“Back With A Vengeance.” That’s what the Flyers’ official website promised and the Flyers certainly delivered. One year after finish in the league cellar the Flyers came back with a vengeance, advancing to the third round. The team made a complete turnaround from their god-awful season, and the Flyers are going to prove this season that it was no fluke.
The Flyers are big, mean, and talented. But their biggest strength? Balance. The Flyers boasted 7 20+ goal scorers last year, which lead the league. They had 3 players with at least 70 points, and 3 more with at least 50. And all that, doesn’t include the oft-injured Simon Gagne. The sniper missed almost all of last season with concussion-like symptoms, and should he return, he gives the Flyers an even more dynamic offense, especially if paired with slick centre Daniel Briere. Jeff Carter (29 goals), Mike Knuble (29 goals), and Joffrey Lupul (20 goals) provide some good scoring depth, but perhaps no other forward is as crucial to the Flyers’ success as future captain Mike Richards. The third year pro broke out last with 75 points, and led all Flyers forwards with 21:30 ATOI per game, also amongst one of the best in the league. His strong two-way player is unrivaled by any player at his age, and after signing a long extension with the Flyers he will be the centerpiece for future Flyers squads. Richards can play in all situations of the game, and excels in all aspects. The Flyers have loaded their offense with players who can play with a chip on their shoulder, and as a result it’s very reminiscent of the old Broad Street Bullies lore. While they’re not as intimidating as the legendary Bullies, the current squad had no less than 8 players with at least 60 PIMs, and that’s not including the recently acquired Arron Asham. This area is one of the Flyers’ greatest strengths, and may perhaps boast the best core offense in the league, as evidenced last year by their 2nd ranked powerplay and 6th ranked offense. Don’t expect those numbers to dip, and should Gagne return they could find themselves tops in both categories.
While the Flyers have also preferred their defensemen to be more the stay-at-home type, with Kimmo Timonen as their new top defenseman that will certainly change, and it showed last year with a dangerous powerplay. The new NHL has made former stalwarts like Derian Hatcher obsolete, due to their poor skating, which has really opened it up for players like Ryan Parent and Randy Jones to really showcase their skills. That’s also not to say that the Flyers are soft – Braydon Coburn, Ossi Vaananen, and Lasse Kukkonen can all step up their physical play if need be. Coburn, acquired in the Alexei Zhitnik trade from Atlanta, is really starting to develop into the defenseman many thought he would be, scoring 36 points and averaging over 21 minutes of ice-time per night. With no other all-star than Timonen, this may be the weakest part of the Flyers’ lineup, but Kukkonen and Coburn are two of the most underrated defensemen in the league, and may surprise a few. The defense was ranked 18th in the league last year, and the number may not improve much without another key addition, but with the type of scoring the Flyers boast it should be do just fine.
Martin Biron, a long-time backup, really got the opportunity to showcase his talents, and while he did battle some consistency issues during the season, he has really taken advantage of it and proven to management that their search for a number one goalie is over. Key wins in game 7 against Washington and game 5 against Montreal has him in the hearts of many a Flyers fans. Backed up by Antero Niittymaki, who is finally healthy, the Flyers have a good tandem – good enough to challenge for the division title.
The Flyers, after handing out rich contracts to Briere, Timonen, Richards, Carter, and Hartnell, will be tight against the cap this year and years to come. The Flyers don’t really have any glaring holes, which means they’ll once again be a Cup contender, and don’t expect Paul Holmgren to make any surprising moves.
Simon Gagne – Daniel Briere – Mike Knuble
Scott Hartnell – Mike Richards – Joffrey Lupul
Scottie Upshall – Jeff Carter – Arron Asham
Riley Cote – Glen Metropolit – Steve Downie
Kimmo Timonen – Braydon Coburn
Derian Hatcher – Randy Jones
Ossi Vaananen – Ryan Parent
Martin Biron – Antero Niittymaki
scratches: Jim Dowd, Steve Eminger, Dan Syvret
Coach: John Stevens
GM: Paul Holmgren
Predicted finish: 2nd Atlantic, 4th East