The Philadelphia Flyers expect to be highly competitive this season, largely in part to a combination of big players with new expectations and new players with big roles.
Thanks to a new and improved roster, the Flyers have a lot of questions going into 2011-12, but thus far the team has proven to be competitive and hungry for a playoff run.
The success of the team has been the result of many players. Here are five Flyers who could end the season as the team's Most Valuable Player.
Matt Read may be the most unlikely Flyer when it comes to MVP talks.
He isn't a seasoned veteran like Ilya Bryzgalov, Chris Pronger or Daniel Briere. He isn't a first-round pick like Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier or Jakub Voracek. He isn't even a first line player like Claude Giroux, James van Riemsdyk or Jaromir Jagr.
Still, he will still be the center of attention all year long.
Six games into the season, only Claude Giroux has more points. Read has played the point on the power play, a responsibility rarely given to a rookie, and has helped the team kill penalties.
When not contributing to special teams, Read has been dominant in five-on-five, including a four-point performance against the Ottawa Senators.
Team MVP is a big stretch, but he has already established himself as a difference-maker. From there, anything is possible.
Philadelphia's new alternate captain has had an intriguing role in Flyers history during his tenure in Philly.
Daniel Briere was brought to the CIty of Brotherly Love after great success in Buffalo, but spent a few years underperforming before becoming a reliable offensive weapon in Philadelphia's lineup.
His playoff performance in 2010 established Briere as a team leader and difference-maker, and his new position as an alternate captain and veteran on a young offense make him one of the team's natural leaders.
Up-and-comers like Schenn, Couturier and even Giroux will look to Briere to lead by example.
The young stars of this team will not succeed without Briere. Even if his point totals pale in comparison to younger teammates, Briere will be a major reason why this Philadelphia team can score.
Chris Pronger is a no-brainer for MVP consideration.
When the Flyers couldn't beat the Penguins in 2008 and 2009, they made the move to acquire Chris Pronger, who took them to the Cup the following year. When Pronger's hand kept him out of the playoffs in 2011, the team struggled and his inability to perform in the Boston series cost the team dearly.
Now, Pronger is the team's captain and even if his numbers can't match those of his youth, he is among the most important players on the Flyers roster.
His size and presence on the blue line are a given. His leadership on the ice and in the locker room make him the most important cog in the Flyers' wheel.
The captaincy makes him an automatic nominee for team MVP, and his size and attitude on a young, small team could put him over the top.
No Flyers offseason acquisition is costing the team more than Ilya Bryzgalov.
At $5.67 million a year, Bryz was the crown jewel of a busy summer for Flyers GM Paul Holmgren, a move meant to finally put Philly's goaltender questions to rest.
Bryzgalov's impressive career numbers would have made him one of the most desirable goaltenders on the free-agent market in July, but Holmgren circumvented the entire process by acquiring his rights in June.
With a solid defense in front of him, Bryzgalov is expected to put up numbers that are foreign to young Flyers fans that don't remember the Hextall days.
When goaltending has been the chink in the armor for almost 15 years, any reliable netminder has a great chance to become beloved and adopted as one of the city's own in 2011-12.
He doesn't make as much money as Bryzgalov.
He doesn't wear a letter like Briere, Pronger and Kimmo Timonen.
He isn't an out-of-nowhere rookie, like Read, Schenn or Couturier.
But when the Flyers traded Mike Richards and Jeff Carter without adding established offense, the team made a statement: they expected players in the system to make up for the loss of offense.
Claude Giroux got the message.
In the first six games of the year, Giroux has scored five goals and seen time on the power play and penalty kill. He has led by example and has forced talented linemates Jaromir Jagr and James van Riemsdyk to keep up with him.
In his short career, he has drawn controversial comparisons to Peter Forsberg and Mario Lemieux.
At this rate, by season's end, the whole league will understand why.