Philadelphia Flyers: 12 Things to Be Thankful for in 2011-12

Dan Kelley@@dxkelleyCorrespondent IINovember 24, 2011

Philadelphia Flyers: 12 Things to Be Thankful for in 2011-12

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    As families gather around the table this Thanksgiving, they will discuss all the things that make them feel blessed.  Health, family and friends will dominate the conversation as everyone keeps in mind the most important things in life.

    However, people will also find themselves thinking about the less important blessings, and for the Philadelphia Flyers and their fans, this season has been one offering plenty to be thankful for. 

    Here are 12 blessings the die-hard Flyers fan can count as he or she sits down this Turkey Day.

Paul Holmgren Is the GM

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    Paul Holmgren became the Flyers’ general manager a few weeks into the dismal 2006-07 season, relieving Bobby Clarke of the post.  The Flyers were the worst team in hockey that year, and looked poised for a slow rebuilding process.

    Luckily for Flyers fans, Holmer doesn’t know the meaning of the word “slow.”

    Before free agency had even begun, Holmgren had acquired a reliable netminder in Marty Biron, had traded Peter Forsberg for Ryan Parent, Scottie Upshall and Nashville’s first-round pick, and traded that pick right back to Nashville to land the negotiating rights to Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell.

    The next season, the Flyers advanced all the way to the Eastern Conference Final.

    Similarly, Holmer worked magic this offseason, turning two of his more talented but less motivated centers into Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek, Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier, and signing big-name goalie Ilya Bryzgalov before Bryz had a chance to hit the market.

    Some will accuse Holmer of overspending, but that’s a small price to pay for a GM that is totally willing to do what it takes to put his team on track to the Stanley Cup.

Chris Pronger's Eye Is Okay

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    Philadelphia hockey was subjected to a scary incident on October 24, when defenseman and captain Chris Pronger took an errant stick to the face as Mikhail Grabovski followed through on a shot. 

    Pronger, one of the league’s stereotypical tough-as-nails players, immediately fell to the ice, screaming in agony, a sight witnessed surprisingly rarely considering the violent nature of the sport.  His cries echoed throughout the arena and, holding his eye, Pronger skated quickly to the locker room.

    The whole incident immediately aroused fears of another Bryan Berard situation.  Berard famously took a stick to his eye in 2000, and speculation was that he could lose the eye entirely.  He was able to work his way back after taking a full season off, and continued his NHL career for six more seasons despite having only 20/400 vision in his right eye.

    After time off and bed rest, Pronger was healthy enough to return in November.  He had barely avoided sustaining real damage to the eyeball, an injury that would have changed not only the course of the Flyers’ season, but the continuation of Pronger’s career.

The Party Crew Is Gone

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    When the team is winning, there is nothing more likable than a group of Flyers that go out and have a drink at one of Philadelphia’s hottest spots.  For a fan base that loves hockey, that makes it easy to connect with the players.

    But when the team is struggling, showing up at Mad River and being seen doing a photo tour of Philly’s frat houses is a great way to get the fans to turn against you.  This team is important to us, and it doesn’t sit well when the team doesn’t seem to be as important to the franchise’s biggest names.

    Over the last four years, almost every member of the Flyers’ notorious Old City Crew (Ben Eager, Scottie Upshall, Joffrey Lupul, Dan Carcillo, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter) has been unceremoniously shipped out of the city, and while the new group may be a little more boring, the discipline and reliability shown by Danny Briere, Claude Giroux and James van Riemsdyk sets a much better precedent for a young team. 

    As legend goes, veteran Jaromir Jagr has a key to the Flyers’ Skate Zone in Voorhees, and conducts his own midnight skates and practices.  The habit has been rubbing off on other players, and during the wee hours of the morning when old faces would be trying to throw back another Jager Bomb, this new group is prepping themselves for a Stanley Cup run.

There's a New Car-Bomb in Town

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    Love him or leave him, Dan Carcillo could be just what the doctor ordered on the ice.  He may have had a reputation for taking dumb penalties, but he was fearless and he drew just as many penalties as he took.  Every team needs an agitator, and Car-Bomb was perfect for the role.

    Unfortunately, Carcillo began to get a bit unruly, and the Flyers chose not to re-sign him this offseason.  Waiting in the wings was one Zac Rinaldo, and he appears to be the perfect replacement for Carcillo, for better or for worse.

    Rinaldo can lose his cool on the ice, and may find himself taking a two-minute minor that he shouldn’t.  But when he loses his cool, opponents had better watch out.  Barely breaking 170 pounds, Rinaldo plays like a guy who weighs 200, and keeps opponents honest with hits that toe the line between vicious and flat-out-illegal.

    Rinaldo joins a Philly tradition of players that get under your skin, and fans can look forward to a lot of excitement coming from No. 36 this season.

There Are No Olympics This Season

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    During the Flyers’ dramatic run to the Stanley Cup in 2009-10, the fatigue of playing a season lengthened by the Winter Olympics seemed to catch up to captain Mike Richards. 

    Between the NHL and the Vancouver Games, Richards played over 100 games that season, and couldn’t quite keep it all together during the home stretch.

    Looking at the Flyers’ roster this season, it is likely that the team would suffer heavily if its players were subjected to the rigors of an Olympic campaign in the midst of the regular season. 

    The Flyers have as many as eight to ten players who could be expected to play for their native countries, and that collective wear and tear could be enough to derail the Flyers’ playoff chances. 

    It’s not a bad thing to have so many high-caliber players on the roster, but in an Olympic year, it can certainly be a liability. 

