Yes, indeed, despite the promise of impending labor Armageddon and a prolonged work-stoppage, your friends at Puck Daddy are previewing the 2012-13 NHL season (whenever the heck it starts). Why? Because this is the most important election in the history of all-time ever, and you need to know the candidates — like the Philadelphia Flyers.
Just one year removed from an appearance in the Stanley Cup Final, the Flyers blew up their locker room in Summer 2011. Mike Richards was traded to the Los Angeles Kings. Jeff Carter was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets, eventually joining Richards to win the Cup with the Kings.
Other huge changes: Ilya Bryzgalov was signed to a 9-year contract, ostensibly to solve the team's longstanding goaltending issues (and, perhaps, unlock the secrets of the universe); and Jaromir Jagr put on the orange and black on a 1-year deal.
The results were positive — mostly. The removal of Richards/Carter seemed to work from a chemistry perspective, and Jagr helped turn Claude Giroux into a star. But Bryzgalov was inconsistent in goal, and a cataclysmic injury to captain Chris Pronger changed the dynamic of the blue line. The Flyers finished fifth in the East with 103 points. They ousted the Pittsburgh Penguins in an epic first-round battle, but didn't have enough left against the New Jersey Devils in Round 2, seeing their run end in five games.
Is Philadelphia on track to win its first Cup since 1975?
The offseason transactions begin with The One That Got Away.
The 14-year, $110-million offer sheet given to defenseman Shea Weber of the Predators would have transformed the blue line for the Flyers, defensively and offensively. But the Predators matched, leaving the Flyers with their draft picks intact and without a game-changer to replace Chris Pronger.
Jagr decided to chase the money down to Dallas, signing a 1-year $4.55 million deal with the Stars. Defenseman Matt Carle also left, signing a 6-year deal worth $33 million with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
In a long-rumored trade, the Flyers sent James van Riemsdyk (and his contract) to Toronto for defenseman Luke Schenn, who may or may not have a sibling on the Flyers.
The Flyers added a few players via free agency: Danny Syvret, a defenseman from the Blues; Bruno Gervais, a defenseman from the Lightning; and veteran Ruslan Fedotenko, who played for the Rangers last season.
At forward … Claude Giroux is now a video game cover boy and entered into the Best Player In The World conversation at 24 years old, after a 93-point performance last season. His 1.21 points per game was a career best, and he had 17 points in 10 playoff games — along with a classic hit on Sidney Crosby.
Scott Hartnell ran shotgun on Giroux's line, tallying 67 points in the best offensive season of his career (to go along with the customary 136 PIMs). But Jagr, their running mate on one of the NHL's best lines last season, has moved on. Can Jakub Voracek, who idolized his countryman Jagr, move up to the top unit and be as effective?
Danny Briere posted his lowest points-per-game total (0.70) since 2001, managing just 16 goals after posting 34 in the previous season. He still brought it in the playoffs — 13 points in 11 games — but the Flyers need more from him in the regular season.
Wayne Simmonds, acquired in the Richards trade, had a promising first season in Philly with 28 goals; now, what does he do with a 6-year contract in his pocket?
The Flyers received a tremendous boost last season from a trio of rookies: Brayden Schenn (12 goals in 54 games), Matt Read (24 goals) and Sean Couturier (27 points, and stellar defensive play in the postseason). Schenn is expected to be a second liner with van Riemsdyk gone; what can Read and Couturier do for an encore?
Max Talbot is the veteran anchor of the lineup's role players, along with Fedotenko. Eric Wellwood, Zac Rinaldo and Harry Zolnierczyk are in the mix as well.
On defense … the Flyers have 10 defensemen that could be in the mix for NHL jobs, and one named Chris Pronger that remains in a prolonged concussion rehab.
Kimmo Timonen is in the last year of his contract and is the Flyers' elder statesman on defense. His 43 points led all Flyers blueliners, and he skated an average of 21:14 per game. With Carle gone, the rest of the offensive load may fall to Andrej Meszaros, who had 25 points in 62 games last season and Braydon Coburn (22:03 TOI), a defensive defenseman who'll need to offer up a little more offense.
Schenn and Nicklas Grossmann are defensive stalwarts; it'll be especially interesting to see how Schenn blossoms in the Flyers' system. Andreas Lilja, Erik Gustafsson, Marc-Andre Bourdon, Brandon Manning, Syvret and Gervais are all in the mix.
In goal … Bryzgalov finished the regular season with a 2.48 GAA and a .909 save percentage. In the playoffs, he ended with a 3.46 GAA and a .887 save percentage, thanks in part to that carnival act of a series against the Penguins.
But the bottom line is that for a goalie signed to be the Answer, he's just another Question Mark for the Flyers. There were times he was very good. There were others in which fans went after him like Chinese authorities chasing a tiger poacher. His HBO interviews made him a national sensation; they also underscored what a flighty mess he could be, to the point where the Flyers protected him by sitting him for the Winter Classic.
Is Bryzgalov the team's best hope in goal, or will he suddenly "disappear" to the KHL if he's not the answer?
Patrick Kane's favorite goaltender, Michael Leighton, looks to be the backup.
When Peter Laviolette isn't shoving opposing players in the concourse, he's a darn good hockey coach. He probably didn't get enough credit for keeping this Flyers team successful after the locker room was blown up and Pronger went down; lord knows he'll get the blame if that success subsides. But that new contract was a vote of confidence.
GM Paul Holmgren aggressively remade his roster, and there were plenty of critics ready to pounce if that failed. It didn't. But the whiff on Weber underscores the biggest concern for Holmgren: the blue line, even with Schenn, isn't good enough to win the East, let alone cover for the goaltending behind it.
Giroux is the team's best player and the new face of the franchise. He's on track to become a perennial Hart contender. The only question, besides health: How much impact did Jagr have on his 17-point increase year to year?
Brayden Schenn should get second-line duty with Simmonds and Briere next season, which means he should have every opportunity to blow up offensively.
Bryzgalov is "skinny and prepared", and has a season in the Philly pressure cooker under his belt. He's also a goalie that went from being a free agent coup to having fans calculating his buyout impact.
"Times are tough. People are worried. Now more than ever, we need someone who will stand up for us.
"Instead, all Scott Hartnell does is fall down.
"Like, a lot.
"Paid for by People Against Fartsmell."
The Flyers are a playoff team, but how far they can advance will be predicated on Bryzgalov, the growth of last year's rookie crop and how aggressive Holmgren gets in filling the lineup's holes.
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