Every Tuesday for 10 weeks Ryan Porth gets you set for a fresh NHL season (fingers crossed) with in-depth looks at the top 10 teams that will compete for Lord Stanley’s Cup in the 2012-13 season.
Coach Peter Laviolette’s gang has been unable to get over the second-round hump since advancing to the Stanley Cup final in 2010. Despite a momentous series win over rival Pittsburgh in April, the Philadelphia Flyers stumbled thereafter in five games to eventual conference champion New Jersey. This came a year after being swept in the second round by Boston, the eventual 2011 Cup winner.
Despite a failed late-July run at Shea Weber, GM Paul Holmgren decided not to overhaul the roster like he did in the summer of 2011. The Flyers not only missed out on the NHL’s top free agents but took an offensive hit with the departure of forwards Jaromir Jagr and James van Riemsdyk, as well as puck-moving defenceman Matt Carle. That being said, the Flyers have enough tools to do damage in 2012-13.
Here are three reasons why the Flyers are and aren’t set up for a run at Lord Stanley:
Jagr signed in Dallas, JVR was dealt to Toronto, and Holmgren didn’t obtain any help to counteract those subtractions – which means a lot of weight will fall on Claude Giroux’s shoulders.
Giroux became the unquestioned leader of the Flyers’ attack with a career-high 93 points in 2011-12. Nobody else on the roster had more than 70 points, and Scott Hartnell was the only other player to post more than 60. Though they had 11 players finish with double-digit goals, Giroux was The Man in Philly. The Flyers were 37-11-2 last season when he recorded at least a point, 8-13-6 when he was held pointless.
This will be a telling season for Giroux. If he can carry the Flyers’ offence once again, it will not only prove he truly is a premier superstar but also put his team in position to contend.
Holmgren’s inactivity in improving the forward corps means he’s confident in the core of skilled youngsters the Flyers possess.
Matt Read, Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier — ages 26, 21 and 19, respectively — all got their feet wet as rookies last season. All three of them will see their roles and minutes increase, likely in the lineup’s top-nine up front.
There’s more. Wayne Simmonds, 24, and Jakub Voracek, 23, each recorded 49 points in 2011-12 and will be relied upon as main secondary contributors to Giroux, Hartnell and Danny Briere.
Collectively, these baby-faced forwards are a key x-factor for the Flyers this season. They should all, at some point, grow into formidable top-six producers. If that happens in 2012-13, this will be one offensive attack to be reckoned with.
The Flyers have been awfully successful since Laviolette took over as head coach in December of 2009. The Flyers, who have the third-most wins in the East since Laviolette was hired, advanced to the Cup final in 2010 (Laviolette’s first season) and won the Atlantic Division in 2011.
Due to this success, Laviolette was rewarded with a two-year contract extension this summer. Said Holmgren, “We are thrilled to have Peter continue his work with our group as we push to compete for the Stanley Cup… Peter has done a terrific job for us and is very deserving of this extension.”
Laviolette, who has a knack for pushing the right buttons in big moments, already has one Cup on his resume (2006 Carolina Hurricanes). He is one of the NHL’s top bench bosses and could be the one to lead the Flyers to their first title since 1975.
It’s safe to say Ilya Bryzgalov’s first impression in Philly was not pretty. His incredibly sluggish start was put in the rearview mirror with a month of March (10-2-1, 1.43 GAA) that earned him first-star honours. But he again drew the ire of Philly fans with a porous postseason.
Bryzgalov allowed less than three goals just once in 11 playoff games – a performance not all too surprising considering his playoff history. In his last three postseasons, Bryz has a combined 3.61 GAA and .892 save percentage. (This is a good time to remind you that eight years and $41 million remain on his contract.)
With the trade of Sergei Bobrovsky to the Columbus Blue Jackets and re-signing of Michael Leighton as backup, the Flyers are putting all their eggs in Bryzgalov’s basket. Scary. The 32-year-old Russian must step up in 2012-13 for Philly to have a chance at the Cup.
Not landing an expensive sought-after free agent is a positive for the free-spending Flyers. Locking up Laviolette was also a wise decision. However, their draft weekend trade with Toronto should be viewed as a negative from the off-season.
There’s no question the defence needed a boost of some sort (especially if captain Chris Pronger never plays another NHL game). Trading JVR for Luke Schenn, though, is not the answer. Schenn struggled living up to the high expectations in Toronto as both his consistency and minutes fluctuated from game to game, year-to-year.
A change of scenery may help Schenn (which includes joining his brother, Brayden) and van Riemsdyk (who, one could argue, was expendable). But unless he has an overnight transformation, Schenn won’t improve the Flyers’ defence corps this season – which will pain Holmgren when JVR scores 30 goals a year wearing blue and white instead of orange and black.
If the playoffs were played on paper, neither the Kings nor Devils would have sniffed the Cup final last spring. But preseason prognostications are done on paper, and the Flyers reside on the Eastern Conference’s second tier.
When you size up the Flyers next to their Atlantic Division rivals, the Rangers and Penguins are simply better than Laviolette’s gang. Defensively, a Rangers corps led by Marc Staal and Dan Girardi is superior to the Flyers’ blue line. Offensively, Pittsburgh’s firepower outweighs Philly’s balance. In net, Henrik Lundqvist and Marc-Andre Fleury are more dependable than Bryzgalov.
The Rangers and Penguins, on paper, are a step ahead of just about everybody in the East; there aren’t many areas where the Flyers would have an advantage over either club. But if you remember, the Flyers overcame the supposedly invincible Penguins in April’s first round.
Prediction: Philadelphia projects as one of the East’s elite in the coming years, but this season will be highlighted by growing pains from the likes of Couturier and the Schenns. Giroux contends for the Art Ross, but Bryzgalov comes up short again, resulting in golf reservations come early May.
How far will the Philadelphia Flyers make it in 2012-13?