So, to recap the last two weeks for the Philadelphia Flyers …
This is a team that's two years removed from Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final, a team that advanced to the second round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs last year before getting stomped by the Boston Bruins. They've been eliminated by the eventual Stanley Cup champions in three consecutive seasons.
The mind strains to think of a more dramatic renovation for a team considered within reach of a championship; one that altered everything from the team's average age to its dressing room culture to the nationalities represented on its roster.
The Flyers are going to be a vastly different team in 2011-12; will they be a better team next season and beyond?
Wayne Fish of PhillyBurbs.com believes that GM Paul Holmgren has successfully transformed this team:
On the ice, the Flyers are bigger (with Jagr and Voracek) than before, and have upgraded themselves in the "glue-guy'' department (formerly run by Ian Laperriere) with the addition of Talbot and Simmonds.
Bryzgalov is more accomplished than anyone to come down the Flyers' road since John Vanbiesbrouck in the late 1990s. The Russian's ability and presence alone should help the team's confidence.
Imagine a line of Jagr, Claude Giroux and Talbot. Or possibly putting Voracek in Ville Leino's spot alongside Daniel Briere and Scott Hartnell. And if Schenn is as good at center as general manager Paul Holmgren purports him to be (perhaps pairing him with James van Riemsdyk), the Flyers' first three lines should be as strong as ever.
Defensively, the addition of Lilja should be an upgrade from O'Donnell and keep the Flyers' back line among the best in the league.
In the long run, the Flyers have set themselves for another good run at a championship. They got younger, bigger and more flexible with the salary cap.
That's a sunny side of the outlook. Sam Carchidi of the Inquirer presents the gloomy outlook:
Here is how Holmgren's moves could blow up in his face:
Without linemate Leino as his setup man, Danny Briere shows a marked decline from his career-best 34-goal season.
The newcomers don't come close to matching the production of the departed Carter, Richards, Leino, and Zherdev - and, to a lesser degree, even Kris Versteeg.
Jagr is a shell of the once-dominating NHL player, and Pronger again is beset by injuries.
The Flyers' special-teams' units suffer immensely without Richards and Carter.
Because of the small stature of their centers, the Flyers get physically overmatched down the middle.
That's without mentioning Bryzgalov, who is signed for nine years (a.k.a. a few years with the Flyers before bolting to Russia when his salary declines) and is the latest in a long line of solutions between the pipes for the franchise.
The Bryzgalov trade was the first major move of the summer makeover. At the time, it seemed like a solid investment: It's Comcast's money, a reasonable cap hit and he was seen as the best goaltending option available on the open market.
In the last 48 hours, several goalies have changed teams, and with them the economics of the position changed, too. Travis Hughes of Broad Street Hockey broke is down in a chart and offered this summary:
Could we have seen such a low number for Vokoun? No, not that low. But a number less than Bryzgalov? Much less than Bryzgalov? Yes. A thousand times yes.
The one team that opted out of that market wound up getting the worst of the deals, and again, that could have been expected -- not to mention that they had to completely re-shape their championship caliber team to make it happen. Hell, they have a history of this, completely misjudging the UFA goalie market a year ago by giving Michael Leighton a bad contract before free agency opened.
This is what happens when you overreact, Uncle Ed. George McPhee showed a little patience and now, the Caps are the clear-cut favorites in the Eastern Conference and perhaps even the league.
The Flyers? Well, who knows? We need name tags, thanks to a massive team-altering contract that wasn't necessary.
Bryzgalov might be the least of their worries, actually. The defense in front of him has already made guys like Michael Leighton and Brian Boucher look 100 times better than they are. If it plays well in front of Bryz, he could be outstanding. But a lot of that falls on the health of Chris Pronger.
Taking what Fish wrote and what Carchidi wrote, the truth is likely somewhere in the middle. The Flyers could be better in the long haul by getting younger in some areas with a players like Schenn. They didn't break the bank for a guy like Leino. They've removed some allegedly negative presences in their room, and have a decided European flavor on the roster.
But in the short term, the Flyers are not a better team. They're thinner up the middle. Jagr has to prove he can handle the NHL grind again. And if chemistry was an issue before, are we going to pretend it won't be an issue with a roster that's had more changeover than most Yahoo! fantasy teams?
We keep coming back to the notion that Ed Snider believed Bryzgalov was the "final piece" for this team, and Holmgren then smashing that puzzle. Nothing is done without the blessing of ownership; but if this new collection of Flyers tanks in the short term, it's not going to be Comcast taking the fall. Holmgren might have set this team up in the long-term, but in the sprint to a Stanley Cup this collection might still fall short.
- Ilya Bryzgalov
- Ville Leino
- Kris Versteeg
- Jakub Voracek
- The Flyers