We’re now heading into the 47th year of Flyers’ hockey and the excitement is overwhelming, to say the least.
Last season with Chicago, Emery went a ridiculous 17-1 with a 1.94 GAA. He broke a record, becoming the first NHL goaltender ever to start a season 10-0. Although Emery had a spectacular year, most of his success is deemed as a great season due to the excellent defensive system Chicago implemented. It’s not too shabby playing in front of Duncan Keith either. It’ll be interesting to see what Emery can do with a less-efficient, decent defense, and a challenge for him as well.
Regardless of his stats and how good he was in net, Emery will compete with last year’s acquisition, and former Calder Memorial Trophy winner, Steve Mason for the Flyers’ starting goaltender job this season. Both goalies have had prior success, which will make it a tough call for Flyers’ head coach Peter Laviolette to pick a starter, to at least begin the season.
The team’s gone in a new direction in net from last year. Now that former-starter Ilya Bryzgalov is gone, much of the drama from the past two seasons circled around Bryzgalov is gone. The team added a few new faces in the off season, on top of Emery, as well. The full list of additions and subtractions is below.
Additions Position Former Team Contract
Vincent Lecavalier Center Tampa Bay Lightning 5 years, $22.5 million
Mark Streit Defense New York Islanders 4 years, $21 million
Ray Emery Goaltender Chicago Blackhawks 1 year, $1.65 million
Yann Danis Goaltender Edmonton Oilers 1 year, $675k
Hal Gill Defense Nashville Predators 1 year, $700k
Subtractions Position New team
Danny Briere Center Montreal Canadiens
Ilya Bryzgalov Goaltender Free-Agent
Ruslan Fedotenko Left Wing HC Donbass (KHL)
Brian Boucher Goaltender EV Zug (NLA)
Kurtis Foster Defense KHL Medvescak Zagreb (KHL)
Jody Shelley Left Wing Retired
Mitch Wahl Center EC Red Bull Salzburg (Austria)
Roster Breakdown/Depth Chart
New Division Format/Realignment
This year, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, and the NHL decided to reformat the NHL divisions and conferences, and subsequently give out some new division names as well. Now there’s the Metropolitan Division in the Eastern Conference, in which the Flyers are in. Here are the other teams in the Metropolitan Division alongside the Flyers:
As you can see from the list of MD teams above, it’s essentially the Atlantic Division from last year (and year’s past), except with Washington and Carolina coming over from the Eastern Conference’s Southeast Division, and Columbus coming over from the Central Division in the Western Conference. The three divisional moves were done to avoid long travel time for teams on road games. With Columbus transferring into the Eastern Conference, and into the Metropolitan Division alongside the Flyers, it marks the return of former Flyers’ backup goalie, and current Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky, who won the award in the lockout shortened season last season with the Blue Jackets. He’ll make his return to Philadelphia on December 19th at the Wells Fargo Center.
The Flyers have most of their starters from last year back. They essentially replaced Briere with Lecavalier, the latter of which not only brings veteran leadership and a winning attitude, but speed, puck handling skills, a great wrist shot and determination. He’s tallied 30 or more goals five times, including two seasons of 40 or more. He won a Cup in the 2003-04 season, prior to the lockout, with Tampa; a team in which went on in the Eastern Conference Finals series of that year to beat the Flyers in 7 games, prior to beating Calgary.
Since he turned 30 in April of 2010, he’s averaged more than 20 goals-per-season, which is very important considering most NHL snipers suffer a decline in production due to their age and the physicality of the sport catching up to their bodies.
They also acquired and signed veteran puck-handling, offensive-defenseman Mark Streit from the rival Islanders as well. Streit automatically improves their Power Play strategy and efficiency. 36 out of his 65 total career NHL goals have been scored on the man advantage, a staggering rate of 55%. He was the runner-up in the league in Power Play Goals On-Ice For with 67 in 2007-08, behind only Montreal’s Andrei Markov (73).
Not only can he score and set-up goals on the Power Play, but he can play solid defense as well, and he’s a proven leader on the ice. He played in all 48 games last year for the Isles, and made the Eastern Conference All-Star team in 2009 as well. On top of his skills offensively and defensively, he’s also an iron man as of recent. He’s played 216 straight games. He will surely be an asset for the Flyers this year on the 3rd defensive pairing, to say the least.
Team captain and superstar Claude Giroux is playing first game after signing an 8-year, $66.2 million contract extension this past July. Giroux lead the team again (for the second year in a row) in scoring last year with 48 points. He tallied 13 goals and 35 assists in 48 games played, and in the process averaging a point-per-game. Even though up-and-comer Jakub Voracek won team MVP honors (known as the Bobby Clarke Award Trophy), Giroux is still the best player on the team- subjectively and objectively speaking. His leadership alone, on and off the ice, greatly affects the team.
