Inside the Flyers: Revamped Flyers are ready to start camp and get answers to questions

Defenseman Chris Pronger practiced Friday for the first time since his back surgery. He is expected to be named captain.
Defenseman Chris Pronger practiced Friday for the first time since his back surgery. He is expected to be named captain. (CURT HUDSON / For The Inquirer)
Posted: September 11, 2011

Most NHL rookie camps, including the Flyers', will open Monday. After an off-season filled with tragedy in hockey circles, the camps will be a welcome respite.

Veterans will report Friday and be on the ice Saturday - and perhaps bring optimism and hope to the forthcoming NHL season.

The months since the end of last season have been cloaked with horror. Three NHL enforcers - Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien, and the just-retired Wade Belak - were found dead. Boogaard died of an accidental overdose of alcohol and a pain-killing drug; Rypien and Belak reportedly committed suicide.

More tragedy came Wednesday. A plane crash in western Russia wiped out a KHL professional team, one filled with numerous former NHL players, including ex-Flyer Brad McCrimmon, the Lokomotiv coach.

Rangers forward Brandon Prust tweeted after Wednesday's developments: "The hockey world mourns yet again. Please God, we can't take much more."

Prust was Boogaard's roommate.

NHL training camps will hopefully offer a return to normalcy. For the Flyers, camp has more meaning than usual. After a summer in which they made the most stunning makeover since the franchise started in 1967 - dealing their captain (Mike Richards) and their leading goal scorer (Jeff Carter), and adding a big-time goalie (Ilya Bryzgalov) - the Flyers have a lot of questions that need to be answered.

At this time last year, the Flyers were coming off a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals and didn't do much tinkering.

But now . . .

"Jobs are available," said coach Peter Laviolette, whose team was swept by Boston in last season's second playoff round. "Minutes are available."

Here are some questions facing the Flyers as camp, which is free and open to the public, starts this week at the Skate Zone in Voorhees:

With Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, and Ville Leino gone, how will the revamped lines look?

 Danny Briere and Scott Hartnell figure to be together, as well as Claude Giroux and James van Riemsdyk. The other wings on those two top lines figure to be two from the following: Jaromir Jagr, Wayne Simmonds, or Jakub Voracek.

Carter, Richards, and Leino combined for 78 goals last season. Good luck trying to replace that.

From here, the Flyers will struggle a bit on offense and have to win a lot of low-scoring games. Assuming Chris Pronger returns healthy from back surgery, the defense - and Bryzgalov - figure to be the team's identity

How will the trades of Richards and Carter - the faces of the franchise - change the team's chemistry?

 The locker room will be a much cheerier place, especially with the addition of Max Talbot, whose upbeat personality rivals Ian Laperriere's. Call him Lappy Lite.

Does free-agent signee Jaromir Jagr, the 39-year-old future Hall of Famer, have much left in the tank?

 Good question. Jagr will be the 12th former 50-goal scorer in NHL history to play a season in which he turned 40. Not surprisingly, the other 11 players were mostly shells of their former selves, averaging 17 goals in the season in which they turned 40.

Is Brayden Schenn, regarded as one of the game's most promising up-and-coming players, ready to make an NHL splash?

 Based on general manager Paul Holmgren's comments earlier this summer, the hardworking Schenn is the leading candidate to start the season as the team's third-line center. Scouts say Schenn, who turned 20 last month, is a budding star.

Will Sean Couturier, the team's No. 1 pick and a player who made the Jeff Carter trade look shrewd, have a dazzling camp and force the Flyers to keep him on their opening roster?

 Well, there are a couple schools of thought.

Some think Couturier, 18, needs to fill out his frame before he encounters the rigors of the NHL.

Others think it would be foolish to send him back to juniors because there's not much else he can accomplish there. (He can't be sent to the AHL Phantoms because of his age.)

Couturier, a center who could shift to wing, will get a chance to stick with the team. Three years ago, the Flyers surprisingly opened the season with 18-year-old defenseman Luca Sbisa, so nothing is impossible.

If Chris Pronger isn't ready for the start of the season, who will be his replacement?

 Top candidates include Andreas Lilja, Oskars Bartulis, and Matt Walker.

Lilja has experience, but he has been erratic in his career. Bartulis has shown promise and is a Holmgren favorite. Walker is rounding back to form after an injury-plagued season. With a strong camp, rookie Erik Gustafsson could also enter the picture.

Claude Giroux (25 goals, 51 assists) had a breakout season. Who is likely to be the next player to have a coming-out party?

 Van Riemsdyk (21 goals), Simmonds (14), and Voracek (14) are the top candidates. If all three break out, this team will become a strong Stanley Cup contender.

Who will be named the captain?

 Anybody other than Pronger would be a surprise. That said, if it looks as if Pronger will miss significant time, one wonders if Briere would move to the forefront. Kimmo Timonen is an outside candidate.

The new captain will be an upgrade over Richards, who is now with Los Angeles. Down the road, Richards may blossom into a leader. In hindsight, he was too immature when the Flyers gave him the captain's role.


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

 

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