Claude Giroux Is Exceeding Expectations

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    When Bobby Clarke drafted Claude Giroux with the 22nd pick in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, Clarke forgot the name of the player that he was picking.

    Nowadays, if ever you forget No. 28’s name, just look at the people around you in the stands.  Odds are that quite a few of them will have “Giroux” written on the back of the jersey.

    In some ways, Giroux was the catalyst for the trades of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, because his anticipated development made it unnecessary to rely on the two partiers for point production. 

    Nonetheless, Holmgren made a bold move by trading away his offensive core, hoping that Giroux wouldn’t disappoint.

    He hasn’t. 

    Giroux is currently tied for second in point production and tied for fourth in goal-scoring, and the Flyers appear to have their first true superstar forward since the days of Eric Lindros. 

    Giroux is becoming the sort of player that Holmgren and coach Peter Laviolette can build an offense around, and the 23 year-old center is up for the challenge.  Giroux is a blessing that Flyers fans have waited for since Lindros left town.

The Offense Is Untouchable

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    Who would have thought at the beginning of the season that the Flyers would be leading the league in scoring a quarter-way through the season?  Having jettisoned some of the top scorers from last year’s squad (Richards, Carter and Ville Leino), goal scoring was destined to be a question all year long for the new team.

    However, the aforementioned development of Claude Giroux (along with his instant chemistry with linemate Jaromir Jagr) has not only kept the Flyers’ scoring consistent, but the team is the top offensive group in the NHL thus far.

    Eight players have at least five goals and ten have put up double-digit points, creating the balanced scoring attack we have seen from the team in the last five years.  Keeping this scoring pace all season remains a question, but the surprising ability of a relatively inexperienced offense gives Flyers fans a reason to be optimistic.

The Winter Classic Belongs to Philly

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    While a Stanley Cup is the ultimate goal, the next biggest achievement for a hockey city is hosting the Winter Classic. 

    Slated to be played January 2nd this season, and bookended by an alumni game and an AHL matchup, hockey’s most significant regular-season event is an homage to the passion of the fan base and the history of the franchise. 

    Philadelphia will be the second team to play in two Winter Classics, an event that is only five seasons old.  The game will be great for Philadelphia for a number of reasons, spanning from national exposure to merchandise revenue to making memories for all those that attend.

    Philadelphia isn’t exactly the most well-liked fan base in the NHL, but for one frigid afternoon, the whole hockey world will be seeing exactly why Philadelphia is one of the most hockey-mad cities in the United States.

"Big E" Is Coming Home

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    To say Eric Lindros’s saga in Philadelphia has had its ups and downs is an understatement.

    A career that began with one of the most lopsided trades in NHL history, especially for a player that had never played a minute in the league, was followed by a Hart Trophy, a Stanley Cup appearance, a myriad of concussions and other injuries and a famous feud with his own GM.

    Lindros was ultimately traded unceremoniously to the New York Rangers after spending a year off the ice due to his issues with the Flyers’ front office.

    Because of the circumstances surrounding Lindros’s exit from Philly, Flyers fans have long held a grudge.  But because Big E has stayed out of the spotlight since his retirement, the negative feelings have subsided and many fans welcomed the announcement that Lindros would be playing in the team’s alumni game on December 31st

    The reception indicates that the city is finally ready to acknowledge Lindros for what he is, one of the greatest players to ever wear the orange and black.

Ten Key Players Inked Through 2014

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    While the Flyers want the Cup now, the front office knows that investing in the team’s long-term future is what is best for the franchise.  Holmgren’s offseason moves were specifically designed to free-up cap space and roster spots that allowed him to invest in a more well-rounded future for Philadelphia.

    Ten key players, including Claude Giroux and James van Riemsdyk, are signed through the completion of the 2013-14 season, giving the Flyers a strong core to build a team around. 

    On top of it all, eight of those ten players are currently under the age of 28, making a decline in abilities an unlikely possibility. 

    These key players will become better, and barring using them as trade bait, they will be making big contributions to the team for years to come.

Bryzgalov Wants the Philly Pressure

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    While goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov’s stats have been up-and-down this season, the Flyers can be thankful for his enthusiasm in joining the franchise. 

    Bryzgalov famously wanted out of Phoenix, both due to the nightly empty stands and the possibility of moving to a very small market in Winnipeg.  Philadelphia quickly emerged as an ideal location for Bryz, as the Flyers were a competitive team that needed a goalie and have no shortage of passion in the seats.

    The results have been mixed, but Bryzgalov seems to fit the role well.  He has the personality of a Philly player, having fun with the media while publicly holding himself to a high standard. 

    As he finds consistency, Bryzgalov will move closer and closer to his chance to prove himself as a starting goaltender on a dangerous playoff team.

Jaromir Jagr Chose Not to Retire

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    Jagr will turn 40 over the course of the season, and he hadn’t played in the NHL for three seasons prior to testing the waters of free agency in June.  Early reports had Jagr joining the Detroit Red Wings or reuniting with the team that drafted him, the Pittsburgh Penguins

    Instead, Paul Holmgren offered Jagr $3.3 million to come to Philly as a veteran presence, and while the move was received with mixed responses, Paul Holmgren now looks like a genius. 

    Jagr found instant chemistry with Claude Giroux, and he is playing at nearly a point-per-game pace.  His influence goes far beyond the score sheet, as his famous work ethic has motivated his teammates to take their roles more seriously and strive to improve themselves.

    His influence in the locker room and on the ice make Flyers fans thankful that, after years of burning Philadelphia, he’s finally on our side.