The winds of change blew through the Philadelphia Flyers' locker room with the force of an F5 tornado. Of the 20 players who took the ice for the team's final Stanley Cup Playoff game last May, nine have been blown to new teams.
A year removed from advancing to the Stanley Cup Final, it was a stunning course change that saw a pair of homegrown All-Star centers depart on the same day the team gave a monumental contract to a new goaltender.
June 23 will go down as one of the biggest days in franchise history, as it saw the Flyers trade Jeff Carter to Columbus and team captain Mike Richards to Los Angeles, while at the same time finalizing a nine-year, $51 million contract with goalie Ilya Bryzgalov
In return for Carter, the Flyers acquired 22-year-old right wing Jakub Voracek
and the No. 8 pick in the 2011 Entry Draft, which the team used on center Sean Couturier
. For Richards, the Flyers received 23-year-old right wing Wayne Simmonds
and top prospect Brayden Schenn
, considered by many to be the best player not currently playing full-time in the NHL.
|J. van Riemsdyk ||C. Giroux ||J. Jagr |
|S. Hartnell ||D. Briere ||J. Voracek |
|M. Read ||B. Schenn ||W. Simmonds |
|M. Talbot ||B. Betts ||Z. Rinaldo |
|J. Shelley || || |
|C. Pronger ||M. Carle |
|K. Timonen ||B. Coburn |
|A. Meszaros ||A. Lilja |
|O. Bartulis || |
|I. Bryzgalov |
|S. Bobrovsky |
|ones to watch |
|F. Sean Couturier |
|D. Erik Gustafsson |
|F. Andres Nodl |
|G. Michael Leighton |
"What we've done today is change the direction of our organization with these two moves," Flyers General Manager Paul Holmgren said that day. "I've always said over the last few years that I like our team. Today I like our team. We're just a different team."
Also departing along with Carter and Richards were forwards Ville Leino, Kris Versteeg, Darroll Powe, Daniel Carcillo and Nikolay Zherdev, defensemen Sean O'Donnell and Danny Syvret, and goaltender Brian Boucher.
Among those arriving to replace them are forwards Jaromir Jagr
and Maxime Talbot
, and defenseman Andreas Lilja
With all the changes, it's made for a wide-open training camp.
"There's a lot of new faces in the room," said coach Peter Laviolette. "I think that really leads to a lot of opportunity. Camp this year is a lot different than last year, with regard to the availability of spots. Spots are open, line opportunities are open, minutes are available to play throughout the course of the game. Training camp will decide a lot of that at the start of the year. Then there'll be a level of competition inside the room to earn those spots and keep those minutes. That's an exciting thing. Training camp has a lot of value this year. It always has value, but even more so this year, based on the opportunities that are here."
In Carter (36), Richards (23), Leino (19), Zherdev (16) and Versteeg (7 in 27 games), the Flyers need to replace nearly 40 percent of last year's offense, which was third in the League with 256 goals. Danny Briere
is coming off a career-best 34-goal season, and Scott Hartnell
has scored at least 20 goals in five of the past six seasons. The hope is youngsters Claude Giroux
and James van Riemsdyk
can up their level of play to be prime-time offensive performers.
In just his second full NHL season, Giroux led the Flyers with 76 points and played in his first NHL All-Star Game. Van Riemsdyk, the No. 2 pick of the 2007 Entry Draft, followed his first 20-goal NHL season with 7 goals in 11 playoff games.
"I think Claude sort of emerged here over the last couple years," said Holmgren. "If you go back to his playoffs (in 2010), he was tremendous. (Last) 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's his ascension to becoming a consistent, well-rounded player continues."
IN: Ilya Bryzgalov
, G (trade, Coyotes); Jaromir Jagr
, RW (free agent, Avangard Omsk, Russia); Andreas Lilja
, D (free agent, Ducks); Brayden Schenn
, C (trade, Kings); Wayne Simmonds
, RW (trade, Kings); Maxime Talbot
, C (free agent, Penguins); Jakub Voracek
, RW (trade, Blue Jackets)OUT:
Brian Boucher, G (free agent, Hurricanes); Nick Boynton, D (free agent); Daniel Carcillo, LW (free agent, Blackhawks); Jeff Carter, C (trade, Blue Jackets); Matt Clackson, LW (trade, Coyotes); Ville Leino, LW (free agent, Sabres); Sean O'Donnell, D (free agent, Blackhawks); Darroll Powe, C (trade, Wild); Mike Richards, C (trade, Kings); Danny Syvret, D (free agent, Blues); Kris Versteeg, RW (trade, Panthers); Nikolay Zherdev, RW (free agent, Atlant Mystichi, Russia)
There's also hope Voracek and Simmonds can contribute more than the 14 goals each scored last season.
is a good player," said Holmgren. "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 (14) goals. … We think there's more there."
