Ed Moran | New-look Flyers will be big, physical

Posted: July 02, 2007

LIKE MOST coaches, John Stevens didn't have a lot to do with what went on in the office of the general manager. He didn't pick the players his boss traded for and wasn't in on the negotiations for the deals they cut, or the trades that were made.

But as soon as the room cleared of business, the task of putting this collection of talent together on a team, the business of making them a cohesive unit that can perform as a group belonged to Stevens.

And like a kid on Christmas morning, he is already playing with his toys.

"We were moving the magnets with the names around, trying to make lines," he said.

So now that the remake of the Flyers is complete, just what kind of a team will take the ice in the Wachovia Center when the season opens in October?

The best place to start is with the coach. If a team is going to have an identity it will reflect the character of its leader and Stevens was a player who believed in playing hard and playing responsibly and that's the way he coaches.

It's not going to be like it was under Ken Hitchcock with complicated, defense-first systems. But, it will be a team that defends and hits and looks for offense from effort and opportunity.

They are big and will be physical and go after the puck; attempt to set the tempo while allowing the talent they have provide the offense. They might have signed a small skilled guy in Daniel Briere, but the players they have added since Braydon Coburn walked into the locker room at 6-5, 220 pounds are big and physical.

There are 14 players 6-foot or over.

"We have competitive, skilled guys, competitive defenders and it just seems to be a common trait in all these guys we've added," Stevens said. "In terms of an identity we're going to be an extremely hard-working group and I think when you see that guy with the guys that we have, when they're competitive their skills will be allowed to come out.

"We want to be a team that plays uptempo and gets after it, and with character and competitiveness, and we're not just talking about the grinder guys. We have competitive offensive people and competitive defenders. It's the makeup of our team."

But is that enough?

That depends on what enough is. Even with the moves that have been made the Flyers can't be seen as a Cup contender next year. Not at the start anyway.

They should be seen as a playoff team. But there are a significant number of things that have to happen for that, or more, to happen. They are still a young team.

Briere is a skilled top-end veteran center. He will fit nicely between Simon Gagne and Mike Knuble on the top line.

After that the Flyers are young through the middle.

Jeff Carter is a talented kid who can skate and shoot and score. On a line with Scottie Upshall and maybe Scott Hartnell the Flyers would have a second line with speed and skill complemented by a big and physical, winger who likes to get to the net and make his presence known.

Every team needs a checking center and that role will probably fall to Mike Richards. Again, he's a kid, but one that has shown a level of determination and defiance with enough skill to score and eventually be as effective a defensive center as the Devils John Madden.

On a line with maybe Joffrey Lupul, a 6-1, 205-pound right wing and Sami Kapanen, the Flyers would have a checking line with an ability to score goals.

That leaves a fourth line to be named later and some forward pieces out of place like center R.J. Umberger who can score, hit, and play a fast-paced game, energy players and bangers like Ben Eager and Todd Fedoruk and some young players who will contend for spots in training camp.

Like the forwards, the Flyers have a whole new look on defense with the addition last season of Coburn and Lasse Kukkonen, the trade for Jason Smith, the addition of Kimmo Timonen and the subtraction of Joni Pitkanen.

The pairings will be harder to predict but look for size and defense to be matched with skill and the ability to move the puck.

I can see Derian Hatcher with Coburn, Timonen with Smith, and Alexandre Picard with Denis Gauthier or Randy Jones. Like the forwards, they are a mix of young players still developing and seasoned veterans. There will still probably be some tweaking this summer and in camp.

The goalies are the easiest to sort out. Martin Biron is the starter and Antero Niittymaki the backup.

For Stevens this is a very good place to be; in his first training camp as the head coach with a team that is yet to be formed. It's exciting. But it's a work in progress and before anyone starts trying to predict where the Flyers will be after 82 games next spring, there are questions yet to be answered and magnets to move around. *

Send e-mail to morane@phillynews.com

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