Needing to win a season-finale shootout to advance to the playoffs, the Flyers entered the postseason tournament without much expectation or fanfare, but they rattled off an impressive run all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals. Philadelphia couldn’t get by Chicago in the championship series, falling in six games, but a season that looked to be a lost one will go down as one of the more memorable in Flyers history, thanks to the late push.
Now, the Flyers enter the 2010 campaign as somewhat of an enigma. Much of the team that helped it to a great postseason is back, but those are the same players that were part of a disappointing regular season that saw Philadelphia flounder in mediocrity. The only major addition to the roster is Nikolai Zherdev, a not-so-consistent performer himself. Zherdev spent last season in Russia after not getting the contract terms he wanted stateside.
Working for the Flyers is an excellent mix of veteran presence and youthful potential and talent. Youngsters such as James van Riemsdyk and Claude Giroux will be supported with seasoned pros like Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, which makes for a very attractive combination. Still, a concern is the goaltending situation. Michael Leighton was impressive during the playoffs and earned himself a nice contract, but Brian Boucher is still on the roster and has a longer and more extensive resume. There could be a carousel between the pipes for Philly.
The deep postseason run showed the talent and potential of the Flyers, but their lackluster regular season also put their inconsistencies on display. It’s hard to picture Philadelphia turning in another underdog run to the finals with most of their playoff games played away from Broad Street. There’s not a ton of depth on the roster, and they’ll lean heavily on their top skaters to turn in a more complete campaign — from start to finish.
THE BIG GUNS
Jeff Carter (C): After having the best year of his young career in 2008-09, Carter's number took a dip across the board last season, thanks largely to a foot injury that hampered him throughout the spring. He missed just nine regular-season games because of his broken foot, but wasn't the same player as the Flyers marched towards the Stanley Cup finals. He was able to play in Philly's loss to Chicago, and now he's had a full offseason to get well, indicating that he should be good to go for the upcoming campaign. Carter is a major cog to the Flyers' success as evidenced in his plus-26 rating in Philly wins against a minus-26 rating in losses. Getting the 25-year old to produce in a night-in, night-out basis will obviously be an emphasis to both Carter and the team all season long. With young talent around Carter in Philadelphia, bet on him bouncing back close to his '08-'09 numbers.
Mike Richards (C): Despite seeing a nearly 20-point drop from his 2008-09 season, Richards posted a solid season during the 2009-10 campaign. After eclipsing the 80-point mark in '08-'09, Richards managed just 62 points last year, largely on a major decrease in his assist total. He had one more goal last year than the previous season, but tallied 19 fewer helpers. Also, after posting back-to-back years with a plus/minus rating in positive double digits, Richards was minus-2 last year. One positive was that his 13 goals with the man advantage was easily a career best, though the scoring mentality on the power play may have hampered him in the assist department. Richards had 18 helpers on the advantage, down from 25 the year prior. At just 25 years old, some inconsistencies can be excused, especially with how well he played at times - particularly down the stretch. His point-per-game production in the Flyers' run to the Stanley Cup finals shows he can get the job done against the best competition the NHL has to offer. Considering his late surge and that he's moving into his prime, Richards makes for a nice buy-low proposition.
Chris Pronger (D): Pronger, who will turn 36 in October, just continues to be a productive NHLer and fantasy option. He hasn't recorded fewer than 40 points in a full season since the 1997-98 campaign, and his 55 points last year suggest that he's not slowing down just yet. He's managed double-digit goals and 30-plus assists in each of the past six seasons. While their might be younger, higher-upside options on the blue line than Pronger, there's few that can provide the type of consistency he's brought throughout his entire career. Philly has enough talent on the ice that finding space and goal scorers shouldn't be a problem this season for Pronger - meaning his stats shouldn't fade as he inches closer to age 40. Additionally, Pronger underwent knee surgery in late July, but it isn't thought to be serious enough to impede him heading into camp.
ON THE RISE
Daniel Briere (C): Briere's lackluster play has drawn the ire of Flyers fans after the organization handed him a big-time contract after the 2007 season, but his 30-point performance during this past season's playoffs showed just how productive he can be. Briere will turn 33 years old and won't likely ever return to the 95-point stratosphere, but he's certainly a fantasy asset. He's shown that he can step up in big stops, but look for him to defer a bit to the number of talented youngsters on the Philly roster during the 82-game grind.
James van Riemsdyk (RW): It was quite a freshman campaign for van Riemsdyk, who ranked fifth among rookies in goals scored (15), eighth in assists (20) and eighth in points (35). There's no doubting his talent, but his minus-1 rating and the fact that he was a healthy scratch numerous times throughout the Flyers' run to the Stanley Cup Finals suggests he's just not quite there yet. Van Riemsdyk certainly has the ability and supporting cast to take a step forward this season. He's ahead of the curve in his career at this point, but don't expect a major leap on a team that was on the precipice of a championship just a few months ago - though just a small improvement in his numbers would make him quite the second-year player.
Claude Giroux (RW): Giroux is the epitome of potential and upside at this point of his career. He understandably went through some cold streaks last year, but he showed everything the talent scouts saw during his hellacious tear through the minor-league circuit during the playoffs last season, posting 21 points in 23 games. At just 22-years old heading into the 2010-11 season, it's hard to see Giroux's production go anywhere but up, especially with the talent surrounding him.
TWO TO AVOID/
Matthew Carle (D): Carle got off to a quick start to the 2009-10 campaign, notching 10 points in the season's first month, but his production petered out the rest of the season and he never again had a double-digit month. Carle, who turns 26 in October, has not been able to match his breakout year of 2006-07, when he had 41 points, and it now looks like that 40-point threshold may be his ceiling. Look for him to finish with just a handful of goals and somewhere around 30 assists — with a nice number of those coming on the man advantage.
Daniel Carcillo (LW): Carcillo played 76 games during the regular season last year, but was shuffled in and out of the lineup during the playoffs. His rough-and-tumble style isn't exactly a unique or irreplaceable skill set, but Carcillo is one of the best at racking up penalty minutes. His 207 PIMs last season was the fourth-highest total across the league, and he led the NHL in the category in 2008-09, with 254. He's a streaky goal-scorer who can provides upwards of 10 assists per season, but his real value comes in how much time he puts in the penalty box seating area.