To say the Philadelphia Flyers will have a new look in 2011-2012 is a bit of an understatement. Gone from the team's top-six are franchise cornerstones Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. In their place, a talented young gun and a future Hall-of-Famer looking to prove he can still play hockey at the highest level.
The offseason of change is over. The top-six forward core has been set. The Flyers are scheduled to open training camp in less than three weeks, with their first preseason game shortly thereafter on September 20.
It's time to take a look at what Flyers fans can expect from the team's top forwards next season.
Enjoy! As always, comments are welcome and appreciated.
Claude Giroux continued his meteoric rise to the ranks of the NHL's elite playmakers last season, posting a career-high 76 points during the regular season and an additional 12 in 11 playoff games.
The Flyers' young center has quickly established himself as one of the best all-around playmakers in the NHL—he has superb vision with the puck, a pair of world-class hands and phenomenal creativity with the puck on his stick. To put it simply, Claude Giroux can already do it all—and he's only going to get better.
With Jeff Carter now in Columbus, Giroux will need to become more aggressive in the offensive zone. Last season, he tended to pass up quality scoring chances in favor of distributing the puck to Carter or winger James van Reimsdyk. This season, Giroux will be expected to show off his superior shooting ability more often.
Giroux will also be asked to match-up against opposing teams' top units more often with Mike Richards now playing for the Los Angeles Kings. While Giroux is an above-average defender, he is not yet a shut-down defender in the mold of Richards.
2011 Stats: 82 GP, 25G, 51A, 76P, plus-20
2012 Stats: 80 GP, 31G, 59A, 90P, plus-14
When Jaromir Jagr finally hangs up his skates, he may well go down as the greatest RW in the history of the game. In his prime, Jagr was an absolute monster; an unstoppable combination of size, strength, speed and skill.
The "new" Jagr isn't likely to be the same beast he was in his youth. His once-mighty legs have weakened and his once-electric quickness has slowed. However, his hands, his vision and his prowess with the puck remain.
Jagr won't be breaking any more scoring records this season. He won't even come close. But he is certainly still capable of playing the game at the highest level, as he demonstrated at the 2011 IIHF World Championships.
Flyer fans expecting to see Jagr dominate the way he did in the past will be sorely disappointed.
2011 Stats (KHL): 49 GP, 19G, 31A, 50P, plus-6
2012 Stats (NHL): 75 GP, 22G, 31A, 53P, plus-10
Like Claude Giroux in 2010, James van Riemsdyk had a coming out party during the 2011 Playoffs. In just 11 games, the guy affectionately known as "JVR" registered 70 shots on net and more than 60 scoring chances.
Of his 70 shots, seven found the back of net for JVR, against two of the top three goaltenders in the world, Buffalo's Ryan Miller and Boston's Tim Thomas. Not too shabby for a kid many Philadelphia fans wanted to trade just 12 short months ago.
On paper, JVR is the near-ideal combination of size, speed and skill. He is a natural goalscorer with a world-class shot and killer instincts. As he demonstrated during the Boston series, he is more than capable of consistently beating some of the best defenders in the game (ie. Zdeno Chara) one-on-one to the net. Had it not been for Tim Thomas' out-of-this-world play in goal, it's likely that JVR's goal total would have been double what it was.
With Jeff Carter and his 335 shots gone, JVR will finally have the opportunity to be "the guy" on the Flyers' first line. If his performance next season is anything close to what Flyer fans witnessed during the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs, it could be a magical year for JVR and the Flyers.
2011: 75 GP, 21G, 19A, 40P, plus-15
2012: 80 GP, 37G, 28A, 65P, plus-11
Last season, Danny Briere reminded Flyer fans everywhere why the team had chosen to invest $6.5 million per season in him back in 2007. The diminutive Briere posted a career-high 34 goals to go along with 34 assists in just 77 games, successfully combining his electric offensive playmaking with superior finishing around the net.
Flyers fans will expect more of the same from the soon-to-be 34-year-old Briere as he enters his 14th NHL season. With Richards and Carter gone, Briere should receive even more time on the power play and more ice time overall, allowing him to put his game-changing offensive skills on display more often.
The addition of the bigger, stronger Jakub Voracek to his line should bolster Briere's productivity once the two develop some chemistry, as he tends to perform best when flanked by two larger wingers.
2011 Stats: 77 GP, 34G, 34A, 68P, plus-20
2012 Stats: 75 GP, 27G, 37A, 64P, plus-21
When he was taken with the seventh pick in the 2007 NHL entry draft, many believed Jakub Voracek would quickly establish himself as one of the NHL's premier playmakers.
Through 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 stretch of the imagination. To date, he has recorded 134 points (39G, 95A), more than former Flyer Jeff Carter had registered up to that point in his career and only seven points shy of Mike Richards' total over the same span.
There is no question that Voracek possesses the natural talent to blossom into a dominant scoring winger at the NHL level. He has a rare combination of size, speed and skill, along with excellent vision and a very good hockey sense.
It is likely the Flyers are hoping that another Czech player on the roster who once had a similar scouting report (Jaromir Jagr) will help the young Voracek make good on his potential. That is not to say that Voracek will become 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 was never 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 be in the 55-65 point range in 2011-2012.
2011 Stats (CBJ): 80 GP, 14G, 32A, 46P, minus-3
2012 Stats (PHI): 81 GP, 23G, 36A, 59P, plus-12
Scott Hartnell is probably the most oft-criticized Flyer forward of the past decade.
He's been called "soft," "cheap," "the worst skater in the league" and "overpaid," and the list goes on.
What Flyer fans tend to miss is Hartnell's ability to actually do his job quite well.
He gets under the opposition's skin, crashes the net with reckless abandon, loves to play rough-and-tumble hockey along the boards, is willing to stand in front of the net and has a knack for putting the puck in the net.
Hartnell is never going to be a dominant scoring winger. He will never be a Richard Trophy-winning power forward. He'll likely never be an NHL All-Star.
But none of those things actually matter; Hartnell is very good at doing the job he's asked to do. Before anyone says it, he could do his job better if he'd stay on his skates more often. But other than that, Hartnell is a solid role-player and leader for the Flyers.
2011 Stats: 82 GP, 24G, 25A, 49P, plus-14
2012 Stats: 82 GP, 25G, 22A, 47P, plus-12