5 bold predictions for Flyers in second half

Ilya Bryzgalov needs to string together a bunch of strong games for the Flyers in the second half.
Ilya Bryzgalov needs to string together a bunch of strong games for the Flyers in the second half. (YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: January 27, 2012

AS THE NHL celebrates the unofficial halfway point of a long season at this weekend's All-Star Game in Ottawa, we've now had 4 months to digest and evaluate the makeup of this Flyers team.

With that, here are five bold predictions for the second half:

1 Sean Couturier will win the Calder Trophy: Couturier, 18, is ninth in the NHL among rookies in points. He even trails his own teammate, Matt Read, who leads all rookies in goals at the break with 15. But Couturier's stock is quickly rising, thanks to a recent offensive outburst that has pundits realizing the completeness and maturity of his game.

Many consider Edmonton's Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who leads rooks with 35 points in 38 games and was picked seven spots higher than Couturier in last June's draft, as the front-runner for rookie of the year. But Hopkins plays an average of 4 minutes and 17 seconds per game more than Couturier, and when you break down the numbers into per-60-minute increments, you will find that Couturier does more with less time:

Hopkins: 1.19 goals, 0.48 assists, 2.02 points per 60 minutes.

Couturier: 1.12 goals, 0.84 assists, 2.39 points.

Plus, Couturier has spent much of the season playing on the fourth line, with less-talented teammates than Edmonton's first-line star. Couturier is fourth among first-year players in shorthanded time-on-ice per-game (2:40), meaning nearly 30 percent of his total on-ice time is spent killing penalties instead of attacking.

Those numbers will start to mean more and more as Couturier continues to blossom offensively under the bright lights of March, April and even May.

2 Matt Carle will not sign an extension: If Carle, 27, continues his strong play and plays his cards right, he could be in the market for a new contract that rivals what James Wisniewski got in Columbus last summer: 6 years, $33 million. That is, only if he waits until July 1 to become an unrestricted free agent.

Carle is in the final season of a 4-year, $13.75 million deal, an average of $3.437 million per year. Reliable and durable, Carle is quietly one of the league's most consistent defensemen. He has 25 points in 48 games.

Negotiations on a new deal have been very quiet thus far, which leads some to believe that there are no ongoing talks. His status could depend on the NHL's looming labor talks with the NHLPA, which are slated to begin after the All-Star Game. The collective bargaining agreement expires on Sept. 15. If labor uncertainty remains, all bets are off and Carle could take what's on the table with the Flyers.

3 The Flyers will trade for a defenseman: For now, the bigger question seems to be when, not if, the Flyers will make a move before the Feb. 27 deadline. Rumors were rampant not even 2 weeks ago, with the Daily News confirming that the Flyers and Maple Leafs discussed potential deals, without a significant offer being made.

Marc-Andre Bourdon and Erik Gustafsson have made tremendous contributions in Chris Pronger's absence, but defensive depth is the Flyers' No. 1 weakness right now.

The three names on the Flyers' wish list (in order) are Nashville's Ryan Suter (or Shea Weber), Toronto's Luke Schenn and Carolina's Tim Gleason. Teams will be lined up around the block if either Suter or Weber can't come to terms in Nashville on a new deal. Paul Holmgren is believed to have Predators GM David Poile on speed dial just to make sure neither one of them is dealt on the cheap.

Many teams have already expressed interest in Gleason, a solid rental defenseman without a contract for next year, which could spark a return above his worth.

And Schenn remains a wild card at this point, though Toronto is one of the few teams with the luxury of tradeable defensive depth. Flyers director of player development Don Luce was in Toronto again on Monday watching the Maple Leafs.

4 Jaromir Jagr will be quiet: Will Jagr's 39-year-old body be able to withstand the rigors of the entire 82-game season and playoffs? Jagr literally limped into the break on the injured list with a wonky groin, having missed the last two games. Frustratingly, it's the third time he's strained the same groin muscle this season.

Since Dec. 23, Jagr has just five points in his last 11 games. Before that, Jagr netted 29 points in his first 29 games with the Flyers.

Granted, Jagr's slump coincided with a quiet stretch for Claude Giroux, as well. And it's clear he has not been healthy. But his body is not responding to his mind's commands. His talents, contribution and work ethic speak for themselves, as the ninth leading goal scorer in league history. When he's healthy and able, few players in the game can match his magic.

5 Ilya Bryzgalov will find his groove: Bryzgalov said Monday that he would use the All-Star break not to vacation lavishly but to work on his conditioning.

Averaging a shade under three goals-against per game, Bryzgalov has been one of the Flyers' weakest links this season - especially considering his league-high salary for his position. He collects $740,000 every other payday during the season.

Still, Bryzgalov could be the Flyers' biggest, most underappreciated asset in the second half of the season. His first half deteriorated his sky-high expectations.

He is too talented to continue to play in the inconsistent manner in which he did over the first half of the season. Plus, a true creature of habit, Bryzgalov has yet to start a string of more than six consecutive games. Sergei Bobrovsky has been a godsend, but look for Bryzgalov to get more steady work in the second half to build for a deep playoff run.

Send email to seravaf@phillynews.com

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