The Philadelphia Flyers had a promising 2008-2009 campaign. They were able to score consistently, get solid blue-line production, and win in spite of average goaltending. The Flyers finished fifth in the Eastern Conference and lost to Pittsburgh in the first round despite outplaying the eventual Stanley Cup champions. This year, the Flyers should improve, as they were able to acquire coveted defenseman Chris Pronger and many of their young stars on offense and defense continue to improve.
The Flyers were one of the highest scoring teams in the NHL last year. They averaged 3.22 goals/game, tied for 4th most in the league. The Flyers are led offensively by the trio of Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne. Carter and Richards, both first round draft picks from 2003, have shown tremendous improvement in their brief NHL careers. The losses of Joffrey Lupul (trade to Anahiem) and Mike Knuble (FA, Washington) should not affect the Flyers’ ability to score.
Not only is Mike Richards a point-per-game player, he has emerged as one of the top defensive forwards in the league. The Selke nominated Richards is an excellent checker and is the league’s best two-way forward behind Pavel Datsyuk. Early reports have Richards on a line with Simon Gagne.
Jeff Carter has become one of the NHL’s top snipers. He scored 46 goals last year and should contend for the Maurice Richard Trophy. At just 24 years old, Carter is an excellent skater and scorer, but has been criticized for his lack of play-making skills.
29 year-old Simon Gagne is the longest serving member of the Flyers. Despite concussion trouble in 2007-2008, Gagne returned to his near-point-per-game form last season. He should no difficulty maintaining that pace this year, especially if he is playing on a line with Mike Richards. Gagne had hip surgery in the offseason but should be close to 100% for the season opener.
Scott Hartnell, (a healthy) Daniel Briere, and Claude Giroux give the Flyers plenty of secondary scoring. The twenty-seven year-old Hartnell is big, tough, and can score – in other words the prototypical Flyer. Hartnell had 30 goals, 30 assists, 143 penalty minutes, and was +14 last year. Briere should rebound nicely and 2006 first round pick Claude Giroux has the potential to have a break-out season.
Rookie James van Riemsdyk has impressed the Flyers brass and has survived the latest round of cuts. Simon Gagne compared Van Riemsdyk to John LeClair, and if he makes the team he will play on one of Philadelphia’s top three lines.
Riley Cote, Daniel Carcillo, and Arron Asham provide toughness for a Philadelphia team that is already big and strong. Of the three, Carcillo has the most scoring potential but has not had a successful start to the pre-season.
The Flyers dramatically improved their chances of winning the Stanley Cup by trading for Chris Pronger. Pronger is a perfect fit for a Flyers team that has a longstanding tradition of physical, aggressive play. The former Hart and Norris trophy winner leads a Philadelphia blue-line corps that can create plays and play physical hockey. Early reports have Pronger playing alongside Matt Carle.
Even without Chris Pronger the Flyers were strong defensively last year. The ever-consistent Kimmo Timonen registered 43 points last year (28 on the pp) and was a +19. The 34 year-old has scored at least 40 points in each of the last seven seasons. Kimmo Timonen has thusfar been paired with Braydon Coburn.
Braydon Coburn, a former 1st round pick by the Thrashers, had a quietly productive year. Though the arrival of Chris Pronger will likely reduce Coburn’s role, he is an above average third or fourth defenseman and, at only 24, has plenty of room to grow.
Matt Carle has yet to meet expectations offensively, but the 24 year-old was much better in his stint with Philadelphia last season than with Tampa Bay. Carle has a lot of potential, and a pairing with Pronger will give him plenty of minutes and an excellent mentor.
Ryan Parent was impressive in limited action last year. Parent, Nashville’s 18th overall pick in 2005, is a few years away from cracking Philadelphia’s top four, but is still an essential part of the Flyers’ long term plans.
Randy Jones will probably round out Philadelphia’s top six. He is fully recovered from hip surgery and is a reliable stay-at-home defenseman. Former Blue Jacket Ole-Kristian Tollefsen should be the Flyers’ seventh defenseman.
Like many Flyers teams of years past, this year’s Flyers only have one question mark: goaltending. Last year’s goalies have relocated: Martin Biron is an Islander, and Antero Niittymaki is a member of the Lightning.
Ray Emery is the starting goaltender, and there will be a lot of pressure on him to succeed. After leading the Senators to a Stanley Cup finals appearance in 2007, Emery battled off-ice issues the next year and in 2008-2009 played for Atlant Moscow of the KHL.
Sources report that Emery is aware this may be his last chance in the NHL and that he has matured. He will be playing behind an extremely solid Flyer blue-line and should receive plenty of offensive support. Emery is not expected to carry the team, but he will be relied upon to carry his weight.
Brian Boucher is a reliable back-up. He will play about 20-25 games this season and can be counted on if Emery gets injured/goes crazy.
Ceiling – The Flyers are among the best in the league offensively and defensively. If Emery plays well there is no reason this team cannot finish first in their division/conference.
Floor – If Philadelphia does not receive adequate goaltending and suffers bad/luck injuries they could fall as far as sixth or seventh in what could be a tight Eastern Conferece.