Flyers: 10 Things You Need To Know
By Scott Burnside
Ho, hum. Yet another boring offseason in Philadelphia. Yes, sir ... status quo is the name of the game in Philly. Um, OK. Not quite. A little more than a year after marching to the Stanley Cup finals, GM Paul Holmgren did a hard right turn this offseason and retooled his squad.
The Flyers sent captain Mike Richards to Los Angeles and sniper Jeff Carter to Columbus, before signing former Vezina Trophy finalist Ilya Bryzgalov and five-time NHL scoring champ Jaromir Jagr. Whew. Holmgren got younger, presumably got better in goal and maybe cleared up some of the lingering dressing-room issues that seemed to plague the Flyers over the past few seasons. Of course, none of that will matter unless Philadelphia brings home the team's first Stanley Cup since 1975.
After all the changes, Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said it's almost like coming in as a new coach, something he did during the Flyers' successful 2009-10 season.
"It's a different challenge than say last year," Laviolette told ESPN.com, alluding to the competition for roster spots this fall. "One of the challenges will be to get everybody coming in to understand it and then play it with some zip."
1. Captain Chris
Veteran defenseman Chris Pronger was hobbled last season by back and hand issues, both of which required surgery but appear to have been dealt with. Shortly after returning to the Flyers this fall, he was named captain. No surprise there. Although he thought his rehab might be slower than first predicted, it looks like Pronger will be ready to go when the Flyers visit Boston to open the regular season.
Pronger's absence in the playoffs was keenly felt as the Flyers rallied to beat Buffalo in the first round but were then swept by Boston as the Bruins avenged the Flyers' stunning comeback from a 3-0 series deficit in 2010. Imagine, Laviolette told us, the Boston Bruins without Zdeno Chara or the Detroit Red Wings without Nicklas Lidstrom.
"It's stating the obvious," Laviolette said of Pronger's importance to the Flyers.
If he's healthy, Pronger remains one of the top four or five defensemen in the NHL and turns the Flyers into Cup contenders once again. But if he is starting to break down, the team's chances will break down right along with him.
2. Offense, anyone?
Carter, Richards and Ville Leino produced 78 regular-season goals for the Flyers last season. Um, that's pretty darned close to a goal a game for a team that ranked third in the NHL and first in the Eastern Conference in goals per game last season. The theory is this revamped Flyers offense won't need to rely as much on offense given the presence of Bryzgalov in goal.
But this is a Flyers team that remains blessed with great offensive depth in the form of Daniel Briere, who has emerged as a gritty playoff performer, Claude Giroux, Scott Hartnell and Jagr up front, and Pronger and Kimmo Timonen on the blue line. The departure of Carter, Leino and Richards also opens the door for players such as Jakub Voracek, who came in the Carter deal, top prospect Brayden Schenn, who came in the Richards deal, and James van Riemsdyk. In short, this is a Flyers team that can still hurt you all over.
3. Time to shine?
This is Giroux's year to show whether he is, as his talent suggests, a superstar in waiting. Giroux does it all extremely well and finished with 76 points last season (tied for 11th overall in the NHL). He was an impressive plus-20 if you go in for those stats. He was tied for second with seven short-handed points and had eight power-play goals, although that number should jump significantly this season.
So, what's realistic? Eighty points? Ninety? Could Giroux challenge for a scoring title?
"Obviously, as a kid, you always want to play on the first line and be a go-to guy," Giroux told ESPN.com.
It's worth noting Giroux had just six goals after the All-Star break last season. Then, with all that talent around, it didn't matter too much. This season, that's the kind of stretch that will get you noticed in a hurry, and not in a good way.
4. Introducing JVR
One player expected to thrive in Philly's new environment is big winger van Riemsdyk, the recipient of a grand six-year, $25.5 million contract extension this summer. The new deal kicks in at the end of this season, but van Riemsdyk is expected to carry forward a strong second NHL campaign that saw him score 21 regular-season goals and seven postseason goals.
"I think I've grown over my two years in the league. I've gotten a chance to learn from some great guys in the room there about how to prepare myself, how to approach every game and that whole deal," van Riemsdyk told ESPN.com. "I think now at the end of last year, I got the opportunity to play some more quality minutes just because of some injuries, and I kind of took that opportunity and ran with it. So it's something I'm definitely looking forward to, playing a more prominent role."
