This season has been a whirl-wind. From the post-season cleaning of house to the Pronger injury, to the goalie situation, to the rookies, to the deadline…this season has been nuts. Are we buyers, are we sellers, can we win a playoff series, are we contenders? Everyone has their own opinion on each situation and here is my theory on why the Flyers can still win the Stanley Cup with this roster.
In 2007-08 the Flyers, led by 22-year-old, alternate captain Mike Richards coming off of his first big season with 75 points and veteran workhorse Kimmo Timonen manning the blue line lost in the Eastern Conference Finals. We had Marty Biron in net, scoring from guys like Lupul, Upshall, Knuble, Carter, Briere and Prospol; and veteran leaders manning the blueline in captain Jason Smith and Derian Hatcher. We ousted the Southeast Division champion Capitals (Ovechkin in his prime) in seven games, took apart the Habs in 5, only to lose in five to the rival Penguins without Coburn and Timonen for the majority of the series. Let’s take a closer look at the two teams:
Future Bobby Clarke and goal scoring side-kick: In 07-08 our franchise was in the hands of future captain Michael Richards and future alternate captain Jeff Carter (Both 22 years-old). They were not only the “future” but they were the “now” as well. Richie had 75 points and Carter had 53. Fast forward to today and enter Claude Giroux---alternate captain, best player, MVP candidate; and James vanReimsdyk---playoff hero. Yes, JVR hasn’t played like he was expected to this year, but that’s only because he DOMINATED the playoffs last season. Another playoffs like that and everyone will forget his mediocre (24 points in 41 games after last year’s 40 in 75) season. WINNER 2012
Veteran Big Wingers: In 08 Mike Knuble notched 55 points and Scott Hartnell had 43. One was on the decline while the other was on the rise. Both guys played well, but nowhere near the level of current Scotty (on pace for 75+ points) or Jaromir Jagr (42 points in only 52 games thus far). It’s hard to even argue the 08 guys against these two. WINNER 2012
Danny Briere: He was 30 then and 35 now. 72 points then, 34 in 52 now. I want to give the older Danny the edge because normal people decline around 30…but Danny isn’t normal. He’s Mr. Playoffs. He’s like a fine wine, he gets better with age. Even so I’ll call it a DRAW.
Supplimental Scoring: Joffrey Lupul at 24 years old and 46 points, Scotty Uphsall at 24 and 30, rental player Vinny Prospal had 13 points in 17 playoff games at 32, and 25-year-old RJ Umburger broke out for 15 points in 17 playoff games. These guys stepped it up during the playoffs. Umberger had 13 goals the whole season and had 10 in the playoffs. Lupul had the OT winner vs. the Caps in game 7. Prospal got hot with Briere in the post season. But who fills the “supplemental scoring” role for the current Flyers? Wayne Simmonds on pace for a career high 25+ goals and 45+ points. Jake Voracek who’s just starting to hit his stride in Orange putting up 34 points thus far and has all of the potential (22-years-old picked 6th overall a few years ago) in the world. Matt Read, who’s come out of nowhere on pace for a 20-20 rookie season. Braydon Schenn, the centerpiece of the Richards deal who’s only got 11 points in 33 games but didn’t record a single one of them until the Winter Classic and has been hot since (he was the number one prospect in hockey before the season). So it’s Lupul, Upshall, Umburger, and Prospal vs. Simmonds, Voracek, Read and Schenn. Right now, I’m going to have to give the old guys the win, but in two or three years when the current 22-year-olds hit their primes, this offense is going to be even more potent than it is now. WINNER 2008
Grinders: Sean Couturier, Max Talbot, and either Eric Wellwood or Harry Z (hopefully) could be one of the best fourth lines in hockey. This is a good 3rd line in the NHL, let alone fourth line. Sami Kapanen, Jimmy Dowd and Patrice Thoreson (and Steve Downie) don’t really compare to today’s guys. WINNER 2012
Forward Conclusion: This years group of forwards is better than the 07-08 group by quite a bit in my estimation. From the top line (Giroux’ 72+ Hartnell’s 58+ Jagr’s 42= 172 in only ¾ of the season. Richie, Briere, and Knuble’s (top three scorers that year) had 202 for the whole year!) to the grinders and almost everything in-between, we’re just better right now than we were then up front.
Work-horse: Kimmo Timonen was awesome then, and he is awesome now…but he was more awesomer then. WINNER 2008
Top-4 Toughness: 35-year-old Derian Hatcher and 34-year-old Jason Smith provided us with tons of veteran leadership during that run. Today’s roster has Big Braydon Coburn and just as Big Pavel Kubina clearing the porch. Much more offense from the new guys, maybe not as much grit/defensive awareness but the speed of Coburn and the booming shot/PP ability from Kubina (only 2 years removed from a 38 point season) should cover the difference. WINNER 2012
Offensive Defensemen: It feels funny to say but in ’08 Braydon Coburn had 36 points in 78 games. He was struck with a puck in the eye that playoffs and hasn’t been an offensive minded player since, but he was once offensive. Randy Jones (LOL) was the other weapon from the point, totaling 31 points that season. Andrej Meszaros’ pace is set to put him around 25 points this year while Matt Carle’s on pace for a clean 40. Offensively and defensivly this matchup isn’t even close. Carle and Mez are top-4’s and PP guys on nearly every team in the NHL this year. Coby and Jones were prospects (offensively) but neither panned out. WINNER 2012
Depth guys: Ryan Parent: 4. Jaroslav Modry: 9. Lasse Kukkonen: 14. Those were games played in the playoffs in 2008. You thought our bottom pair was bad in 09-10 when we made the Cup? Well it was, but it was also bad in 07-08. Nick Grossman, Marc-Andre Bourdon and Erik Gustafsson would all have been the #6 option on the 08 team, thus the heavy advantage for the current team. WINNER 2012
Defense conclusion: Other than Timonen, this year’s defense is just better. The additions of Grossman and Kubina were outstanding moves by Paul Holmgren. We only moved picks to get these guys and kept our first rounders, which is always a plus. Could you just imagine if we had the captain as well? As bad as we’ve played defensively, we’re just way better now---on paper. Will we gel like we should in the months coming to the playoffs? I hope so, and really think we will. We just have too much talent to suck defensivly.
Goalies: LOL, where to begin. Marty Biron played his cahones off that playoffs. Ilya Bryzgalov was brought here for the playoffs. I’m refraining my opinion on this scenario because if you ask anyone that knows anything about hockey before the season who you want in net: 08 Biron or ’12 Bryz they’ll say Bryz. He’s been a stud for the past five years in the NHL and it pretty much should be a no brainer. However… if you ask a Flyer fan, they’ll probably say Biron. At the end of the day---numbers aside, if you’d rather have Biron than Bryz you need to have a long convo with Eric T. and Geoff about some concepts dealing with regression to mean and sample size. With that said: WINNER 2012.
Conclusion: Up and down the line-up we are better this year. The ‘08 team got some great goaltending, good defense and some clutch scoring. If we can get anything around solid goaltending we should be fine. With that said, I think we are a flat out favorite against any team except Boston, New York, and Pitt (with Crosby only, we take them without 87). The Southeast sucks. Buffalo and the Canadian teams suck and so do the Devils---lets be real. There are only 4 teams that can win the East this year and the Flyers, believe it or not are one of them.
If 2012>2008 and 2008 made the ECF, who's to say this years Flyers can't make serious noise???