For much of the 2010-11 season, the Philadelphia Flyers had the look of a Stanley Cup Final team.
They were atop the Eastern Conference, featured a deep, talented group of forwards that filled the nets and had a six-man defense corps that was the envy of most teams in the League.
After a 4-2 win at the New York Rangers on Feb. 20, the Flyers had 83 points and a six-point lead in the East. However, they went 8-8-7 the rest of the way, and while they still finished second in the conference, something had changed, and it manifested during the Flyers' second-round playoff loss to the Boston Bruins.
Rather than chalk up the problem to bad luck, a late-season injury to star defenseman Chris Pronger
and below-average goaltending, and make small fixes to a core group that was one season removed from going to the 2010 Stanley Cup Final, Philadelphia general manager Paul Holmgren opted for an extreme roster makeover. Gone are eight of the 20 players who dressed in the last game of the series loss to the Bruins, including All-Star centers Jeff Carter and Mike Richards.
3 Questions for 2011-12
1. How much better are the Flyers with Ilya Bryzgalov in net?
What hurt Philadelphia the most in the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs? Goaltending. The Flyers shored that up by inking Bryzgalov, one of the elite netminders in the NHL, to a nine-year contract. Bryzgalov makes Philadelphia instantly better defensively, though he still needs to figure out his own postseason woes.
2. What kind of impact will Jaromir Jagr have?
When Jagr slips on his new Flyers jersey, he'll be the League's active point-scoring leader. It's tough to tell what kind of impact the 39-year-old will have, though, as he hasn't played in the NHL since 2008.
3. Can Schenn, Simmonds and Voracek fill the voids left by Richards and Carter?
It's certainly a tall order to fill. Mike Richards was the team's captain and Jeff Carter the Flyers' leading scorer. Right away, the young trio of Brayden Schenn
, Wayne Simmonds
and Jakub Voracek
will not be able to replace those contributions. But they can bring the club youth, energy -- as well as some promising offensive talent.
Among the new faces are goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov
, who signed a nine-year contract to stabilize a position that always seems to be in a state of flux in Philadelphia.
Bryzgalov is one of at least seven new faces that will be part of next season's roster, which appears to be more defense-oriented with Bryzgalov and last year's defense group returning almost completely intact.
With the departure of Richards and Carter, more will be expected from emerging talents Claude Giroux
and James van Riemsdyk
. Giroux led the team in scoring last season and made his first All-Star team, while van Riemsdyk, the second pick of the 2007 Entry Draft, had a breakout season with 21 goals, plus a team-high 7 goals in 11 playoff games.
In Carter (Columbus), Richards (Los Angeles), Ville Leino (Buffalo) and Kris Versteeg (Florida), the Flyers traded away or allowed to leave 85 goals.
Leino, who had a breakout season with 19 goals playing on the wing on a line with Danny Briere
and Scott Hartnell
, signed a six-year, $27 million contract with the Sabres and will play center. The trio of Leino, Briere and Hartnell had been the Flyers' best going back to the 2010 Stanley Cup Final.
Versteeg never seemed to mesh in Philadelphia and was traded to the Panthers for a pair of 2012 draft picks. He had just 11 points in 27 games after arriving from Toronto for first- and third-round picks.
Darroll Powe, who was second among the team's forwards in shorthanded ice time per game, was traded to the Minnesota Wild for a draft pick.
Tough guy Daniel Carcillo signed with the Chicago Blackhawks, as did veteran defenseman Sean O'Donnell.
Backup goaltender Brian Boucher signed with the Hurricanes.
The biggest surprise among the newcomers is 39-year-old right wing Jaromir Jagr
, who returns to the NHL after a three-season absence. Jagr signed a one-year, $3.3 million deal with Philadelphia after it appeared he was set for a reunion with the Pittsburgh Penguins, his first NHL team.
Jagr has spent the last three seasons playing in Russia, and while he was nearly a point-per-game scorer there -- 145 points in 155 games -- he'll likely need time to re-acclimate himself to the NHL.
