Inside the Flyers: Flyers' moves putting Cup chances on defense and Jaromir Jagr

Posted: July 03, 2011

Thanks to a massive roster makeover that's as puzzling as Jersey Shore's popularity, the Flyers - or what's left of the Orange and Black - bear little resemblance to the team that reached the Stanley Cup Finals two years ago. Or finished last season with the second-highest points total in the Eastern Conference.

Down the road, general manager Paul Holmgren, who said he was "happy" with his team in May, is either going to seem like a mad scientist or a certified genius.

Holmgren has rolled the dice, counting on winning a lot of 2-1-type games with a team that should have a terrific defense and an, um, suspect offense.

Oh, and he's also counting on a 39-year-old winger, a onetime superstar whom most Flyers fans used to despise, not acting his age.

Hello, Jaromir Jagr.

Once upon a time, Jagr was the NHL's king. He led the league in scoring five times, the last in 2000-01. He has 646 career goals and is destined for the Hall of Fame.

Ah, but does he have much left at Jack Benny's perpetual age?

Holmgren thinks so. Ditto the scouts who watched him excel for the Czech Republic national team in the IIHF world championships.

Still, isn't it a bit risky to have a 39-year-old, a guy who hasn't played in the NHL since 2008, as potentially your No. 1 right winger?

How did a team that finished third in the NHL in scoring (3.12 goals per game) become so offensively challenged that it needs a graybeard such as Jagr to bail it out?

Call it the domino effect of acquiring Ilya Bryzgalov, arguably just the Flyers' fourth shutdown goalie in the franchise's history.

To sign Bryzgalov and get under the cap, the Flyers made so many changes that the players should be wearing "Hello, My Name Is . . ." tags when training camp opens.

Through trades or non-signings, the Flyers do not have 10 of the players who were on their roster at the end of their 106-point season, including Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, and Ville Leino. Those three combined for 78 goals last season. Throw in Nik Zherdev, and the Flyers have 94 goals to replace.


So, now, Holmgren is on the hot seat. Here is how he can look like a genius:

With increased responsibilities, Claude Giroux and James van Riemsdyk flourish and blossom into 30-goal scorers.

Because of his shot-blocking fearlessness and his locker-room leadership, Max Talbot turns into the second coming of a Philadelphia folk hero named Ian Laperierre.

Bryzgalov develops into a strong Vezina Trophy candidate.

Chris Pronger, coming off a tough-luck hat-trick season (three surgeries), regains the form that will one day put him in the Hall of Fame.

Jagr resembles the player who had 25 goals and 46 assists for the New York Rangers in 2007-08, his last NHL season.

The locker room, minus the tension that some exiled players sometimes created with their surliness/aloofness, becomes a much happier place - and that translates to better on-ice chemistry.

There is a flip side, of course. Here is how Holmgren's moves could blow up in his face:

Without linemate Leino as his setup man, Danny Briere shows a marked decline from his career-best 34-goal season.

The newcomers don't come close to matching the production of the departed Carter, Richards, Leino, and Zherdev - and, to a lesser degree, even Kris Versteeg.

Jagr is a shell of the once-dominating NHL player, and Pronger again is beset by injuries.

The Flyers' special-teams' units suffer immensely without Richards and Carter.

Because of the small stature of their centers, the Flyers get physically overmatched down the middle.

With the bombshell trades of Richards and Carter, the Flyers acquired some younger, bigger players (Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds). They landed a gifted No. 1 pick, Sean Couturier, who may be talented enough to play in the NHL this season, and an ultra-promising young center, Brayden Schenn.

They also opened some much-needed cap space that figured to help them sign Leino and another productive forward.

Oops. The market exploded. Leino, who has 30 career goals, got a ridiculously generous deal (six years, $27 million) from Buffalo, as did another player the Flyers coveted, Erik Cole (four years, $18 million from Montreal).

Suddenly, the Flyers' plan got a little fuzzy.

That's how Jagr entered the picture. And Talbot.

It could have a happy and ironic ending. Ironic because Jagr was the mullet-coiffed player who drew derisive whistles from Flyers fans whenever he touched the puck as an opponent with Pittsburgh, Washington, and the Rangers.

Ironic because Talbot also was despised when he played for the hated Penguins.

The Flyers believe they are "better-suited to make a Cup run" than last season, said Peter Luukko, president of the franchise's parent company, Comcast-Spectacor. "Our whole goal in the off-season was to strengthen the goaltending, keep the defense intact, and get bigger, faster and stronger up front," Luukko said Saturday. "Paul accomplished that."

Maybe. Maybe not. Either way, the Flyers will be fun to watch, and it will be intriguing to see how all the new pieces fit.

Hey, when you haven't won a Stanley Cup in 36 years, drastic measures are needed. Were they too drastic?

It will be interesting to find out.

Contact staff writer Sam Carchidi at, or @BroadStBull on Twitter.


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