Looking Back

There’s no sense in beating around the bush, the 2009-10 Philadelphia Flyers were a bit of a hot mess.  A 41-35-6 regular season record almost had to be considered a disappointment until a last minute shootout victory over the New York Rangers propelled this scrappy, skilled, and callous bunch into the playoffs.  A coaching change, rumours of infidelity, and a revolving cast of goaltenders were never enough to throw the big bad Flyers off the rails; nothing more than motivation for a club that reveled in controversy as the season got longer.  It almost worked, too, until a Patrick Kane ghost-goal pulled Flyers fans’ hearts out of their chests like Mola Ram in The Temple of Doom.

Key Additions

A revamped blue line for 2010-11 will include Sean O’Donnell, Matt Walker, and Andrej Meszaros while the addition of Jody Shelley up front should provide with the Flyers with even more face-smashing power.  General manager Paul Holmgren gambled on Ukrainian enigma Nikolai Zherdev, and the expectation is that the 25-year old can add some offensive punch to the second line.

Key Subtractions

Gone are Ray Emery, Ryan Parent, Lukas Krajicek, Aaron Asham, and Riley Cote.  Often injured winger Simon Gagne was traded to Tampa Bay for next to nothing, and it could end up hurting as the 30-year old winger enjoyed a renaissance during the Flyers’ march to the finals.

Offense

The Flyers owned the league’s 3rd best power play in 2009-10 while finishing in the top ten in goals per game.  A full season under head coach Peter Laviolette should help keep their scorers afloat, but better performances from Scott Hartnell (14 goals) and Claude Giroux (16 goals) will be required if this season’s Flyers plan on winning more games.  Zherdev and sophomore James van Riemsdyk could play major roles in Laviolette’s attack, and nobody should discount Ville Leino’s 21-point playoff performance, either.

Chris Pronger led all Flyers’ defensemen in scoring with 10 goals, and he’s out indefinitely while recovering from offseason surgery.  Kimmo Timonen and Matt Carle will both be relied upon to pick up some of the offensive contribution from the back end.

There’s reason to believe that the 2010-11 Philadelphia Flyers can improve upon their 236 goals from a season ago.  A healthy Jeff Carter and a rejuvenated Danny Briere could both build upon their respective 33 goal and 26 goal performances, and Mike Richards played like a man possessed for stretches last spring.  Then again, a severe Stanley Cup Finals hangover may set in and leave this offense in an anemic state.  If we’ve learned anything from the Philadelphia Flyers, it’s to expect anything.

Defense

Wherever Chris Pronger goes, the Stanley Cup Finals are sure to follow… well, except for St. Louis and Hartford but even he can’t make shit shine.  Jokes aside, Chris Pronger was a defensive force at 35-years old last season, eclipsing the 50-point mark for the fifth time in his career.  Except for a couple of single game booze-bag performances in the playoffs, Pronger played like a Conn Smythe candidate all spring.  With that said, Pronger’s early season absence is going to hurt.

The rest of the core from last season is still in place with Braydon Coburn, Carle, and Timonen.  The addition of Meszaros is nice, assuming he bounces back from a couple of lousy seasons in Tampa Bay.  O’Donnell and Walker add some physicality, and along with Oskars Bartulis they should provide some depth until Pronger is ready to return.

Goaltending

What can you say about the Philadelphia Flyers and their modern history of netminders; goaltending free since ’93?  As ugly as it was, the Flyers’ mediocre cast in the crease worked well enough to get them within one game of lifting the Stanley Cup.  They’d be crazy to do that all over again, right?

For better or for worse, Michael Leighton appears to have been handed the job of number one goalie heading into the 2010-11 campaign.  Leighton filled in admirably when injuries claimed Ray Emery and Brian Boucher during the regular season, and he nearly became a household name after Boucher went down again in the playoffs.  Still, he wasn’t quite good enough or bad enough to have stolen a game or cost the Flyers’ one either.  The Flyers awarded Leighton with a 2-year $3.1 million deal in the offseason, which is a lot for a guy that’s probably best suited for backup minutes.

Best Case Scenario

Pronger is back earlier than expected and helps a revamped defense unit keep pucks as far away from Michael Leighton as possible.  Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Danny Briere, and Scott Hartnell all re-capture their offensive prowess from seasons gone by while Nikolai Zherdev answers his critics in grandiose fashion.  The Flyers rub shoulders with the Eastern Conference’s elite all season on their way to another deep playoff run.

Worst Case Scenario

Chris Pronger collected pucks all spring because he knew he wasn’t getting back to the promise land, Michael Leighton plays like who we thought he was and Daniel Carcillo trades blows with teammate Jody Shelley during an actual NHL game.  There’s ample reason to believe the Flyers can build upon their story book season, but questions in goal will follow them all year.  Pronger’s health remains a major question mark.

Prospecting

The Flyers’ best young players have already found full-time work with the club; James van Riemsdyk and Claude Giroux.  23-year old Jon Kalinski could see some time in the show on one of the bottom two lines this season, and Kevin Marshall established himself as a solid stay-at-home defender while playing in Adirondack as rookie in 2009-10.  At 24, David Laliberte is running out of time to be considered a prospect, but he was impressive at times during 11 games with the Flyers last season.

All Eyes On…

Had Michael Leighton stopped Patrick Kane’s shot and the Flyers managed to celebrate their own Cup clinching overtime winner then we wouldn’t be debating whether or not Leighton is capable of handling number duties in the NHL.  He’ll be given every opportunity to prove his detractors wrong when the puck drops on the 2010-11 season, there’s not a whole lot of immediately promising number one goalie prospects behind him so a less than stellar Leighton could ultimately dictate this team’s success.  When Chris Pronger is healthy, Leighton will have a pretty solid group of defensemen in front of him, so he may not have to be lights-out… but he’ll have to be good.

Lyrically Speaking

Saints preserve us in hot young stuff
The saving grace is a sonic pig pile
Amazing, grazing, strange, and raging
Flies are flaring through your brains

-Sonic Youth “Tuff Gnarl”