It has been about eight months since we've seen the Orange and Black lace up their skates and step onto the ice of the Wells Fargo Center. Now, after the lockout wiped out nearly half a season, we get to see the boys from Broad Street once again compete for the Stanley Cup. All the fans from Philadelphia are eager to see what this new (albeit shortened) season will bring for the Flyers.
The Flyers' roster has gone through some changes since we last saw them. We have seen two top-six forwards depart, and one infamous back-up goaltender return. Players departing from the Flyers are Jaromir Jagr, James van Riemsdyk, Sergei Bobrovsky, Matt Carle and Pavel Kubina. Holmgren has brough in Bruno Gervais, Luke Schenn, Ruslan Fedotenko and Michael Leighton as their replacements for the up coming season.
The Flyers have suffered a loss in the offensive department with the departures of JVR and Jagr. Both were consistent top-six forwards through out last season. Jagr also spent much of the season on the top-line alongside Claude Giroux and Scott Hartnell. The two forwards combined for 78 points last season, all of which will have to be replaced if the Flyers wish to continue being one of the leagues top-offensive teams. Claude Grioux and Scott Hartnell will have to once again lead the charge offensively on the top-line. Both will have to to continue to play at the All-Star level they did last season. Danny Briere needs to step-up his regular season out-put. Briere is slated to be the number two center yet gain behind Giroux, but he may even get looks on the top-line should he increase his production and adapt to the right wing. Young stars like Matt Read, Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn, Eric Wellwood and Sean Couturier will have to continue their development to insure that the Flyers can still compete with the top-teams in the East (and West for that matter). Jakub Voracek must develop into a top-line player and be Jagr's successor on the top-line with Hartnell and Giroux. Players like Fedotenko, Max Talbot, Zac Rinaldo, Jody Shelley and Tom Sestito must help out as depth forwards and play as hard-nosed grinders.
The defense is still a question mark. To start the season, the Flyers' top-four will consist of Nicklas Grossmann, Braydon Coburn, Kimmo Timonen and the elder Schenn brother. Expect Andrej Meszaros to maybe step in to the top-four once he returns from injury. The bottom pair and the seventh defensive spot are the question marks here. Youngsters Marc-Andre Bourdon and Erik Gustafsson have been battling injuries during the lock-out. While Gus is expected to be back from his deep bone bruise in the near future, Bourdon continues to have concussion-like symptoms, making his return date indefinite. Brandon Manning continues to struggle with the Phantoms, so it looks as though he will not be ready to compete at the NHL level. Bruno Gervais and Andreas Lilja seem to be the locks as the five and six defense men heading into the start of training camp. Expect to see familiar face Danny Syvret and veteran Matt Walker push to be the seventh guy in the defensive rotation. Captain and top-defenseman Chris Pronger continues to have concussion like symptoms and is expected to miss the entire season on LTIR.
The goaltending situation is not much different from last year. Ilya Bryzgalov will the guy going forward. There is absolutely no contender to take his spot as the top guy now that Bobrovsky is gone. Bryz will have to take the ball and run with it for the Flyers to successful. The return of Michael Leighton raised some eyebrows, but he will be strictly the back-up goaltender to come in when Bryzgalov needs a break or is in a slump. Don't expect him to repeat his performance from the 2009-10 season.
The leadership is still an issue with Pronger out indefinitely. Although the Flyers have veteran leaders in Briere, Hartnell, Timonen and Talbot, and youngsters like Giroux and Coburn leading by example, the Flyers still lack the undisputed captain that was lost when Pronger went down. Many rumors indicate the Giroux will be appointed captain. This may be a mistake on the Flyers' behalf. Mike Richards was appointed captain at a veyr young age in this crazy market, and it proved to be his downfall in Philadelphia. The Flyers may wish to hold off on putting the "C" on Giroux to keep his attention focused on the ice rather than in the locker room. A guy like Timonen may be best suited to wear the "C" for the time being. He's been captain before, and has worn an "A" with the Flyers since his very first season with the club back in 2007-08. He only had one or two more seasons left, so it would give Giroux some time to mature and then succeed Timonen as the leader of the squad.
All in all, the Flyers look fairly good heading into the season, with defense being the only true question mark. The Flyers' management and coaching staff must keep a close eye on the defense and pull the trigger on a deal if extra help is needed. This is my projected Flyers depth chart heading into the first game of the season
Injuries: Chris Pronger, Andrej Meszaros*, Marc-Andre Bourdon, Erik Gustafsson*
The * indicates that the player may be ready in time for the opener