5. The net game
You have to believe this is one of those experiments that is either going to pay huge dividends, as in a Stanley Cup parade, or get ugly, as only goaltending in Philadelphia ugly can get. There's no question Bryzgalov is a goaltending talent. He single-handedly led an undermanned Phoenix Coyotes team to the playoffs the past two seasons and earned a Vezina Trophy nomination in 2010. He won 78 games over that span. He is quirky and funny and thoughtful, and the Philadelphia media is going to love him right up until it's time to burn him to the ground.
See, the problem in Philadelphia isn't putting up decent regular-season numbers. The kid no one had heard of a year ago, Sergei Bobrovsky, won 28 games and had a .915 save percentage. But when it came to the playoffs, Bobrovsky melted and was followed in the melt-a-thon by Brian Boucher and Michael Leighton. And anyone who watched Bryzgalov play against Detroit in the first round last season will see a similar kind of performance.
Bryzgalov allowed 17 goals in four games and didn't once hold the Wings to less than four. Ouch. Yes, the Coyotes were overmatched, but even when the Coyotes were a better, deeper team in the 2010 postseason, they still lost to Detroit in the first round and Bryzgalov twice allowed six goals, including in the seventh and deciding game. In short, Bryzgalov is going to have to show he's a different goalie next spring or that nine-year deal is going to seem awfully, awfully long.
6. What about Bob?
Even with the goaltending situation theoretically settled, it's not necessarily stabilized. Leighton, who helped lead the Flyers to a surprise Cup finals berth in 2010, is back and apparently healthy after back issues ruined last season. And Bobrovsky, whose confidence took a hit with his brief foray into playoff hockey, is also very much in the picture. You have to wonder about Bobrovsky's confidence after he appeared in six games last spring and was credited with two losses and turned in an .877 save percentage and 3.23 GAA.
Regardless of the Bryzgalov deal, given Bobrovsky's age (22), you don't just toss him away. At worst, he's a trade asset before the deadline; at best, he pushes Bryzgalov with strong play during the regular season.
"Bob is still held in the highest regard by the organization and is still a part of the plan," Laviolette said. "He's worked very hard and wants to be here. It was a really tough job that we asked him to do last year. He's only going to get better and better."
7. Jaromir Jagr
If it's not the most compelling storyline heading into the NHL season, then it's certainly among the more curious. After self-imposed exile in the Kontinental Hockey League for three seasons, Jagr decided he wanted one last kick at the can. The widely held assumption was the five-time NHL scoring champ would close his career in Pittsburgh. The Penguins wanted him. He allegedly wanted to go there. But just as it looked like Jagr would ink a deal in Pittsburgh at the end of June, he disappeared, and his agent Petr Svoboda began talking wildly about other teams and took his time. Pittsburgh pulled out, as did Detroit, and suddenly, inexplicably, Jagr was a Flyer.
Weird? Yes. Will it work out? Who knows? As he exited the NHL stage, Jagr was still a talented force. He had 71 points in 2007-08 and 96 the season before with the New York Rangers. Laviolette, who spoke to Jagr prior to the one-year deal being signed, will give the big winger every opportunity to show he's still got the magic and he's not just Nikolay Zherdev with a mullet.
"My conversation with him was outstanding. He wanted to come back and he wants to win," Laviolette said. "That's exciting. We have a pretty talented player."
8. The kid
As time passes, Schenn may yet become the most important acquisition of the Flyers' summer of swap. Teams have been trying to pry the 2009 fifth overall pick out of the talent-rich Los Angeles Kings system for the past couple of years as the Kings tried to bolster their lineup for a run at their first Cup.
Kings GM Dean Lombardi clearly needed help down the middle in the form of Richards and paid a hefty sum in sending versatile forward Wayne Simmonds and Schenn to the Flyers. Given the turnover up front, Schenn will get a chance to prove he's NHL-ready now, Laviolette said. But even if he's not the skilled winger who lit up the 2011 World Junior Championship in Buffalo, Schenn has all the tools to be scary good down the road.
9. The other one
Lost in the constant shuffle in Philadelphia this summer was the arrival of former top prospect Voracek. The big winger didn't live up to expectations with the Blue Jackets, but a source told ESPN.com that Voracek has already had "the talk" with Flyers officials about what is expected of him in Philadelphia. Whether it was conditioning or priorities or focus, Voracek didn't get it in Columbus. He'll get it in Philadelphia, the source insisted.
