Last off season, the Philadelphia Flyers decided to trade Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. Out of those trades, the Flyers acquired very young talent. Players such as Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek, and Brayden Schenn were looked upon as the future. The Flyers also completed a sign-and-trade for goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov during that summer. The expectations, by some, were high. The Philadelphia faithful had great expectations for this young team. The Flyers were early season favorites to come out of the Eastern Conference for the Stanley Cup Finals.
Early in the season, Bryzgalov struggled to get accustom to the pressure of playing in Philadelphia, but he would eventually go onto a hot streak toward the end of the season. The reemergence of Jaromir Jagr was a great sight to see for Flyers’ fans. His level of play was very high to start the year. Because of Jagr, players such as Scott Hartnell and Claude Giroux were playing better than they had ever before.
The Flyers were also one of the teams that were featured on HBO’s 24/7. They also got a chance to play in the Winter Classic, which was held at Citizens Bank Park. But before that, they lost a key part to their team when captain Chris Pronger went down with a concussion. The injury forced Pronger to miss the remainder of the regular season and has also jeopardized the remainder of his career.
With multiple injuries during the season, the Flyers were forced to bring up young players to fill voids. Rookies such as Zac Rinaldo, Sean Couturier, Matt Read, and Schenn played key roles and racked up big minutes for the Flyers.
The Flyers finished the regular season with the 103 points, which was the 6th best in the NHL and 3rd in the Eastern Conference, but they were the 5th seed in the playoff bracket. The Flyers shocked the NHL by beating the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games of the first round. The Flyers’ season ended in a disappointment by being defeated in five games by the New Jersey Devils.
There were not many major additions for the Flyers this offseason. The first move that they made was trading James van Riemsdyk to the Toronto Maple Leafs for defenseman Luke Schenn. Schenn now has a chance to play along side his brother. With a couple of injuries to fellow defensemen Andrej Meszaros and Andreas Lilja, the expectations for Schenn to produce will be high.
The Flyers also brought back Ruslan Fedotenko, who had played the past two seasons with the New York Rangers.
The biggest loss for the Flyers this off season was not missing out on free agents Zach Parise, Ryan Suter and Shea Weber but it was the inability to re-sign Jagr. Jagr signed with the Dallas Stars. His impact had without a doubt been felt throughout the roster. Players like Giroux and Hartnell have spoken out about how much Jagr’s knowledge of the game has helped them grow as players. Losing Jagr could be cost full for the Flyers.
Many championship teams have that one player who contributes in anyway possible to get their team a chance at a victory. This season the Flyers have multiple players who are X-factors. The key player for the Flyers will be Voracek. Voracek is the player who is most comparable to Jagr. He will most likely fill Jagr’s spot on the first line along with Giroux and Hartnell. If Voracek can play to the level that he played on last season, the Flyers have a guy who could score 55-plus points on the first line.
The person who is most likely to break out this season is Couturier. A year ago, Couturier was an 18-year old rookie who was looking for a spot on an NHL roster. Couturier began to develop into a great 2-way player. He recorded 27 points in 77 regular season games. In the playoffs, Couturier not only recorded a hat trick, but he also harassed Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin to help the Flyers defeat the Pens’ in six games. This season Couturier could be key if the Flyers look to get farther than they did a year ago.
Barring any lockout (fingers are crossed), the Flyers, again, find themselves as contenders for the Stanley Cup. GM Paul Holmgren believes that this young core has a chance to not only be good this season, but also for the foreseeable future. I believe if the Flyers get consistent play from Bryzgalov and that the rookies from a year ago continue to improve, then the Flyers could find themselves in the conversation for best team in the Eastern Conference. Personally, I have them finishing with the 2nd highest points in the East but making it to the Stanley Cup Finals. This season contains a lot of hope for the future, the Flyers just need to go out and keep their fans believing.
The Rant Sports 30 in 30 will examine one NHL team per day. Tomorrow: the Pittsburgh Penguins