It's not always easy to please the savvy and passionate fans of the Philadelphia Flyers, but something tells us they're really going to embrace the team's two biggest headline additions in the offseason – Chris Pronger(notes) and Ray Emery(notes).
Acquiring the well-traveled defenseman in Pronger and the reclamation project in goal with Emery adds to the Flyers' mystique of not being the easiest team to face. And if everything goes as well as general manager Paul Holmgren envisions, these might be two of the final pieces for something very, very special in the City of Brotherly Love.
What Pronger does is essentially give the Flyers that veteran pillar on defense, the physical force that brings all that experience and the ability to intimidate an opponent. Basically, he's Derian Hatcher(notes) will a whole lot left.
The 35-year-old native of Dryden, Ont., makes Philadelphia his fifth NHL team. The 15-year vet has logged a lot of minutes over his 1,022 regular-season games and he'll turn 35 before the season is two weeks old.
Pronger has scored between 11-14 goals and 43-59 points in each of the last five seasons, so you pretty much know what you're going to get. Here's another thing to remember – Pronger has been to the Stanley Cup playoffs for 13 straight seasons. Pronger didn't come cheap – promising prospect Luca Sbisa(notes), veteran forward Joffrey Lupul(notes) and a first-round draft pick – but the Flyers felt good enough about this to sign their new defenseman to a seven-year deal.
Emery is a different story. The Flyers, who seemingly have been forever looking for an answer in goal since the days of Ron Hextall, decided the combination of Martin Biron(notes) and Antero Niittymaki(notes) wasn't going to get it done. Biron had his moments, especially late in 2007-08 regular season and playoffs, but he couldn't sustain any consistency last season and the team soured on Niitymaki's ability to seize a starting role.
Emery is a gamble, but not an expensive one. His problems in Ottawa are well-chronicled, and the Flyers are guessing he'll have his head on a whole lot straighter after experiencing life away from the NHL while playing in Russia last season. Emery signed a one-year deal for $1.5 million.
Money played into the decision for a change. Holmgren decided this would be the best way to improve the entire team. Don't forget Brian Boucher(notes) was lured from San Jose to return as Philly's backup at $925,000. He did a nice job for the Sharks in relief of Evgeni Nabokov(notes). He's matured since his early days with Philadelphia. He's a solid insurance policy to bridge any problems in goal if Emery doesn’t work out.
Last season: 44-27-11 (99 points), third place in the Atlantic Division, fifth place at the Eastern Conference and ninth in the overall standings. The Flyers' stay in the Stanley Cup playoffs was shorter than they expected and would have liked. They ran into division rival Pittsburgh in the opening round. Philly fell behind 2-0 in the series, gained only a split at home and couldn't rally from a 3-1 deficit, losing Game 6 at home.
Exports: G Martin Biron (N.Y. Islanders), RW Joffrey Lupul (Anaheim), D Luca Sbisa (Anaheim), D Andrew Alberts(notes) (Carolina), G Antero Niittymaki (Tampa Bay), RW Mike Knuble(notes) (Washington) and D Derian Hatcher (retired).
Salary cap: The Flyers are bumping right up to the cap's ceiling with approximately $56.6 million committed, which leaves less than the NHL minimum salary of $500,000 available. It hurts that Mike Rathje(notes) is still on the books for this season at $3.5 million. He hasn't played due to injury since appearing only 18 times in 2006-07.
Three keys: The Flyers have a strong attack up front, it's probably the team's biggest asset. Four 30-goal scorers return in Jeff Carter(notes) (46), Simon Gagne(notes) (34), Mike Richards(notes) (30) and Scott Hartnell(notes) (30). If Daniel Briere can stay healthy he could join that group.
And the offense will pretty much have to come from that group since Philadelphia has a lot of role players sprinkled around the lineup and not the most offensive-minded group of defensemen.
Discipline will be important to maintain since there are plenty of frequent visitors to the penalty box. Ian Laperriere will be a fan favorite in Philly, which also has Daniel Carcillo(notes), Riley Cote(notes), Arron Asham(notes), Hartnell and Pronger. That group doesn't include Emery, and the Flyers have to hope that group doesn't include him going forward, too.
The defense has been a work in progress ever since Philadelphia misjudged how serious the NHL was in its crackdown in interference coming out of the lockout. Derian Hatcher and Mike Rathje were not the long-term answer like the Flyers believed.
Pronger epitomizes exactly what Philly wants to be, especially on the last line of defense – big, tough and mean. Joining the under-rated Kimmo Timonen(notes) gives coach John Stevens the flexibility to put two big stoppers out at the same time or mix and match.
Randy Jones(notes), Braydon Coburn(notes), Matt Carle(notes), Ryan Parent(notes) and Ole-Kristian Tollefsen round out a balanced group that needs to get to know its new goaltending tandem quickly to work together in unison.
On the hot seat: All eyes will be on Emery, who is now 27 years old and convinced he's left his bad behavior behind. The year spent in Russia away from the NHL might have taught Emery how good of a life he can still have playing in the best league in the world.
What gets lost in all the talk of Emery is the fact he's a very talented goalie. He's opened camp and preseason strong so it appears he's getting off on the right foot. The Flyers need him to live up to his end of the bargain.
Poised to blossom: The Flyers are tinkering with moving Claude Giroux(notes) from a wing to center. The team wants to better take advantage of his playmaking abilities. Giroux has always displayed top-line skill, regardless of a size disadvantage earlier in his career. The Flyers like his hands, his vision and speed.
Time has passed: It may seem a bit presumptuous, but the uncertainty of injuries for Daniel Briere may prevent him from ever reaching the level of play again that made him a star in Buffalo. That's not real good news for the Flyers, who signed Briere to an eight-year deal and still how him $6.5 million annually through 2014-2015.
Briere's numbers were good when he played last season – 11 goals and 25 points, but he managed to suit up in only 29 games. Groin injuries are tricky, and Briere's had really had a difficult time since turning 30. He's being asked to move from center to a wing this year, too, which suggests the Flyers want more size in the middle of the ice.
Prediction: The Flyers have their sights set on the Penguins, the team that has ended their season two years in a row. Philadelphia has put together a strong lineup from top to bottom with goaltending as a lingering question. If they get adequate results from Emery and Boucher it could mean a deep run for Philly. And don't count the Flyers out as a dark-horse Cup contender.
- Ray Emery
- the Flyers
- Chris Pronger