(Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Assuming that the NHL
2012-2013 season does begin a week from this Saturday vs. the Penguins at 3 pm. EST on the 19th (1), the Flyers will have 48 games to work with this season, & a very tough, physically challenging 48 games at that.
This year, due to the lockout, & thus, the shortened season, teams will play less games, with more emphasis on conference & inter-division meetings. Neither conference will play each other either (2). Here's a breakdown of the scheduling below (3):
Each team will play: 4 games vs. two divisional opponents (8 games total); 5 games vs. two divisional opponents (10 games total), & 3 games vs. the 10 remaining Eastern Conference teams outside of their respective division (30 games total).
This is a very tough schedule for the Flyers this year, considering how strong the Atlantic Division is talent wise (it's arguably the best division in hockey).
On top of that, as we all already know, the Flyers are very inconsistent in net come this year. At least, before he got traded this past off-season, with youngster Sergei Bobrovsky, there was a learning curve, & thus, room for improvement. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for Ilya Bryzgalov, & backup Michael Leighton this year. Bryzgalov last year seemed incapable of adapting to a new city & major media market, emotionally & physically. His play on the ice looked shaky, & downright pitiful at times, & on the other hand, he compiled an unbelievable 11-2 March record last year, bouncing back from his struggles he faced earlier on in the 2011-12 season.
The 3 most pressing issues for me, coming into this season for the Flyers are:
01. Lack of defensive depth/health:
Due to Chris Pronger's post-concussion syndrome forcing him out of action last season (minus 13 games), & it continuing into this year, Kimmo Timonen's back surgery this past summer, to remove a disc fragment from his lower back (not to mention his age, 37, going on 38 come March), Andrej Meszaros' torn Achilles tendon, & Andreas Lilja coming off of hip surgery (4), the Flyers will have a tough time staying completely healthy this year, & being as effective as they would like to be, considering their health & nagging injuries.
02. Being as effective offensively as they were last season
Let's face it: Claude Giroux may put up similar numbers as last year, given he stays relatively healthy throughout the year, but there are a ton of question marks offensively for the Flyers come this year. Will Scottie Hartnell replicate his 37 goal performance of last year? Will Danny Briere improve upon his poor play & lackluster 49 point season last year? How will Brayden Schenn pan out this year offensively, with his brother donning the orange & black as well? Can Wayne Simmonds live up to his contract & repeat his 28 goal season of last year? What can we expect from guys like Max Talbot, Matt Read, & Sean Couturier?
03. Who's the captain?
With current captain Chris Pronger presumably out for the entire year, due to his post-concussion syndrome, many fans, bloggers, analysts & more are concerned & questioning whether or not the Flyers will announce a captain that is actually playing, & that can make a difference. Based off of social media comments/tweets, & my own opinion, I believe there are 3 Flyers players, not on the LTIR list (long term injury reserve), that are worthy of wearing the C on their chest for this season:
01. Claude Giroux
This would be the obvious, most common choice I assume. He would make a great captain because of his talent, leadership, & respect of the game. One particular play in last season's playoff series vs. Pittsburgh that really defined who he is as a player on the ice, & off, really sticks out to me. It really seemed to motivate the Flyers (who won the game), & set the tone for the game from the get go. See below.
The only problem with Giroux being the captain would be the added pressure of wearing the C, & taking on the hefty role attached to it. Don't get me wrong: Many young, superstar hockey players have become captains at one time or another, & had success doing so. Examples of players that did are: Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Clarke, Sidney Crosby, Steve Yzerman, Alexander Ovechkin, Brian Bellows (the youngest NHL captain ever), Vincent Lecavalier, etc.
02. Kimmo Timonen
If it wasn't the superstar on the team (assuming that the two don't overlap), the next logical choice/candidate to be a team's designated captain would be the proverbial respected, veteran of the team, defenseman or not. Kimmo Timonen fits that role perfectly. He's 37, been in the NHL for 14+ seasons (this will be his 6th with the Flyers), is very respected league wide, & he has prior experience as well (he served as Nashville's team captain from 2006-07). Additionally, the pressure would be off Giroux, & thus he could focus solely on his offensive & defensive approaches, not to mention Timonen would be able to handle the added responsibilities & pressure with relative ease, considering his age & prior experience.
