Flyers longshots, but it's a short season

YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Claude Giroux and his surrounding cast of young forwards are the Flyers' strong suit.
YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Claude Giroux and his surrounding cast of young forwards are the Flyers' strong suit.
Posted: January 08, 2013

WHEN THE PUCK last dropped on a shortened season, on Jan. 21, 1995, at the Spectrum against the Quebec Nordiques, the 103-day NHL lockout ended up serving the Flyers well.

During that 48-game season, the Flyers (28-16-4) won the Atlantic Division by a healthy eight-point margin over New Jersey and Washington.

They advanced to the Eastern Conference finals (after not making the playoffs for five straight seasons) before bowing out to the Devils, who eventually swept Detroit for the Stanley Cup.

There are a lot of comparisons that could be drawn from that 1995 team, given that we're likely to see a similar format and number of scheduled games, and that both versions of the Flyers featured MVP-caliber players ready for blastoff in Eric Lindros and Claude Giroux.

Lindros won the Hart Trophy that season after racking up 70 points. Giroux netted 93 points last season, the Flyers' highest total since Lindros' 93 in 1998-99, and should have been a finalist for the Hart.

For me, that's where the comparisons end.

I know, I know. It's early. Quit being so Negadelphia, Frank. The squad hasn't even assembled for physicals yet.

When stacked up against the rest of the East, I just don't see this Flyers team being as deep as the Penguins, Rangers or Bruins. Las Vegas agrees. The Flyers were installed at 20-1 odds to win the Stanley Cup, below Buffalo (12-1), which didn't even make the playoffs last year.

It's impossible to say this Flyers team is as strong as the one that shocked the hockey world by knocking off Pittsburgh and a healthy Sidney Crosby last spring.

Jaromir Jagr will be in Dallas, his first Western Conference home, after netting 54 points in 73 games. Matt Carle bolted for a payday in Tampa Bay. James van Riemsdyk was jettisoned north of the border, where his every move and injury will be scrutinized in Toronto.

The Flyers' three replacements for those players? Luke Schenn, the older brother of Flyers forward Brayden, who could be an All-Star defenseman; Bruno Gervais, the best friend of Flyers forward Max Talbot, who was a healthy scratch for the majority of last season before finally getting an opportunity; and 33-year-old Ruslan Fedotenko.

In hockey, it all comes down to defense and goaltending. Neither is the Flyers' strong suit. They must average nearly four goals per game to keep pace.

Why do the Sabres have better odds than the Flyers?

Ryan Miller.

You never know what you're going to get out of Ilya Bryzgalov. This season will be his one chance, with amnesty buyouts on tap next summer, to convince the Flyers' brass he is worthy of his gaudy contract. Bryzgalov, 32, was strong in his final five starts in Russia last month before being abruptly released from his deal with the Central Red Army franchise in Moscow.

With a shortened schedule, what's the next most important position after starting goaltender? His backup.

Raise your hand if you have full faith in Michael Leighton. Sergei Bobrovsky was traded during the draft to Columbus, where he'll have a chance to start. Leighton, 31, hasn't played competitively since April, when the Phantoms failed to make the playoffs. He worked out in Ontario during the lockout.

The Flyers' defense has a ton of question marks, some of which we're hoping Luke Schenn can answer. Kimmo Timonen, 37, limped to the finish line last season. Timonen has a bad back, perhaps a wonky knee, and he is expected to be the team's No. 1 defenseman in a condensed campaign. Braydon Coburn, a stud in last year's playoffs, could take over that role. Timonen admitted last week that a shortened season might be even worse for him than an 82-game slog.

Still, there are questions about the supporting cast, with Andrej Meszaros (Achilles'), Nick Grossmann (knee) and Andreas Lilja (hip) coming off surgeries. Youngsters Erik Gustafsson (ankle) and Marc-Andre Bourdon (concussion) are expected to miss training camp and the start of the season.

Your Flyers' likely Opening Night defensive roster: Schenn, Coburn, Timonen, Grossmann, Gervais and Lilja. That third pairing brings back memories of their oft-limited counterparts from the 2010 Stanley Cup finals: Lukas Krajicek and Ryan Parent. (Fun fact: Krajicek and Parent have a combined four NHL games-played since then.)

If you're Paul Holmgren, you pray that Gustafsson and Bourdon rebound fast.

Up front, the Flyers are going as far as Giroux, Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds, Jake Voracek, Matt Read and Sean Couturier will take them. They're young. They're built for a sprint toward Stanley. The wild cards are Scott Hartnell, a 37-goal All-Star from last season who received a fat contract extension and did not play in Europe; and Danny Briere, who injured a wrist in Germany on Dec. 28 following a disappointing regular season with the Flyers.

Peter Laviolette's crew netted record production from Giroux, Hartnell, Simmonds, Voracek, Schenn and Talbot last season. Read chipped in an astounding 24 goals as a rookie; Couturier filled an unheralded and unexpected defensive role as a 19-year-old. Repeating with consistency is tough to ask.

Then again, it's a shortened season. The Flyers had more players visit Europe (11) than any NHL other team, and a host of young stars skated through the lockout in Adirondack. You never know.


On Twitter: @DNFlyers

Blog: philly.com/FrequentFlyers

|
|
|
|
|