Puck Daddy - NHL

Colorful characters, revered championships, staged fights ... the rink shares plenty with the squared circle. So here at Puck Daddy, we've decided to preview the 2010-11 NHL season with the help of old-school wrestling icons, images and lingo. It's a slobber-knocker, Mean Gene ...

Last Season (41-35-6, 88 points; third in the Atlantic; seventh in the Eastern Conference)

How many times were the Flyers left for dead last season?

When John Stevens was fired 25 games into the season and the Flyers were out of a postseason spot? When Ray Emery's(notes) season ended on Feb. 1 due to injury? When a playoff spot came down to an overtime shootout against the New York Rangers because the Flyers couldn't close the deal in Game No. 81? When the team went down 0-3 to the Boston Bruins in the conference semifinals? When the team went down 0-2 against the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Finals?

(See: Flyers Eulogy

Patrick Kane's(notes) shot through Michael Leighton's(notes) five-hole in Game 6 of the Finals ended the Flyers' unpredictable run at the Stanley Cup. It was a remarkable season, which led to an eventful offseason.

Can the Flyers make it back to the final round and finish what they started last season?

Key Subtractions

Simon Gagne(notes) was the longest-tenured Flyer (since 2000), but was a cap casualty in July when he was traded with a fourth-round pick to the Tampa Bay Lightning for defenseman Matt Walker(notes) and a fourth-round pick. 

Defenseman Ryan Parent(notes) was traded to Nashville, who originally drafted him, for the rights to Dan Hamhuis(notes), whose rights were then traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins, who then lost him to Vancouver as a free agent. Wow, what a hassle.

Arron Asham(notes) left for a 1-year deal with the Penguins. Ray Emery, Lukas Krakicek and Danny Syvert were all unsigned. Riley Cote(notes) abruptly retired to become a minor league coach. 

New Additions

Defenseman Andrej Meszaros(notes) was a surprise acquisition from the Lightning for a second-round pick. Fellow D-man Sean O'Donnell(notes) came over from the Kings for toughness, as did Walker in the Gagne trade. Jody Shelley(notes) was signed to be the designated enforcer and add minutes down the lineup.

The most off-the-wall move? Bringing Nikolai Zherdev(notes) back from the KHL on a 1-year deal, a bargain gamble.


Wrestler That Best Personifies the Team

The rule-breaking, trash-talking bad ass who wins on his terms (and as his body falls apart). If you think the Flyers are the Stone Cold Steve Austin of hockey gimme a 'hell yeah.'

Forwards

Mike Richards(notes) topped 30 goals for the second straight season, although his overall point total fell by 18. He's a captain that leads by example, and is one of the best two-way players in the NHL. And if you don't believe us, there's a creepy turtle who lives between the benches who will agree.

Richards played with Gagne for most of the postseason, along with Jeff Carter(notes) and Daniel Carcillo before his scratching. Carter scored 33 goals in 74 games after his star-making 46-goal season in the previous year. This only helped him become catnip for trade rumors.

Who was the Flyers' leading scorer in the playoffs? Danny Briere(notes), an absolute revelation for his toughness in a 30-points-in-23-games performance. He also led the team with four game-winning goals. Also dynamic in the playoffs: Claude Giroux(notes), who is going to be counted on heavily this season to pick up Gagne's points; and Ville Leino(notes), who scored 21 points in 19 playoff games, each of them a tiny little dagger in a Red Wings fan's eye.

Scott Hartnell(notes) had to deal with a load of off-ice drama (fact or fiction) and struggled in the regular season. In the playoffs, he regained the form that led to his 30-goal season in 2008-09. He played with Carter and Briere for most of last season.

Blair Betts(notes) in a vital grunt, especially on the kill. Same can be said for Ian Laperriere(notes) although he also generates headlines like this. James van Riemsdyk(notes) could have a breakout year, and has played with Zherdev in the preseason. Jody Shelley can still toss bombs, as Colton Orr(notes) would tell you if he could remember them:

Defense

Pronger may not have been the best player on the ice every game of the postseason, but damn if he wasn't the most valuable. He ate up ice time and shut down opponents. He led by example and took the heat off his teammates by becoming a media focal point. It was quintessential Pronger: What other player can vie for the Conn Smythe while getting called out in an opponents' Cup celebration, getting his sexuality questioned in the celebratory locker room and having a major metropolitan newspaper place him in a dress?

