Inside the Flyers: As play resumes, some questions

Coach Peter Laviolette welcomed the Flyers back to practice Thursday, their first session since the Olympic break began . They will return to game action Tuesday in Tampa Bay.
Coach Peter Laviolette welcomed the Flyers back to practice Thursday, their first session since the Olympic break began . They will return to game action Tuesday in Tampa Bay.
Posted: February 28, 2010

When you last saw the Flyers (remember them?), they were one of the NHL's hottest teams. They had won four straight, climbed into the Eastern Conference's sixth spot, and started to show why they were expected to be strong Stanley Cup contenders.

Then came the Olympic break, which means when they resume play Tuesday in Tampa Bay, the Flyers will be playing for the first time in 17 days.

The layoff has left a host of questions:

Will the Olympic stoppage halt the momentum built before the break?

It shouldn't.

For one, the schedule is favorable - five of their next six games are against teams that have more losses than wins.

For another, the layoff should be an energizer for a team that has had a season full of exhausting lows (3-13-1 in a one-month stretch) and highs (8-1-1 after the early-season collapse), along with the firing of its head coach.

Also, in the games before the break, the Flyers showed they understand the nuances of Peter Laviolette's system, and that bodes well for the stretch run.

Will the three Flyers who went far in the Olympics - Chris Pronger, Mike Richards, and Kimmo Timonen - be drained when they return for NHL duty?

Well, for the two older guys - Pronger is 35, Timonen turns 35 on March 18 - that's certainly a concern, especially when you consider the amount of minutes they log. After traveling across country, playing the next two games on back-to-back nights - Tuesday in Tampa, Wednesday in Sunrise, Fla., against the Panthers - isn't the most optimal scenario.

Richards just turned 25, so he doesn't figure to be affected by any fatigue.

Is general manager Paul Holmgren going to make many moves before Wednesday's 3 p.m. trade deadline?

Don't expect anything major.

The Flyers would like to add another offensive threat (Atlanta right winger Colby Armstrong?), but there's not a lot of cap space available.

The Flyers could make a lot of moves within the organization - such as sending Brian Boucher and Riley Cote to the minors - but they would still probably have only about $2.2 million to $2.6 million of cap space.

Because they are guaranteed to have at least one player on the injured-reserve list - defenseman Mike Rathje, who has been injured and unable to play since 2006 - league rules require they have enough room for a new player's entire salary.

If, for instance, they acquired Armstrong for a draft pick, they would have to absorb his entire $2.4 million salary. A team without a player on IR would have to absorb just Armstrong's prorated salary (about $644,000) for the rest of the season.

Two other available wingers that might interest the Flyers - Carolina's Ray Whitney ($3.55 million) and Atlanta's Slava Kozlov ($3.85 million) - would not fit under their cap unless they dealt a player with a significant salary.

Even though his contract doesn't count against the cap, Rathje has been an albatross. His contract expires after this season, giving the Flyers more cap flexibility down the road.

Can goalie Michael Leighton, the waiver-wire wonder, continue his sensational play?

Many goalies blossom late (see Craig Anderson, Dominik Hasek, and Tim Thomas, just to name three), and the 28-year-old Leighton is flourishing in his first prolonged time as a starter. He is 12-3-1 with a 2.19 goals-against average and .925 save percentage with the Flyers, and he says the break has him feeling refreshed.

Is goalie Ray Emery headed for surgery or will he return for a Stanley Cup run?

As much as the Flyers like Emery's experience and the fact he led Ottawa to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2007, questions linger about his injured hip. The Flyers have been so mum about the injury that they refuse to confirm or deny that he has a torn labrum.

If the rest doesn't solve the problem and he needs surgery, his season (career?) is over. If rest gives him relief, the Flyers will be rolling the dice every time he's out there.

Will the defense continue to be dominant?

Laviolette seems to have found the right combinations: Pronger and Matt Carle; Timonen with Lukas Krajicek; and Braydon Coburn with the much-improved Oskars Bartulis. The coach has a veteran with a younger player, and the success has been staggering.

The Flyers have allowed two goals or fewer in 11 of their last 12 games.

Does the offense have enough juice to make a Stanley Cup run?

Tough question.

Jeff Carter (team-high 27 goals), Danny Briere (21), and Richards (24) were starting to find their scoring touch at the break, but the Flyers desperately need Simon Gagne (one goal in the last 15 games), Scott Hartnell (one goal in the last 14 games), and Claude Giroux (two goals in the last 15 games) to get untracked. They were counting on the latter three players to help offset the losses of Mike Knuble and Joffrey Lupul in the off-season.

The Flyers also need Richards to improve his play in even-strength situations; overall, he is just plus-1 for the season.


Inside the Flyers:

Read Sam Carchidi's Flyers blog, Broad Street Bull, at www.philly.com/flyers.

Blog response of the week

Subject: How will the layoff affect the Flyers?

Posted by: NJflyer fan at 8:56 a.m., Feb. 14

I think the break will hurt the Flyers' momentum. It will be hard to get all cranked up again after such a long layoff. And how will this layoff be on the players who are in the Olympics? The key will be which teams can get back in the flow after the break. Hopefully, it will be the Flyers.


Contact staff writer Sam Carchidi at 215-854-5181 or scarchidi@phillynews.com.

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