It’s not often that a relatively successful* sports team goes through as many drastic changes as the Philadelphia Flyers did this off-season. Even in most of those cases, the reasoning is very different; most semi-successful teams rebuild on the fly due to a shortage of cash or an overabundance of players who are deemed too old to remain effective. When you consider the fact that the Flyers are spending plenty for the 2011-12 season and scuttled off two centers in their 20’s, neither of those explanations fit.
Instead, the Flyers changed things up in order to attempt to answer their goaltending problems and because they simply didn’t think that Jeff Carter and Mike Richards would carry them far enough to win a Stanley Cup. Ultimately, it seems like this team went from a group of extremes (staggering depth on offense, huge questions in net) to one that seems a lot like other NHL squads (a handful of players who need to match or exceed strong years with a highly paid goalie who could make or break their season).
Either way, things are going to be very different, but drastic changes aren’t that unusual for the Flyers franchise. Just ask Scott Hartnell, a player who came to Philadelphia after the team underwent dramatic changes in response to an abysmal 56-point season in 2006-07 and saw the team turn things around dramatically with a 95 point campaign in 07-08.
“Probably my first year in Philadelphia. I think the Flyers came off their worst season ever. They got JVR as the second overall pick, me and Kimmo Timonen, Danny Briere and Jason Smith came in, so there was almost a turnaround like there is this year.”
“It was just exciting to have that new group of guys and everyone competing for the same goal. It’s reminding me a lot of the first year I got to Philly, but instead of being the new guy I’m one of the veterans here. You have to make the new guys feel welcome. Everyone did when I first came.”
Hartnell will have to deal with some changes of his own thanks to the departure of Ville Leino, which will create a hole in a line that featured Hartnell, Leino and Danny Briere. Hartnell was productive with that combo last season, scoring 24 goals and 49 points while providing 142 PIM worth of agitation. Despite those solid numbers, the rugged winger thinks that the team will find an effective replacement for Leino.
“Danny and I love playing with each other. I think if it’s Jagr, Voracek or Simmonds that comes in on that right wing side, they’ll control the play or get pucks to Danny B. behind the net. I know where I’ll be, right in the front creating some havoc and getting some tips and shots. It’s a pretty simple recipe and Danny and I have done a good job of working together, so I’m sure someone will do a good job and come in to take right up were Ville left off.”
It shouldn’t be too hard to replace at least some of Leino’s production (19 goals and 34 assists for 53 points in 81 games played), especially if they are matched up with a creative player such as Jagr or Voracek. Voracek, in particular, possesses some qualities that make him seem like the next Leino; he’s a highly-touted player who couldn’t work things out on a Central Division team. The Flyers system might be a better fit for Voracek than what he experienced during his days with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The Flyers could still be a contender next season, but if you need any more evidence that things we’ll be different, chew on this: Hartnell now ranks as one of the team’s longest standing members and will probably play a leadership role. That’s not just different, it’s downright strange.
* They won their division and earned the second seed in the Eastern Conference, something that got lost in the shuffle because of their goaltending mess during the 2011 playoffs.