First posting here on Broad Street Hockey from a Flyers fan down in Dallas, Texas. I didn't grow up with the sport, have never played it, but I've been a Flyers fan since the 80's when cable TV came to San Antonio and me and my best friend rooted for the underdog Flyers against the Oilers in their two Stanley Cup losses. I don't get to see them every game, just the miscellaneous game here and there shown on national TV, but I've been following BSH for a couple of years now and this site has become part of my daily routine.
It's that time of the year (at least for me) when I start thinking about how the Flyers shape up for the playoffs while reviewing their performance so far this year against the expectations I had for them going into the year.
As the season started, I was hopeful for a good Flyers team, but most likely not a great team. With so many new players, including important roles being held by NHL rookies, I was hoping for a playoff berth and maybe a first round win. I just couldn't see how everything would jell together in time to have hopes for more than that. I've been incredibly surprised and happy that the new guys have fit in well and the rookies have played like vets for most of the year (with some stretches of inconsistency here and there). Although I don't think the Flyers at this point of the season are a top 3-4 team, I do think they are easily a top 10 team and if a few things fall in their favor, I could see them being a feared team to play in the payoffs.
The biggest issue and what everyone seems to be discussing is the Flyers' defensive game - both the goaltender in net and the pairings in front of him. I think we can agree that the worst-case scenario anyone could have imagined at the start of the year has happened: Pronger is injured and out for the year and Bryz comes in and is actually a downgrade from the goaltending last year. With these two things coming to fruition it is even more amazing to me that the Flyers are where they are in the standings at this point in the season. It really is a testament to the players on the team and how hard they fight to win each night (and the coaching as well).
So do we trade one of our young Forwards for a Defenseman to try and improve the overall team? My thoughts tell me no, no, and a third no as well. If our top 6 includes Timonen, Carle, Coburn, Mesz, Bourdon, and Gus, I just don't think the substitute of any defensive player would be something that takes us from a playoff participant to a Stanley Cup Champion. The only thing that can do that at this point is if one of the goalies starts playing lights out each night and catches fire in the playoffs. Any of the proposed trades might make the Flyers more competitive (possibly), but with Bryz being so inconsistent and Bob still a bit of an unknown when it comes to playoff hockey expectations, I'd just as soon keep the Flyers youth intact, give Gus and Bourdon some playoff hockey experience and see how they react, and roll the dice hoping that a fire gets lit under Bryz or Bob.
I'm not a "wait until next year" guy and never will be. I still think if the right things happen, the Flyers can make a splash in the playoffs this year. In so many ways, it has been an incredible year so far. Out of the top 23 players heading into the playoff stretch, here is the breakdown in experience with the Flyers:
Rookies (7): Read (25), Schenn (20), Couturier (19), Zolnierczyk (24), Rinaldo (21), Bourdon (22), Gustafsson (23)
New Flyers (6): Jagr (39), Voracek (22), Simmonds (23), Talbot (27), Lilja (36), Bryzgalov (31)
Young Flyers vets (6): Giroux (24), Van Riemsdyk (22), Carle (27), Coburn (26), Meszaros (26), Bobrovsky (23)
Older Flyers vets: (4): Briere (34), Hartnell (29), Timonen (36), Shelly (35)
The youth on this team is just amazing! And how the Flyers have managed to fit 13 new players in one year without losing a step (or much of one) is just incredible. I'm excited to watch them finish out the second half of the season and if the goalie situation stabilizes (with either Bryz settling down or Bob seeing more time and maintaining his consistent level of quality), I'm happy to stay put with the Flyers as they are composed currently.
And I'm even more excited about where the Flyers are headed with the team. Potentially there are only 3 unknowns for next year: Jagr, Carle, and Pronger. A 4th unknown would be if there is an amnesty clause in the labor relations and if so, would the Flyers use it on Pronger or Bryz. My unqualified expectation would be that the Flyers keep Bryz, Pronger comes back healthy, and the Flyers sign Carle but can't get Jagr under the cap.
This would leave the team constructed as follows:
Forwards (top 6): Giroux Hartnell Van Riemsdyk Briere Voracek Read
Forwards (bottom 6): Schenn Simmonds Couturier Talbot Rinaldo Zolnierczyk Shelley
Defense: Pronger Timonen, Carle, Coburn, Meszaros, Gustafsson, Bourdon
Goaltending: Bryzgalov, Bobrovsky
(sending Lilja down to keep Walker company for the final years of their deals)
This team really excites me!! It's incredibly young, with 12 of the players 25 or younger, hopefully a year stronger, wiser, more experienced, and more comfortable playing together. And possibly Bryz would be a little more at ease in Philadelphia and be more consistent and play at a level more in line with his past experience. The potential 2012-13 version of the Flyers is a monster of a team - young, three scoring lines, three great defensive parings, an above average goalie pairing, and a nice sprinkling of veteran savvy.
Let's not mess that potential up by trading our youth for a rental who may or may not make a difference this year. At 21, Giroux was 9/18/27. At 22, he was 16/31/47, and at 23 he was 25/51/76. Van Riemsdyk at 20 was 15/20/35, at 21 he was 21/19/40, and at 22 (this year) he is on pace for approximately 40+ points again. Hopefully the Flyers will keep him and give him a chance to develop just as they let Giroux develop into the player he is currently.