Injuries are a part of every team’s season—no good coach believes his 20 starting players will be available for all 82 games.
Any time lost due to injury affects a team and can hurt its playoff chances, but certain figures carry more weight than others.
For the Flyers, the following six players need to play all of the important games in order for the team to succeed come springtime.
Few fans knew what to expect when Jagr came on board this summer; the legendary winger had been absent from North American hockey for three full seasons and was pushing 40.
In short order, Jagr proved himself invaluable for two reasons.
First, he could still put up numbers. Paired with rising star Claude Giroux, Jagr found himself with a dynamic forward to help him produce points, and he and Giroux take turns setting one another up.
Despite zero experience playing together prior to this season, Giroux and Jagr seem like a natural pair.
Jagr doesn’t just bring fabulous chemistry, he brings an uncompromising work ethic. Reports indicate that Jagr requested a key to the team’s practice facility so he could work out and improve his abilities at his leisure.
Teammates have supposedly followed his example.
Jagr may not play all 82 games, but if the team loses him for a significant portion of the season, the team's younger skaters may find themselves becoming complacent with their own abilities—something that simply won’t happen when a future Hall of Famer leads the way.
For a little perspective, consider this: Sean Couturier was years away from conception when Jagr played his first NHL game.
Nonetheless, the Flyers’ top pick will play an equally pivotal role in the team’s success this year. His minutes are relatively low, largely because head coach Peter Laviolette has utilized him as a fourth-line center and penalty-killer.
Couturier has excelled in each role, putting up impressive points considering his limited minutes. As a fourth-line player with second- or third-line abilities, Couturier’s value comes in his versatility. Despite his mere 18 years, Sean can fill in for injured players on almost any line, as a center or winger.
Losing Couturier would be a major loss of depth and a low-line scoring threat, as well as meaning added pressure on the penalty kill. Couturier’s presence prevents Giroux from logging the sort of PK minutes that would affect his 5-on-5 contributions.
The Flyers already played six games without Chris Pronger this season and lost three games they should have won while Pronger recovered from an eye injury.
When Mike Richards was traded in June, Pronger was the natural choice as team captain for a reason: He makes everyone on the team work harder.
The unpopular veteran has spent years turning opposing fans against him because of his size, attitude, aggressiveness and outright apathy for his opponents. Even if he may have lost a step with age, his presence on the ice still makes opponents rethink strategies and play conservative hockey.
The Flyers’ power play needs him.
The burly defenseman possesses an uncanny ability to put the puck on net, or find a player with an open shot. When Pronger is on the ice, the Flyers force opponents to play Philly’s game.
Standing at a gracious five-feet and 10-inches, Danny Briere should not be one of the biggest factors on the ice for the Flyers, but night in and night out, he is.
On a team filled with players at either the dawn or twilight of their careers, Briere is the bridge. He brings experience and energy, leadership and experimentation. More than any player on the team, Briere can make an average linemate good.
As a second-line player, Briere has become the definition of depth. He may lack Giroux’s highlight-reel style of play at times, but he makes defenses think twice about becoming too aggressive as he finds openings all over the ice.
For such a small guy, Briere makes a huge impact. Without him on the ice, the Flyers’ offense runs the risk of becoming one-dimensional.
Netminder Sergei Bobrovsky proved himself a very capable player in 2010-11, but there is a good reason the Flyers invested $51 million in Ilya Bryzgalov last June—he is a difference-maker in net.
For a team that spent years closing its eyes and making a wish every time it sent a new goaltender out in the playoffs, having a reliable net presence is the first step toward committing to a long Stanley Cup run.
If Bryzgalov gets hurt, or his performance begs a change in net, the Flyers will find themselves relying on stellar play from the rest of the team to make up for inconsistent netminding—much like the disastrous first-round victory against Buffalo last playoff year.
And it is very likely that future playoff runs without a reliable netminder will result in an even earlier exit for Philadelphia.
When GM Paul Holmgren jettisoned the contracts of Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Ville Leino, one implied suggestion was this: Claude Giroux will score enough to make sure the team can compete.
Thus far, Holmgren has not been wrong.
Giroux has notched 19 points in 15 games, leading the entire team. Nine of Giroux’s points have been goals.
His numbers alone do not properly advertise Giroux’s importance. He is a leader on the ice, he is utilized on the power play and penalty kill, he plays disciplined but aggressive hockey, and he knows how to fire up his team.
As a team trying to combine the experience of veterans with the energy of young players, Giroux is the constant that can play both roles better than any.
If Giroux is not consistently on the ice to motivate his team, the Flyers will fall apart come the make-it-or-break-it games.