After easing my summertime hockey withdraw at rookie camp this morning, I felt it was about time my Philadelphia season preview was written. We have been called the most improved team in the NHL by Sports Illustrated, and unless you've been hiding under a rock this off-season, you know why. We weren't the team that got arguably the top 2 free agent centres (NY Rangers - Drury, Gomez) to bolster our offense, but we were the team that reconstructed it's roster, from top to bottom.
For those of you who haven't beeen enlightened, I'll give a brief synopsis.
Before season's end, the Flyers newly appointed GM, Paul Holmgren started the re-vamping of the roster. As the trade deadline approached, Holmgren decided it was in the best interest of the club to part ways with captain Peter Forsberg. Foppa was sent to Nashville in return for highly regarded defensive prospect Ryan Parent, a 1st round pick in the upcoming Entry Draft, and quick fan favorite Scottie Upshall. If that wasn't enough, he kept going. He acquired Buffalo goaltender Martin Biron for a 2nd round pick (T.J. Brennan), Atlanta defenseman Braydon Coburn, and Chicago defenseman Lasse Kukkonen. Not bad for only a few weeks of work.
Prior to one of the most anticipated free agency periods in recent memory, Holmgren showed the hockey world that he was here to stay by sending the Pred's 1st round pick (Jonathan Blum) back to them and acquiring offensive-defeseman Kimmo Timonen and budding power forward Scott Hartnell. Soon after shocking the hockey community with his bold move, he prepared for a free agency period that would truly change the face of the franchise, as if it wasn't different enough. Just hours into free agency, Holmgren signed star centre Daniel Briere to an 8 year, $52 million, front-loaded contract. Later in the day he continued to reassure fans by trading away frustrating defenseman Joni Pitkanen and talented, but over-the-hill forward Geoff Sanderson to Edmonton. In return the Flyers acquired locker room favorite Jason Smith and potential-driven winger Joffrey Lupul.
Whew...not-so-brief. Thanks for sticking with me. Almost done.
Many analysts are writing the Flyers off as not making the playoffs this upcoming season. What one needs to remember is that the Flyers, prior to last season, were riding a streak of 11 straight seasons making the playoffs. Another thing that people are seeming to forget is that the year prior to last season, the Flyers still had a lot of their leaders from previous years in the lineup, notably Keith Primeau (even injured, his presence was more than enough), Eric Desjardins, and Chris Therien, all of whom retired the following off-season. Point being, last year is not what people should be going by when they think of the Flyers. Even towards the end of last season, we were a competing opponent. Here is a fact that may be making you re-think our team at the end of last year: of our 19 games after the trade deadline, 13 of them were either losses by 1 goal or wins. That's 68%. That same stat before the trade deadline is 33 games out of 63, being 52%. You can't tell me that this year's team should be judged by last years overall measures after that fact.
The keys to success this season lie in chemistry, special teams, and depth. There is no doubt that the Flyers might be the best team on paper going into this season, but if there is no chemistry on the ice, the paper doesn't mean anything. Our powerplay last season was hard to watch. In fact, it felt like we had more scoring chances on our penalty kill - I wouldn't be surprised if the numbers are close. Now that we have powerplay specialist Timonen and penalty kill specialist Smith, we should have improved both areas significantly. Regarding depth, the Flyers need to prove that they can stay healthy, and if not, still succeed. 05-06 was a good year for the Flyers in that area; we set a season high for man days lost to injuries yet still made the playoffs. We had a lot of help from the minors, to say the least. What needs to happen this year is that youngsters like Ryan Potulny (a personal favorite), Steve Downie, Ryan Parent, Lars Jonsson, Stefan Ruzicka, and Ben Eager have to show that if their time comes, they are up to the task.
There aren't too many roster spots open going into training camp as of right now (0 centers, 1 wing, 0 defensemen), so look for the roster to look like it does now going into the regular season. It should be a good one Philadelphia fans. Let's just forget about last year and be excited about this one!
There were a few other points I wanted to touch on (division challenges, possible captainship, etc.), but for the sake of brevity, I'll hold off.
Otherwise, let's go Flyers!!
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09 September 2007
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