We recall a conference call with Pronger shortly after the stunning trades of Carter and Richards and the subject of dressing room chemistry was raised. Pronger pointed out that there didn't seem to be any problems with chemistry when the team rebounded in historic fashion against Boston in the second round en route to a Cup finals berth in 2010. Fair enough. But did that mean there were no problems or that they had been pushed to the side?
Regardless, Holmgren believed it was too important to get a Grade A goalie, and to achieve that, he could afford to divest the team of two top forwards who just happened to be linked to dressing room issues. Holmgren had been candid in recent years about the team's reputation as party boys and acknowledged the team needed to be better about preparation, on and off the ice.
And while he has been quick to publicly deny any connection between the trades and any matters of chemistry (or lack thereof), he's turned a ton of responsibility over to a new generation of Flyers. That's not necessarily a bad thing.
Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
Experience: Entering 10th NHL season
Stanley Cup titles: 1
• Peter Laviolette acknowledged last season was a weird one.
At one point around the All-Star break, the Flyers were rolling, Sergei Bobrovsky was playing great and everything looked good for a long run. But by the end of the regular season, "We slumped a little bit for whatever reason."
We recall when Laviolette took over in Philly; it took a while for the players to get used to his tempo and what he wanted. It might be the same this fall with so many new faces, but we expect, as in 2010, Laviolette will have the Flyers playoff bound and the team will be a threat to make some noise in the spring. --Scott Burnside
Best bet: Ilya Bryzgalov
Bryzgalov had his breakout campaign in the 2007-08 season; after being traded from Anaheim to Phoenix, he started 55 games, earning 26 wins with a 2.42 GAA and .921 save percentage. He maintained solid ratios for the Coyotes over the next three seasons, but he's entering a very different kind of situation in the East. He'll face significantly fewer shots, which can be good for the GAA, but could reduce his save percentage in the process. As for the most frustrating category, he should be near the league lead in wins as long as he stays healthy. One of the few players we can definitely throw into the "elite" group this season. -- Tim Kavanagh
Risky pick: Chris Pronger
Having endured a season of multiple injuries (back, leg, etc.), Chris Pronger can't wait to get back to the business of playing hockey. A full season from the 36-year-old should yield between 40-50 points, nearly 200 shots, 70-80 penalty minutes and an exceptionally high ice-time average. He still has the potential to be a gleaming fantasy jewel. If it wasn't for health concerns, the Flyers captain would be entrenched as a top-10 asset. -- Victoria Matiash
Sleeper pick: Jaromir Jagr
Signing on with the Flyers means Jagr will be competing for a contender that has more than enough options to surround him with talent. During his tenure with the KHL's Omsk Avangard over the past three seasons, Jagr hovered near the point-per-game level. When he left the NHL in 2008, he had just come off seasons of 123, 96 and 71 points with the Rangers. The talent is surely still there, but will it be on full display when Jagr turns 40 during the season? He is a risk, but it's a calculated risk if you already have some offense shored up. -- Sean Allen
Who's On The Move
The offseason signings/acquisitions and departures for the Flyers:
• June 1: Acquired D Tim Erixon and a fifth-round pick in 2011 draft from Calgary for LW Roman Horak and a pair of 2011 second-round picks.
• June 7: Acquired rights to G Ilya Bryzgalov from Phoenix for LW Matt Clackson, 2012 third-round pick and a conditional pick.
• June 23: Acquired C Brayden Schenn, RW Wayne Simmonds and 2012 second-round pick from Los Angeles for C Mike Richards.
• June 23: Acquired RW Jakub Voracek and Columbus' first- and third-round picks in 2011 Draft from Columbus for C Jeff Carter.
• June 23: Signed G Ilya Bryzgalov.
• June 27: Re-signed RW Andreas Nodl.
• July 1: Signed RW Jaromir Jagr, C Maxime Talbot and D Andreas Lilja.
• Aug. 30: Re-signed LW James van Riemsdyk.
C Mike Richards (traded to Los Angeles)
C Jeff Carter (traded to Columbus)
LW Ville Leino (unrestricted free agent, signed by Buffalo)
C Darroll Powe (traded to Minnesota)
RW Kris Versteeg (traded to Florida)
D Sean O'Donnell (unrestricted free agent, signed by Chicago)
G Brian Boucher (unrestricted free agent, signed by Carolina)
LW Dan Carcillo (unrestricted free agent, signed by Chicago)
RW Nikolay Zherdev (unrestricted free agent, signed by KHL's Atlant Mystichi)
D Danny Syvret (unrestricted free agent, signed by St. Louis)
D Nick Boynton (unrestricted free agent)