2010-2011 record: 47-23-12, 106 points; 1st in Atlantic, 2nd in East
Playoffs: Defeated Buffalo 4-3 in Eastern quarterfinals, lost to Boston 4-0 in Eastern semifinals
After a disappointing showing in the playoffs, the Flyers cleaned house in the offseason. GM Paul Holmgren sent out captain Mike Richards and goal-hound Jeff Carter and in came Ilya Bryzgalov, Jaromir Jagr, Maxime Talbot, and Brayden Schenn. Is it the culture change this Stanley Cup challenger needed? One way or another, it’s going to be entertaining to see it play out.
So how do you replace the consistent offense of Richards and Carter? You get a future Hall of Famer back from the KHL in Jagr and bank on the emergence of James van Riemsdyk to be a premiere power forward as well as the continued improvement of Claude Giroux to make it work. Sound risky? It might be. Van Riemsdyk played like he finally figured it all out in the playoffs and now he’s got a six-year contract to fulfill those hopes. Daniel Briere is also still very capable to chip in on offense.
The Flyers will also be banking big on Schenn, who will start the season in the minors, to eventually step in as a rookie on the third line at center. Having Talbot and Wayne Simmonds joining him there will help out. The Flyers’ fourth line will mix up defensive skill and toughness with Blair Betts, Jody Shelley (eventually), Andreas Nodl, and possibly Zac Rinaldo at times.
As Chris Pronger goes, so go the Flyers on defense. He’s the new team captain, he’s the snark, snarling, sarcastic guy in the locker room and he’s their best defenseman. Period. Having Kimmo Timonen, Andrej Meszaros and Braydon Coburn to balance things out along with Matt Carle keeps the defensive corps intact from last season. Adding Andreas Lilja gives the Flyers an experienced guy back there to fill out the top six, but Lilja is not exactly a world-beater there. They’ll play hard and tough, but Pronger has to be out there for the Flyers to be Cup contenders. Nagging injuries for Pronger could be a huge disruption.
Ilya Bryzgalov is the star No. 1 goalie the Flyers have been waiting years to have. With him locked in for the next nine years, Bryzgalov will have to be awesome to help keep the fans at bay. At the first sign of struggle, the fans will get restless because the expectations for him are sky high. Should the boo birds take hold, last season’s top goalie, Sergei Bobrovsky, is there to step in. After last season’s odd cycle of Bobrovsky and Brian Boucher, having a true No. 1 will feel like a luxury for coach Peter Laviolette.
Laviolette enters his third season with the Flyers and this time it’s his most fascinating time to coach. After all the changes and all the new blood the expectations are huge. Laviolette has his hands full in trying to put it all together so the Flyers can pick up where they left off last regular season and try to recapture the playoff wins from two seasons ago. The pressure is on in a big way for Laviolette to get it done right and fast.
Schenn came over in the Mike Richards deal with Los Angeles and also as the top prospect in the NHL. He got a taste of NHL action the last two seasons with the Kings but not enough to stick around full time. Now he’s going to likley soon be the man to center the third line and show that his hot-prospect status wasn’t just hype. He won’t quite have the playmakers and goal scorers around him to help boost his numbers, but he’s got a chance to be a revelation for Philly. Expect him to be in the hunt for the Calder Trophy.
Jagr recaptures some old glory (or just decides to imitate Teemu Selanne) and puts up 70 points this season. Giroux evolves and becomes the true top center on the team and follows up with a monster season centering Jagr and van Riemsdyk. Briere puts up another 35-goal season and Schenn plays like a veteran in his first full season. Pronger leads the defense to a dominating year giving Bryzgalov all the help he needs to be one of the NHL’s best goaltenders, leading to the Flyers landing in the Stanley Cup finals.
Things could go really right for Philly or take a horrible turn, leading to them fighting just to get in the playoffs. The players are there for Philly to have a huge season and be one of the top teams. There’s a ton of offensive talent and enough guys around to play the typical snarling kind of Flyers’ hockey that makes everyone get angry. Bryzgalov will get tested outside of the typical defense-first system he played behind in Phoenix. If he adapts well, he can keep the Flyers rolling, even if they struggle.
If Jagr doesn’t pan out and van Riemsdyk doesn’t play how he did in the playoffs and teams get to gang up on Giroux and Briere all season, the Flyers will struggle. The margin for error is slim for all the teams in the Atlantic Division and Philly needs to hope their bets on the future pan out.