Inside the Flyers: Flyers look improved, but how much?

Posted: July 08, 2013

Are the Flyers better or worse than they were when the season ended and they watched the playoffs on their big-screen TVs?


How much better? Ah, that's open to debate.

They added puck-moving defenseman Mark Streit, playmaking center Vincent Lecavalier, and resurgent goalie Ray Emery since the season ended.

They subtracted injury-prone Danny Briere and goalie/stand-up comic Ilya Bryzgalov, among others.

Briere's great leadership qualities will be absorbed by Lecavalier, and the locker room will have more focus and fewer distractions because Bryzgalov's sometimes-hilarious sideshow has left town.

Assuming the Flyers do not re-sign Simon Gagne, here is how the four lines may look in 2013-14: Claude Giroux centering Scott Hartnell and Jake Voracek; Lecavalier centering Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds; Sean Couturier centering Max Talbot and Matt Read; and Adam Hall centering Tye McGinn/Jay Rosehill and Zac Rinaldo.

Center Scott Laughton, the hotshot 19-year-old prospect, could also be in the mix.

On paper, the offense is slightly better than last year, when the Flyers were ninth in the 30-team NHL, averaging 2.75 goals per game. The Flyers failed to upgrade their wings, a glaring weakness last year. And if they are going to avoid missing the playoffs again, they need Hartnell to bounce back from an injury-plagued year, and Couturier and Schenn to rebound from disappointing sophomore seasons.

The Flyers got much tougher to play against. The 6-foot-4, 215-pound Lecavalier and Hall (6-2, 212), who played briefly with the Flyers last season, are skilled at winning puck battles - another glaring weakness last year - and are dominating in the faceoff circle.

Lecavalier won 54.4 percent of his draws last year, and Hall won 59 percent with the Flyers, who were 23d in faceoff percentage (48.5). The Flyers are kicking around moving Lecavalier to right wing on Giroux's unit. From here, that would put all your eggs in one basket. Keep Lecavalier on the second unit and have him and Giroux (54.5 percent) both take face-offs.

Defensively, the Flyers were tied for 22d in the league, allowing 2.90 goals per game. Ritch Winter, Bryzgalov's agent, ripped the Flyers' style in a radio interview, saying their defensive system makes it terrible for a goalie to see shots. (Hmmm. Steve Mason had a 1.90 goals-against average and .944 save percentage in seven games with the Flyers.)

The defense figures to improve dramatically if Braydon Coburn, Nick Grossmann, and Andrej Meszaros return to good health, although one of them may be dealt. Streit is not known for his defense, but he will jump-start the offense with his puck-carrying ability.

The goaltending looks improved. Yes, Emery's eye-opening numbers - a 17-1 record, a 1.94 goals-against average, and a .922 save percentage - were in part the result of playing behind a great team in Chicago. But he seems totally recovered from major hip surgery, and he and Mason will stage an intriguing battle for the No. 1 spot.

They will work out and skate together near Toronto for the third straight summer.

"The fact we know each other and have a healthy relationship will help us moving forward," Mason said.

Bottom line: The Flyers have taken some positive steps and look like a playoff team, but they don't have the overall depth or speed to be a serious Stanley Cup contender.

Contact Sam Carchidi

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