Philadelphia Flyers coach Peter Laviolette believes the start of training camp is the perfect tonic for his team after finishing second fiddle to the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks last June.
The Flyers, who dropped a six-game series to the Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Final, will open camp at the Skate Zone in Voorhees, N.J., on Sept. 17 with renewed vigor and enthusiasm.
Laviolette, named to Philadelphia Magazine's "Best of Philly for 2010" as the top coach in the city, recently offered his thoughts regarding the off-season maneuvers and the upcoming season via phone from his summer home in Florida.
"I'm excited just to get back and to have a training camp because it's been a couple of years since I've been in one (2008-09 with Carolina)," Laviolette said. "It's really beneficial when you have that opportunity during training camp to work with your team and implement systems, push the pace and work on conditioning.
"When I first got hired by the Flyers (on Dec. 4, 2009), I think we had eight games in 13 nights; there really wasn't any time to do anything," he added. "Now there is the opportunity to work with everybody."
And that's a good thing since Laviolette will have several new players to work with when he dons the whistle upon his return to the Skate Zone.
Flyers GM Paul Holmgren was rather busy this off-season, signing unrestricted free agent forwards Nikolai Zherdev and Jody Shelley and defenseman Sean O'Donnell. He also traded for defensemen Andrej Meszaros and Matt Walker. As a result, the back end, arguably one of the League's best at this stage, now includes Kimmo Timonen, Chris Pronger, Braydon Coburn, Matt Carle, Oskars Bartulis, O'Donnell, Meszaros and Walker.
The depth will certainly provide veterans Pronger and Timonen, who each played 22-26 minutes a night, some much-needed rest between shifts.
"I think when you get into playing defensemen 30 minutes a night, consistently every night, it takes a toll on those players," Laviolette admitted. "Health-wise, we were pretty fortunate last season with our top four (Pronger, Timonen, Coburn, Carle) and certainly we would like to stay like that. These acquisitions give us more of a luxury of possibly resting other players. This will really give us some depth in the back end where maybe our top guys won't have to play as much and we can get more of a consistent roll out there. I feel like our D right now is really strong."
Pronger, incidentally, underwent successful arthroscopic knee surgery last week to remove floating particles and Holmgren informed Tim Panaccio of CSNPhilly.com that he expects Pronger to be ready for training camp.
Laviolette is looking forward to working with all the new players at his disposal and instilling his brand of up-tempo hockey that enabled the Flyers to come within two victories of winning their first Stanley Cup since 1975.
"I have never worked with any of the new players that we got during the offseason but I certainly have coached against them and have seen them enough in the League," Laviolette said. "They were good acquisitions because they added areas to our team that we can improve."
Laviolette thought Shelley, 34, was terrific as a checking-line wing on the New York Rangers last season and anticipates him playing a similar role for the Flyers in 2010-11.
"You throw him into the mix with the guys we already have who play those types of roles and I think it is a real valuable asset to our team," he said.
Adding Zherdev, meanwhile, was critical in Laviolette's eyes -- particularly since Simon Gagne's time in Philadelphia had reached an end.
"Everybody likes the way (Zherdev) plays the game because he has such a high skill level," Laviolette said. "I remember back when he was with the Rangers -- he was their leading goal-scorer. To me, getting him is exciting. When you can get a young player under 25, with a boatload of talent … those are the types of players you want to have on your team."
Still, Zherdev will have some big skates to fill in Gagne, a fan-favorite who spent 10 seasons in the City of Brotherly Love before being dealt to the Tampa Bay Lightning for Walker last month. Gagne ranks ninth on the Flyers' all-time list in goals (259) and 10th in points (524) and games played (664), while placing fourth in both goals and points among left wings in Flyers history.
"Simon is a very good player; a skilled guy," Laviolette said. "I know he has played in Philadelphia for a long time and he was well-liked by the organization, fans and myself. It was one of those moves that is tough to take but hockey is the business we are in right now with salary cap issues. I with Simon the best in Tampa, but we have to look at what we do have.
"Here is an opportunity for a young kid (Zherdev) to come in here and can get on track and maybe help replace a guy like Simon."