The wild card is the signing of the 39-year-old Jagr, who returns to the NHL after a three-year sojourn to Russia. Jagr nearly was a point-per-game scorer in the KHL (145 points in 155 games), but the most he played in any one season was 55 games.
Schenn also could be a key component to the offense. The 20-year-old was the No. 5 pick of the 2009 Entry Draft and had 2 assists in eight games last season before averaging a point per game in the AHL and shredding junior hockey.
Couturier also could be an option after scoring 96 points in back-to-back seasons with Drummondville of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He's excellent defensively and strong on faceoffs. With Giroux, Briere and Blair Betts
locked into center spots, Couturier and Schenn could be competing for the final spot in the middle. Couturier, at 6-foot-3 and 197 pounds is big enough to play on the wing if he sticks.
A dark horse to make the roster could be 25-year-old rookie right wing Matt Read
, who signed in March after finishing four years at Bemidji State University. He had 7 goals and 13 points in 11 AHL games after signing, and has a goal and 3 assists in his first three preseason games.
When Holmgren made his roster makeover, his prime goal was to keep the core of his blue-line group intact.
The key for that unit is the health of veteran Chris Pronger
, who was limited to just 50 games this past season due to surgeries to his knee, foot and hand, and his offseason was marred by back surgery. He began skating on his own in early September and has been practicing with teammates in hopes of being on the ice when the Flyers open the season Oct. 6 in Boston.
"I'll still say he'll be ready at the start of the regular season," said Holmgren. "Whether he plays a (preseason) game or not is not an issue for me. He's certainly played enough of those in his 18-year career. He knows how to play the game."
The Flyers showed last season they could win without him -- they went 16-9-7 in the 32 games he missed -- but they were just 6-4-6 when he missed the final 16 regular-season games with the broken hand, and his absence in the postseason was a big reason they went out in four games against Boston in the second round.
Veterans Kimmo Timonen
, Matt Carle
, Braydon Coburn
and Andrej Meszaros
all return from last season's group that helped Philadelphia allow just 2.63 goals per game.
Meszaros had an especially strong season, finishing tied for fifth in the League with a plus-30 rating, and his 32 points nearly were equal to his output from the previous two seasons (33).
FLYERS 30 IN 15 RELATED STORIES
The competition for the sixth spot could be between Lilja, who had 7 points in 52 games with the Ducks last season, and third-year man Oskars Bartulis, who played in just 13 games due to a shoulder injury. At 6-3 and 220 pounds, the 36-year-old Lilja brings the size, physicality and Stanley Cup experience (he won it with the 2008 Red Wings) that departed with O'Donnell. However, Bartulis likely would have had a bigger role last season had he not suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in February.
Kevin Marshall, Marc-Andre Bourdon and Erik Gustafsson, all of whom played for the team's AHL affiliate last season, also will take their shots at making the big club.
Bryzgalov arrives in Philadelphia as the most heralded goaltender possibly since Bernie Parent was re-acquired in 1973. With back-to-back 35-win playoff seasons under his belt, he's the most accomplished netminder since Ron Hextall won the Vezina and Conn Smythe trophies in 1987.
After last season's goalie carousel that saw them start three goalies in their first-round series win against Buffalo, and then get swept out of the second round of the playoffs while allowing 20 goals in four games, acquiring a top-flight goalie became the No. 1 item on Holmgren's to-do list.
"We rank Ilya as one of the upper-echelon goalies in the League, and bringing him in, he does give us stability," said Holmgren.
Bryzgalov will become the fourth different opening-day starter in the last four seasons for the Flyers; last year's surprising opening-day starter, Sergei Bobrovsky
, will be the backup this season.
Michael Leighton, who just 15 months ago backstopped the Flyers to the Stanley Cup Final, also is camp hoping to earn a spot.