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Goaltending key to big expectations in Philadelphia

by Adam Kimelman
Scoring depth was one of the Philadelphia Flyers' strengths last season; they featured League-highs of six 20-goal scorers and four 30-goal scorers.

The Flyers were comfortable sacrificing some of that depth to bulk up their defense because the franchise opinion is that two players who made minor impacts last season will have a major say in the team's fortunes in 2009-10.

But, as it has for the last 34 years, the Flyers' fortunes will rise and fall on their goaltending, with reclamation project Ray Emery the latest hope to end the club's Stanley Cup drought.

"He did lead (the Ottawa Senators) to the Stanley Cup Final in 2007, which was obviously a nice ride for him," Flyers General Manager Paul Holmgren told "Things went a little sour for him the following year. Talking to him -- and I spent a bit of time with him -- we thought it was a risk but worth the risk."

The Flyers tied for fourth in the League last season with 260 goals, led by Jeff Carter's 46, the second-best total in the League. At 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, Carter is big, strong and moves extremely well. He starred on the power play and penalty kill, and his durability also is a strength -- he's played at least 81 games in three of his four NHL seasons, and all 82 in the last two. He was an All-Star for the first time last season, and was invited to Canada's Olympic orientation camp in August.

Carter, the club's first pick in the stellar 2003 Entry Draft, always will be linked with the team's other first-round pick from that group, team captain Mike Richards. A Selke Trophy finalist, Richards posted career-highs in goals (30), assists (50), points (80) and plus/minus (plus-22) last season. He had 8 power-play goals and a League-leading 7 shorthanded goals. Richards also became the first player in League history to score three 3-on-5 goals in his career -- and he's only 24.

Scott Hartnell also reached the 30-goal mark for the first time. Hartnell excelled while playing alongside Carter, as his crash-bang style opened space for Carter to score and set up goals. A supreme agitator, Hartnell's overall penalty minutes were down from 2007-08, but he led the League in minor penalties. With Mike Knuble's departure, Hartnell will be counted on to fill a bigger role this season, which means he needs to avoid ill-timed penalties.

Simon Gagne returned from a season lost to concussions to score 34 goals and also earn an invitation to Canada's Olympic orientation camp, where he joined Richards, Carter and defenseman Chris Pronger.

The Flyers are hoping Danny Briere has just as successful a return from a season lost to injuries. Briere played just 29 games due to groin and abdominal-muscle injuries, but after a summer of rest, he's reportedly pain-free.

If healthy, though, the question is where Briere fits into the lineup. With Richards, Carter and free-agent addition Ian Laperriere, the Flyers are deep down the middle. That leaves one center spot open for Briere or Claude Giroux, who excelled there during a late-season call-up and tied for the team lead in scoring in the playoffs. Giroux and Briere played well on a line together in the postseason, so keeping them teamed up is a possibility.

"They had good chemistry; it was pretty obvious last year," coach John Stevens told "They played pretty well. ... Right now, nothing is set in stone. Giroux and Briere is still a possibility, but we want to see other things and whether it works out."

The losses of Knuble and Joffrey Lupul, plus the Flyers' tight salary-cap situation, could open the door for a young forward to make the team. At the top of that list is James van Riemsdyk, the No. 2 pick in the 2007 Entry Draft who will make his professional debut this season. A 6-foot-3, 200-pound left wing, Van Riemsdyk dominated in college; how he'll handle the physicality of pro hockey remains a question.

Other youngsters with a chance to step into bigger roles include Patrick Maroon, Darroll Powe, Jared Ross and Jonathan Kalinski.

The Flyers had a nice group last season -- they didn't contribute a lot offensively, they weren't going to scare anyone, they were just a nice, competent group of six.

Then they acquired Chris Pronger.

"I think he was born to wear orange," Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke, who brought Pronger to Anaheim in his former job, told "He's got the whole package -- size and skill, as well as being a leader. But the fans in Philadelphia will love that mean streak he brings to every game."

Pronger's presence takes a tremendous burden off Kimmo Timonen, who was physically targeted by the Penguins in the playoffs. Pronger also provides the Flyers the kind of intimidation factor on the back end that's been a club tradition, but has been missing since Derian Hatcher left.

Pronger also still has a high offensive upside and will eat up tons of minutes. The same can be said for Timonen, who had his seventh straight 40-point season in 2008-09, and was a plus-19 last season.

Braydon Coburn took a bit of a step back last season, but that should change by playing alongside Pronger. Coburn skates like a greyhound and is becoming more reliable in his own end.

Ryan Parent missed the first four months of the season with a shoulder injury, but looks to be developing into a smart, shut-down defender.

Matt Carle and Randy Jones are effective puck-moving defenders, and Ole-Kristian Tollefsen, signed away from the Columbus Blue Jackets, is a physical player who will be in the mix for the final pairing.


The Flyers' latest attempt to find a Stanley Cup-winning goaltender is the repatriated Emery, who was considered so toxic last season that the best job he could find was in Russia.

The club looked at the barrage of stories -- from missed practices to fights with teammates to repeated traffic violations -- and believe that after a season abroad, Emery is a changed player, and certainly worth the gamble.

"He realizes what led to his banishment, being put in a situation where he didn't have any options other than go to Russia," Holmgren said. "Now he's back in the NHL, in a good organization, and he realizes what's at stake. I think he's going to be a highly motivated individual.

"I don't view it as a risk. I don't even think about it anymore. We did our homework, spent a great deal of time with him ... I'm excited to see how it's going to work. I think it's going to be great."

With Atlant Mytischi of the KHL, Emery went 22-8-0 with a 2.12 goals-against average. He had only 12 wins in his controversy-plagued 2007-08 season with the Senators, but in 2006-07, when he led Ottawa to the Cup Final, he went 33-16-6 with five shutouts and a 2.47 GAA, then had three shutouts and a 2.26 GAA in 20 playoff games.

Behind Emery will be Brian Boucher, who played well in relief of Evgeni Nabokov the last two seasons in San Jose. He played 22 games last season -- his most since 2003-04 -- going 12-6-3 with a pair of shutouts and a 2.18 GAA.

Boucher also is not without his baggage. A 1995 first-round pick of the Flyers, he was traded away in 2002 after publicly ripping coach and franchise icon Bill Barber. Today, though, he's considered more mature and was a well-respected teammate in San Jose.

The Flyers are betting that letting last season's tandem of Martin Biron and Antero Niittymaki walk in favor of two players with dubious track records is a worthwhile gamble.

"We believe we have a good tandem there," Holmgren told "I'm happy with our goaltending situation right now. We have two motivated guys, both work hard and both feel like they have something to prove."

Contact Adam Kimelman at

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