Pronger is healing up knee injury to start the season, and there's no doubt some wear on those (soon to be) 36-year-old legs. Luckily, the Flyers have one of the deepest blue lines in the conference to share the regular-season burden.

Kimmo Timonen(notes) and Braydon Coburn(notes) struggled at times last season but remain a solid pairing; Timonen had 39 points last season, with 19 on the power play.

Matt Carle(notes) was Pronger's frequent defensive partner last season, but the addition of Pronger's old blue line-mate Sean O'Donnell could affect that. The acquisition of Andrej Meszaros gives the Flyers a 25-year-old puck-mover who still hasn't matched the 39 points he scored as a rookie. Oskars Bartulis(notes) played 53 games last season for Philly and was a minus-12. He and Matt Walker are battling for the seventh defenseman spot.

Goaltending

The Flyers currently have four goaltenders vying for time: Michael Leighton, who backstopped the team through its Eastern Conference semifinal rally through Game 6 of the Finals; Brian Boucher(notes), the steady veteran keeper whose injury led to Leighton's run; Johan Backlund(notes), the 29-year-old Swede who played mostly in the AHL last season; and Sergei Bobrovsky(notes), whose raw talent has some labeling him the team's next franchise goalie.

Leighton hasn't started more than 33 games in the regular season, but started 13 playoff games while posting a 2.46 GAA ... even if his Finals performance wasn't all that strong. The Flyers signed him for two years; will he emerge from camp as the starter? Can Bobrovsky earn the backup role? There's as much promise here as there is doubt this group can be solid for 82 games.

Match We'd Pay To Watch

The ultimate grudge match: Ian Laperriere vs. cue cards:

Breakout Player

James van Riemsdyk had 19 points in the first two months of the season, but finished the season with 35. Playoff experience and increased responsibilities (playing up with Jeff Carter, for example) this season could have JVR known for more than being the pride of Middletown, NJ and this ridiculous goal.

Potential Flop

Could it be anyone but Zherdev? It's only a 1-year, $2 million deal, but Zherdev can disappear for stretches during the season. Said Danny Briere of his new teammate: "We know he's very skilled and a dangerous player. Hopefully, he gets on board with the system here and the leadership we have." Hopefully.

Finishing Move

Claude Giroux should throw a few thousand more moves into his next shootout attempt.

Special Teams

The Flyers were third in the NHL in power-play efficiency (21.5 percent). They'll have to replace Simon Gagne's 19 points on the man advantage. They were 11th in the League with a penalty-killing efficiency of 83 percent. 

Coach/GM

Peter Laviolette coached through a ton of adversity, from injuries to personality clashes, and managed to lead the Flyers two within two victories of the Stanley Cup. His system fit the talent on the roster, his temperament was what the team needed. In his second year with the Hurricanes, they won the Stanley Cup. Just sayin'.

Paul Holmgren made the bold decision to acquire Chris Pronger(notes) and the daft decision to sign him to a retirement contract that will still count against the cap when he retires. Which is to say that for every shrewd move, there's a frustrating one for Flyers fans. There's no denying Holmgren's impact last season in acquiring everyone from Pronger to Ian Laperriere to Ville Leino; will this summer's moves have the same positive impact? Which is to say: Gagne for Walker?

2010-11 Preseason Report Card:

Forwards: B
Defense: A-
Goaltending: C-
Special Teams: A-
Coaching: B+
Management: B

Main Event or Dark Match? (Prediction)

The Flyers are a playoff team with a shot at the division title, as their gritty collection of forwards and a stout defense covers for below average goaltending. Provided their key forwards can remain healthy.

Entrance Music for 2010-11 Season

The 2010-11 Philadelphia Flyers: The next degeneration of the Broad Street Bullies. And if you're not down with that, we've got two words for you: Penguins fan. 

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