Tuesday, September 20, 2011

NHL 30 in 30: Philadelphia Flyers

For most of the 2010-2011 season, the Flyers looked like Stanley Cup contenders. But, something never seemed right after the calendar turned to March, and they barely held onto their second seed in the East. Whatever it was that had changed, it boiled over in their sweep at the hands of the Stanley Cup Champs. There was an extreme makeover this offseason, but will it change anything?

Strengths: For the guys that they did bring in, the biggest name was of course, Ilya Bryzgalov. He signed a monster deal, and now has the expectations of a city on his shoulders. He may be the first sure thing goaltender since Ron Hextall retired, and that is tough to live up to. But, he should be better than the revolving door at goaltender they had last season. They did bring in some new faces that may really change the culture of this team, led by Jaromir Jagr, who has not played in the NHL since the 2007-08 season when he was with the Rangers. There is some doubt as to how much he'll be able to do, but he should have a spark on the offense, along with the other new faces such as Max Talbot, Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek, and the possibility of seeing the young kids Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier make the team. The holdovers are no pushovers either, with the Flyers now getting a healthy Chris Pronger back, along with the dynamic scorers in James Van Riemsdyk, Claude Giroux, and Danny Briere. The new youth on the team is very good, and a welcome change to a team that was incredibly veteran driven in the past.

Weaknesses: The losses of Jeff Carter and Mike Richards cannot be replaced quickly, even though the Flyers still have big scoring threats all around. The question is, will the young guys be able to replace the big scorers that left? There remains some speculation as to whether the focus of the Flyers has shifted from offense to defense and goaltending, and if they can, it would be a major change from the offensively slanted team under Peter Laviolette. Another major question is: How much better are the Flyers with Bryzgalov as their goaltender? He has won a Stanley Cup in his career, granted he was the back up to J.S Giguere in Anaheim. As a starter, he has not taken a team past the first round in the postseason, so taking a team like the Flyers with all of the expectations to a Stanley Cup may be a challenge.

Any Help Coming? They had a very weak farm system up until this offseason, where the youth movement changed that. Aside from Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier, there isn't much in the system. LW Eric Wellwood plays a lot like his brother Kyle, and that means a limited offensive output for him in his future. D Erik Gustafsson has some promise as a lower pairing defenseman in the future, and LW Brendan Ranford has strong offensive talents, but he has a size issue that is magnified because he doesn't skate well.

Outlook: The Flyers have changed plenty this offseason, and it may not help this team in the short term. They are a much better team in the long term, but this year and next, they may have to take some lumps this season. They won't miss the playoffs, as they are a better team than that, but the big boys of the East such as Washington, Pittsburgh, and Boston, are better than this team is right now. The moves were needed, but the Flyers are a team in transition without the big guns they are used to having.

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