While Jagr is in the twilight of his NHL career, Brayden Schenn
's appears to be dawning. Rated by many the top prospect not currently in the NHL, the 20-year-old center was a major component of the Richards trade.
"We think a lot of Brayden as a young player," Holmgren said. "As with any player, you get to training camp and you see. The players more than anybody answer those questions. Brayden is going to play in the NHL, whether it's right at the start of this season, we'll see. That's what training camp is for. He'll be given every opportunity."
The Flyers also have high hopes for another young center -- Sean Couturier
, who the team took with the eighth pick in the 2011 Entry Draft, one of the picks acquired from Columbus in the Carter trade.
It's also hoped Wayne Simmonds
and Jakub Voracek
, who were part of the haul in the Richards and Carter deals, can replace some of the offense their predecessors took with them.
Simmonds, 22, had 14 goals and 30 points last season with Los Angeles, a step back from the 2009-10 season, when he had 16 goals, 40 points and a plus-22 rating. Voracek, 22, had 46 points last season, but never has scored more than 16 goals.
Holmgren, however, believes that with more ice time, each will prosper.
is a good player," he said. "I think he's averaged 44 points in his three years. He may not be a natural goal-scorer like Jeff was, but he's a guy that can produce points. And Wayne Simmonds
playing in L.A. kicked in 16 goals I believe (actually 14). We think there's more there."
3 Players to Watch
Chris Pronger, D
-- The veteran defenseman still is recovering from back surgery in May, and isn't sure if he'll be ready for training camp. Knee, foot and hand injuries limited him to 50 games and the back injury knocked him out of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. If Pronger can't play a full season at full health, all the Flyers' offseason changes might go for naught.Brayden Schenn, C
-- He may be a 19-year-old (he'll turn 20 Aug. 22) with nine games of NHL experience, but that hasn't dimmed very high expectations. Schenn has been lauded as the best player outside the NHL, and GM Paul Holmgren compared him to Mike Richards, the All-Star center the Flyers gave up to get him.Wayne Simmonds, RW --
One of the players expected to pick up the scoring load this season is Simmonds. He had 16 goals two seasons ago and looked to be on the path to 20, but slumped last season with just 14. With all the subtractions the Flyers made up front, Simmonds will have the opportunity to for more ice time than he had in Los Angeles. The Flyers are hoping he can make the most out of it.
With less offense, more emphasis will be placed on preventing goals, and that starts with Bryzgalov, who has won 78 games the last two seasons while backstopping the Coyotes into the playoffs in back-to-back years.
Also added were Maxime Talbot
, who should fill Powe's spot as a bottom-six forward and penalty killer, and Andreas Lilja
, who will be in the running for the sixth defense spot.
The Flyers appear to have gone from an attacking, offensive-minded team to one that will rely more on goaltending and defense. That places the pressure squarely on Bryzgalov, who could be the best goaltender to wear black and orange since Ron Hextall won 37 games as a rookie in 1987.
"We rank Ilya as one of the upper-echelon goalies in the League, and bringing him in, he does give us stability," Holmgren said. "Adding Ilya and maintaining the defense we had last year, we think we're in a good spot."
While Bryzgalov will be a major part of keeping the puck out of the net, another giant piece is defenseman Chris Pronger
, who was limited to just 50 games last season and could miss the start of training camp while recovering from back surgery. The Flyers were 16-9-7 in his absence last season, but just 6-4-6 without him following a late-season hand injury, and the hole he left in the lineup was a major reason for the team's postseason struggles, especially on the power play.
Giroux and van Riemsdyk will be relied upon heavily for offense, as Holmgren believes the young forwards are ready to become prime-time players.
"I think Claude sort of emerged here over the last couple years," Holmgren said. "If you go back to his playoffs (in 2010), he was tremendous. This season he was one of our better forwards again. And I can't say enough about how James played in the playoffs, and we're hoping that his ascension to becoming a consistent, well-rounded player continues."
While the Flyers have lost a lot offensively, a healthy Pronger and more reliable goaltending could make up for the missing goals.