03. Max Talbot
Is anyone surprised to read this suggestion? He's not the most conventional candidate for team captain, nor would most people generally consider him for the captain's role, but he would be the perfect captain. Like Timonen, Talbot would take all the pressure off of Giroux, if he were captain. Secondly, Talbot has been a fan favorite at both of his stopping grounds in the NHL, he's respectable, humble, he interviews well, is entertaining (see below), & is a gritty, hard-working player, who has the ability to motivate his players in the right way.
2012-13 Lineups/Line Pairings:
Wayne Simmonds - Brayden Schenn - Danny Briere
Ruslan Fedotenko - Sean Couturier - Matt Read
Kimmo Timonen - Nicklas Grossmann
Andreas Lilja- Erik Gustafsson/Bruno Gervais
2012-2013 Individual Statistical Predictions:
Goals Ass. Pts +/- PIM
Claude Giroux 19 G 40 A 69 Pts +20 14 PIM
Danny Briere 19 G 25 A 44 Pts +9 45 PIM
Scott Hartnell 15 G 24 A 39 Pts +15 80 PIM
Jakub Voracek 13 G 21 A 34 Pts +10 16 PIM
Brayden Schenn 12 G 19 A 31 Pts +8 28 PIM
Matt Read 13 G 17 A 30 Pts +8 10 PIM
Wayne Simmonds 12 G 17 A 29 Pts +5 65 PIM
Kimmo Timonen 4 G 21 A 25 Pts +18 25 PIM
Max Talbot 9 G 13 A 22 Pts +6 35 PIM
Sean Couturier 8 G 11 A 19 Pts +11 8 PIM
Ruslan Fedotenko 7 G 10 A 17 Pts +2 12 PIM
Braydon Coburn 5 G 11 A 16 Pts +12 33 PIM
Luke Schenn 3 G 10 A 13 Pts +5 39 PIM
Andrej Meszaros 3 G 9 A 12 Pts +10 21 PIM
Eric Wellwood 4 G 7 A 11 Pts +2 12 PIM
Zac Rinaldo 2 G 7 A 9 Pts -6 175 PIM
Bruno Gervais 3 G 5 A 8 Pts -2 16 PIM
Nicklas Grossman 2 G 5 A 7 Pts +6 21 PIM
Eric Gustafsson 2 G 5 A 7 Pts +3 8 PIM
Andreas Lilja 2 G 4 A 6 Pts +5 38 PIM
GP W L OT GAA Sv% SO
Ilya Bryzgalov 36 22 9 5 2.45 .915 4
Michael Leighton 12 7 4 1 2.58 .908 1
2012-13 Atlantic Division Standings Predictions
GP W L OT Points
New York Rangers 48 32 11 5 69 points
Pittsburgh Penguins 48 30 12 6 66 points
Philadelphia Flyers 48 29 13 6 64 points (I Predict them to be the # 5th seed in the conference)
New Jersey Devils 48 27 14 7 61 points
New York Islanders 48 19 23 6 44 points
Playoff Predictions + Overview
Realistically, I see the Flyers not as Division winners, just because of the depth & consistency of New York & Pittsburgh, but as a #5 or 6 seed in the Eastern Conference. I have the Bruins & Capitals winning the Northeast & Southeast divisions, respectively, & the Flyers realistically facing either Pittsburgh for the second straight year, or one of the two aforementioned teams from above. With the depth within this team, the young talent, & the star in the making of Claude Giroux, this team could go far, but only as far as Ilya Bryzgalov takes them. If he's as shaky/inconsistent as he was in his first year here last year, which I don't think he will be, the Flyers could be bounced out of the 1st round, even if we're healthy & playing sound offensively. Injuries to major stars on the Rangers/Penguins & Devils, how Ilya Bryzgalov performs throughout the lockout shortened season, & how the Flyers hold up health wise will really determine where Philadelphia lands seed wise, in the Eastern Conference by the end of the year.
What do you think? Could the Flyers make a major deadline move this year & become legitimate division winners? How far in the playoffs do you foresee them going this year? Will Bryzgalov perform better in net? Who will take over for Chris Pronger as captain (assuming it happens this year)? Is Shea Weber a realistic trade possibility for the Flyers come next off-season?
Feel free to send your questions, predictions & other comments to: https://twitter.com/SportsPhan8SB
References (Sources, # in parenthesis):