shown thus far in his development only adds fuel to the Schenn-sational fire. He's already being compared to some of the elite centers in the game today in Mike Richards and Jonathan Toews. Some scouts even go as far as to say that Schenn has the potential to be better than either of the aforementioned NHL stars. And if that prophecy rings true, the entire city of Philadelphia should be jumping for joy and writing Paul Holmgren thank-you notes.
But either way, there is good reason for Flyer fans to be excited about Brayden Schenn. He's an amazingly talented kid who plays the game with his heart on his sleeve and a passion in his eyes. He's the kind of player that could be the next "Next One." Look out, Bobby Clarke, Brayden Schenn is coming to town.
Despite their offensive overhaul, Paul Holmgren managed to keep the vast majority of his defense intact. That means assistant captain Cool Kimmo Timonen and, the Boogeyman, Chris Pronger will be returning along with Andrej the Giant, Brayden Coburn, and resident punching-bag Matt Carle. Those five will be joined by either Andreas Lilja, Oskars Bartulis or Erik Gustafsson to round out the team's defense corps.
But why should the fans be excited to see the same players again? Because the Flyers will be returning one of the best (and meanest) defensive units in the NHL. Because Matt Carle may have finally turned a corner and developed into an explosive offensive defenseman. Because Andrej Meszaros is an absolute monster who is only going to improve. Because Braydon Coburn proved last season he can be a big, mean, defensive tower of power. Because the biggest Bully in the NHL, Chris Pronger, finally said he's healthy and ready to go. And because Kimmo Timonen (and his hair) is back for another round.
In all seriousness, the Flyers boast one of the best defensive corps in the entire NHL. The group is a year better and should have improved chemistry after playing together for a full season. With some of the other additions, the big five may finally be able to catch a breath and stay fresh for the postseason.
The Flyers will likely be one of the youngest teams in the NHL up front, with at least five of their projected top-nine forwards under the age of 23. Emerging superstars Claude Giroux and James van Reimsdyk lead a group that includes uber-talented Czech winger Jakub Voracek (21), gritty power forward Wayne Simmonds (22) and top prospect Brayden Schenn (19). The Flyers first-round pick in the 2011 NHL entry draft, Sean Couturier, could also crack the lineup at some point this season, depending on his performance at training camp.
This is the first time in a long time that the Flyers have had this many talented young guns on their roster. Giroux and JVR both have the talent to be superstars in the NHL for a long time. Voracek has all of the talent in the world, but finally has a mentor in Jaromir Jagr that understands what it takes to convince the young winger to make good on it. Simmonds is a born Flyer and virtual Milan Lucic clone who looks poised for a breakout season. And Schenn might just be the most naturally talented player of the bunch.
In most professional sports, it's the young, explosive team that is the most exciting to watch. They may not always win, and they may make some bone-headed mistakes, but they will be exciting to watch.
It's been nearly two decades since a Flyer team has been backstopped by a legitimate franchise goaltender. That dubious distinction came to an end in 2011 when the Flyers opened up the checkbook for former Phoenix Coyotes star netminder Ilya Bryzgalov.
For Flyer fans that have watched in horror as goaltender after goaltender has folded like a cheap lawn chair in the playoffs, as soft goal after soft goal has rolled past a hapless, down-and-out goaltender, as game after game slipped out of reach due to poor goaltending, the wait is now over. A Cool Bryz will enter the Wells Fargo Center come the 2011-2012 season, establishing himself as (Flyer fans hope) a true No. 1 goaltender.
It's been said over and over that great goaltending is like great pitching: it wins championships. While it remains to be seen if that formula will once again ring true for the Philadelphia Phillies, it's clear that the Flyers have finally decided it's time to give it a try.
The Boogeyman Returns.
With the anticipated return of captain Chris Pronger and the acquisition of several big, tough, physical wingers, the Flyers have returned to their roots and re-embraced the model that delivered the franchise a pair of Cups in the mid-70s. Flyer Hockey will once again return to Broad Street. Expect this version of the Flyers to be absolutely ruthless along the boards, punishing on the blueline and physical everywhere in between.
Numerous writers have said that this is now, without question, Chris Pronger's team. And if history is any barometer, Pronger's teams tend to take play with a bit of his very rough edge. For a young team with this many physically-imposing players, I can think of nothing better than watching them take on the personality of Chris Pronger. Love him or hate him, he is one of the NHL's best leaders and best defenseman.
If the Flyers play Pronger's brand of hockey, they will be a very dangerous team to play against, both in statistical and physical terms. The Boogeyman and his minions will return in 2011-2012, much to the dismay of 29 other NHL teams.