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2013 Flyers Preview: Claude's Crew

Robert Berretta

Robert Berretta has a college degree, a dog, a pair of Vibrams, and a French-press coffee maker. When he's not following Philadelphia sports and competing in triathlons, Robert works to improve literacy rates in urban, K-8 schools in Philadelphia, Trenton, and DC.

When you allow more goals than you score, you lose. Or so said Yogi Berra. In any event, that was the story of the Flyers' abridged 2012-13 season. They averaged 2.75 goals per game, but allowed 2.90 goals per game. That 15-hundredth of a goal difference caused the Flyers to miss the postseason for just the second time in the last 18 years.

That simple piece of data suggested the need for upgrades in goal and on the blue line. The Flyers believe they have addressed both. They signed former Blackhawks netminder Ray Emery, wiping away the Ilya Bryzgalov era with a hefty "goodbye check," while also adding veteran defenseman and former Islanders captain Mark Streit.

Even though they averaged close to thee goals per game, the Flyers were also held to two or fewer goals in 28 of the team's 48 games. General manager Paul Holmgren hopes the addition of veteran center Vincent Lecavalier will help bring consistency to the streaky offense.

All of these additions, however, amount to hopeful upgrades. The Flyers are hoping an aging defenseman (Streit) and an aging center (Lecavalier) will bring consistency to a streaky team. They're hoping some young players (Couturier & Brayden Schenn) will live up to their abilities. They're hoping Scott Hartnell can return to form after an injury-plagued season. And they're hoping Ray Emery can repeat his elite numbers from last year - numbers he had never previously approached.

If the hockey gods look favorably upon the orange and white, they have a chance to punish opposing defenses and grab a low seed in the playoffs. If not, fans on Broad Street will be hoping for some front-office changes.

The Big Guns

Claude Giroux (C): After a breakout, 93-point season in 2011-12, Giroux calmed down a bit last year. He still amassed a respectable 47 points in 48 games and was among the league leaders in most offensive categories. After signing an eight-year extension in the offseason, he'll look to maintain his elite status. He figures to be a target in the opening rounds of most drafts, but exercise caution -- he underwent surgery on Aug. 15 to repair damage to an extensor tendon on his right index finger that was cut after a golf club shattered and then splintered into his hand on a shot. Tendons are notoriously slow healers and fingers crossed (literally) the injury was restricted to the tendon and not the nearby nerves. While he has begun skating drills, he'll likely miss most of the preseason games.

Jakub Voracek (RW): Voracek had impressive numbers in the shortened season, netting 22 goals and collecting 24 assists. The 23-year-old winger was the Flyers' leading scorer and MVP. He's missed very little time due to injury, and given last season's maturation, he could post similar or better numbers this year. He's worth a look in the early-rounds of most drafts.

Kimmo Timonen (D): Even at 38, Timonen still figures to have significant fantasy value if he can stay healthy. Last season he was a top-10 defensive points-getter, despite fracturing his foot and missing the final 3 games of the season. With a healthy foot and fewer distractions behind him in goal, he could continue collecting elite-level points.

On The Rise

Wayne Simmonds (RW): Simmonds collected 32 points, 82 penalty minutes, and two Gordie Howe hat tricks last season. The young winger has developed into a formidable offensive points-getter, and the PIMs are an added bonus. He's a solid value in most leagues, but especially in leagues that reward PIMs.

Sean Couturier (C): Couturier signed a two-year extension in late July, and looks to recover from a down season. Known for his defensive prowess, the 20-year-old center is still young and developing, so he could be a target in keeper leagues. And if he can get back to his 2011-12 form when he posted a rating of plus-18, he has the potential to add value in deeper leagues.

Two to Watch

Scott Hartnell (RW): Many believe Hartnell had disappointing numbers last season, particularly after posting a career-high 67 points in 2011-12. Hartnell battled a few injuries last season, and the winger is still an important part of the Flyers' offense. If Hartnell can stay healthy, the addition of Vincent Lecavalier should help him rebound this year.

Brayden Schenn (C): Brayden Schenn saw his minutes increase last year, and surpassed his 2011-12 numbers in seven fewer games. While he has typically played center for the Flyers, the addition of Vincent Lecavalier could see Brayden Schenn slide over to wing alongside Lecavalier. If that's the case, he could see more opportunities to collect goals and assists. He's still young at 21, so he could be an asset in later rounds, especially in keeper leagues.

Don't Overrate

Vincent Lecavalier (C): Lecavalier signed a five-year deal with the Flyers in July. With opposing defenses likely to key in on Claude Giroux, Lecavalier should still see enough scoring opportunities to be a valid fantasy contributor. Still, exercise caution in where you draft him -- the 33-year-old is not the same center who scored 52 goals in 2006-07.

Ray Emery (G): Emery is coming off an impressive year with the Blackhawks, helping Chicago win the Stanley Cup with his 1.94 goals against average. While most expect him to be the Flyers' everyday goaltender, he faces competition from Steve Mason, who has publicly stated that he wants the starting job. Philadelphia has never been amiable to goalies, and last season's GAA was well below his career mark of 2.63, so proceed with caution here.

Mark Streit (D): Streit had 27 points in 48 games with the Islanders last season, good for 14th best among defenders. He came to the Flyers in June via trade, and he'll certainly see ample ice time. The 35-year-old is a points-hungry defenseman, but his consistently subprime plus/minus ratings and low PIMs, plus the fact that he's coming to an already-shaky Flyers defense, could make him a liability. Proceed, but proceed cautiously.

Top Prospects

Jason Akeson (RW): Akeson appeared in one game with the Flyers last year. Though he only spent about 12 minutes on the ice, he made the most of it by notching a goal. While the 23-year-old right winger is still below Max Talbot, Wayne Simmonds, and Jakub Voracek on the depth chart, an injury to one of those players could signal significant playing time for Akeson. So he could be worth a look in keeper leagues, especially if he can keep up that goal per game pace.

Brandon Manning (D): The 23-year-old Manning had a short stint in the NHL last season, appearing in just six games for the Flyers. He didn't have a stellar year in the AHL, posting 19 points and a minus-six in 46 games, but many consider him to be one of the Flyers' better defensive prospects. Given the team's defensive issues, it's realistic to expect him to see more NHL time this year. Still, even if he stays full-time in the NHL, expect modest fantasy production while adjusts to the stiffer competition.

Nick Cousins (C): Cousins has improved in each of his three seasons in the OHL, finishing third in points (103) last season. He played well despite looming sexual assault charges, which were eventually dropped last April. The 20-year-old will likely spend this season polishing his skills in the AHL, but could be an interesting late-round pick in keeper leagues.

Scott Laughton (C): Laughton put up decent numbers in the OHL last season - 56 points in just 49 games. He's a former first-round draft pick who could sneak into the NHL this season. He's still young (19), however, and he's likely to start the season in the AHL, where he'll have to prove himself worthy of an NHL callup.