For most of the 2010-11 campaign, the Flyers looked like the team that took the league by storm the year prior by marching all the way to the Stanley Cup finals from the seventh seed. Then, over the season’s last 25 games, things started to unravel.
The Flyers played .500 hockey over the season’s last six weeks, still managing to hold on to the East’s second seed, but then, after needing a full seven games to get out of the first round, were swept by eventual champion Boston in the second round.
For a team seemingly built for success, the Flyers clearly took their stretch run as more than a fluky run of bad luck, as the late swoon prompted Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren to remake much of his roster, trading proven commodities Mike Richards and Jeff Carter while brining in veteran goalie Ilya Bryzgalov.
Replacing the production Carter and Richards brought won’t be easy, as the pair both registered 66 points apiece to tie for third-best on the team while also being in the lineup virtually every night on a squad ranked third in the NHL in scoring. The burden will likely fall on youngsters Claude Giroux and James van Riemsdyk, who signed a six-year, $25.5 million extension this summer. Both players have proven capable, but that was with Carter and Richards by their side.
Combining the postseason success of two years ago and the regular season success of last year will likely hinge on Philly’s gamble to remake its lineup and put its full faith and trust in two players with a combined six years experience. Bryzgalov will also be under intense scrutiny courtesy of $51 million dollar deal.
If the roll of the dice pays off, Holmgren and the Flyers will be heralded as visionaries as the team rolls through the Eastern Conference. If not, they’ll be pegged as the front office that tried to fix a team that wasn’t broke.
THE BIG GUNS
Daniel Briere (RW): In 2010-11, Briere had his best season since his first tour with Philadelphia four years ago, racking up 68 points on 34 goals and assists apiece while playing in 77 games. His 87 PIMs were the second highest of his career, and he posted his first positive rating (plus-20) since his monster (and final) season with Buffalo in 2006-07. Turning 34 in October, Briere might not be able to improve on those numbers, but he's shown there is still enough in the tank to be more than serviceable as a first-line forward.
Claude Giroux (RW): Giroux had his breakthrough season with career highs in nearly every category, including goals (25), assists (51), points (76), PIMs (47) and plus-minus (plus-20). And at 23 years of age, it's possible that Giroux still has some sizable upside left to realize. Because of his big year and the potential still to mine, the Flyers parted ways with Richards and Carter, meaning the organization is counting on Giroux, along with teammate van Riemsdyk, to fill the void and replace the production. Giroux likely center the Flyers' second line behind Briere this season. And, as stated above, Briere still has plenty left in the tank to both light the lamp and help others find the back of the net to remain a positive asset as a linemate.
Ilya Bryzgalov (G): The Flyers' signature move of the offseason involved Bryzgalov, whose signing brings the veteran $51 million and a heap of expectations and pressure. Bryzgalov earned his payday by being in the league's top-10 in wins (36), save percentage (.921) and shutouts (7) for the Coyotes a year ago. The Flyers have experienced backups in Sergei Bobrovsky and Michael Leighton, but there's no doubt Bryzgalov will work between the pipes on a regular basis. He's used to the workload, having played in at least 65 games in each of the past three seasons with Phoenix, and over that time his goals-against-average never rose above 3.00 and his save percentage never dipped below .900.
ON THE RISE
James van Riemsdyk (LW): van Riemsdyk's solid play the last two years also factored into the Flyers' decision to part ways with Richards and Carter, and it's certain Philly expects big things from the winger in his third NHL season. He'll likely be matched up with the newly signed Jaromir Jagr this season. van Riemsdyk saw his plus-minus ratio go from minus-1 in his rookie season to plus-15 last season, and he’s proven durable as well, playing in over 150 games in his two-year career. With plenty of goal-scorers on the Philadelphia roster, van Riemsdyk should be in a position to pick up plenty of helpers. Adding another year of seasoning to an already talented youngster should be the recipe for a bump in production.
Jakub Voracek (RW): Voracek, a former Blue Jacket who was part of the Carter trade, arrives in Philadelphia with plenty of upside. He's joining one of the NHL's top-scoring teams after putting up still-solid numbers for a goal-scarce Columbus squad. He will be skating on the first line, presumably with Scott Hartnell and Briere. Eclipsing his career-high of 50 points should be an attainable feat for the 21-year-old in 2011-12, especially when you consider how well his knack for assists should jive with the Flyers’ high-scoring attack.
TWO TO AVOID
Kimmo Timonen (D): Timonen has been the model of consistency for the better part of the decade, but he may be showing signs of slowing down at age 36. His numbers have taken a modest dip in the past four years, though he's been able to play in at least 77 games for the past seven years, including a full 82 games the last two campaigns. He's a safe bet to produce right around 40 points from the Flyers' blue line, but he’s much more likely to produce south of that marker than to hit the north side.
Sergei Bobrovsky (G): Bobrovsky posted a .915 save percentage and 28 wins last year as the Flyers' starter, but now he's slated to back up Bryzgalov, whom the Flyers inked to a hefty contract this summer. There have also been rumors Philly is looking to shop Bobrovsky. Those rumors have been of the unsubstantiated type, and the possibility of Bobrovsky moving to a new team and sliding into a starter's role is far from likely at this point. Nonetheless, the 22-year-old has shown enough for a team in need of netminding to make a play for him; especially considering his contract is palatable. But as long as he's with the Flyers, his fantasy value is limited.