He had a breakout year two seasons ago and hasn’t looked back. I fully expect, given he stays healthy, Giroux to have another fabulous year. Some NHL experts have even picked him to win league MVP honors this year; up there with the likes of Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin.
The team’s defense still stands as the team’s Achilles Heal- subjectively and objectively. Last season, albeit a lockout shortened one, the Flyers were 22nd among all NHL teams in goals against with 141. They really haven’t done anything significant to try and improve that. Streit will help the team defensively marginally, but not enough to make a significant impact when it comes to causing turnovers, reducing turnovers/mistakes, blocking shots, checking, etc.
Glancing further into their team’s defensive stats from last year, they were only 19th in the league in shots-against per-game, with an average of 28.6, but yet they were tied for 24th in the league in save-percentage with .899. Comparing the two and breaking it all down, it basically shows that they reduced their opponents to very little shots and chances, but on the shots their opponents were able to get through, the latter was able to maintain a level of efficiency on. Most likely, the Flyers’ defenders and forwards that were backchecking didn't remove the puck from their defensive zone, or were outskated, which lead to chances and goals on few shots due to opposing skaters outplaying and outhustling them.
The team is surely missing veteran Chris Pronger — who may never play another NHL game again due to post-concussion syndrome — as shown by the aforementioned defensive statistics. On top of that, veteran defender and leader Kimmo Timonen is at the end of his rope, and could retire after this upcoming season concludes. He’s only on the books for this year, for now, at $6 million, in what could very well be his very last NHL contract. Simply put, Timonen can’t shoulder the load himself this season, if the team wants to have any minimal success whatsoever.
Luke Schenn, in his second year with the team, will bring a big (pun not intended) defensive presence to the team once again this year, especially considering his size; 6’2, 229 lbs. Schenn was a +3 for Philadelphia last year in 47 games played. He doesn’t take dumb penalties…….or many penalties in general for that matter. He only had 34 penalty minutes last year (his career high in PIM is 71; his rookie season with Toronto). He logs a lot of minutes (per-game, and overall) as well. Last season, he averaged 21:52 minutes-per-game. He’s not known as a special teams defenseman either (he only has 1 career Power Play goal to date). Last season, Schenn had some difficulties on the ice adjusting to a new team, and played mediocre at times, but his defensive presence, size and on-ice intelligence should help the team drastically this year, and I would expect him to improve greatly after a year with the team under his belt now.
As for the remaining four defenseman, Nikolas Grossman is, fundamentally speaking, a very similar player to Schenn, but not as good of a player. Grossman is just as big (6’3, 230 lbs), and is a defensive-defenseman who relies on forechecking, backchecking and forcing turnovers.
Kimmo Timonen’s partner, Braydon Coburn, is another big boy- at 6’5, 240 lbs (this seems to be a reoccurring theme among Flyers’ defenseman this year). The latter gives up a bit more turnovers though, and isn’t as fast as Schenn, Timonen and Streit are. Due to that, he is often outskated in his own zone, which has lead to numerous goals being scored. Last year, he had a down year. His defensive point shares averaged out at 2.2 per-82 games last season, while the year before that (2011-12) he averaged 3.7 in the same category. He also averaged less points-per-game (although that’s not a major component of his game), goals created, less shots — and he was a minus 10 (compared to being a +10 the year prior) as well — than the year before. Coburn needs to return to form for the burden to be off Timonen’s shoulders.
In hindsight, after the addition of Streit, the balance of puck-carrying, scoring defenseman and defensive-defenseman on the Flyers’ depth chart is a bit more even now, which is key. Youngster Erik Gustafsson, veteran Hal Gill and Andrej Meszaros round out the defensive depth chart. Gill and Meszaros will most likely see playing time if somebody goes down or is demoted. Meszaros brings a consistent game of play, and a number of skills to the table, while Gill brings a veteran and physical presence.
Ray Emery, as mentioned, returns to Philadelphia to begin his second tenure. He was originally here for the 2009-10 season. I would assume he’s the starter to begin the season, since he brings more consistency (that could be a good or bad thing), veteran presence, a winning culture (he just won the Cup with Chicago) and perhaps more talent as well, at least for the time being. Mason, when he’s on his game, is perhaps the better goaltender, but due to his inconsistent play ever since his rookie season, he’s been up and down, and benched a lot more frequently. He’s potentially one of the reasons why former Blue Jackets’ GM Scott Howson was fired subsequently as well.
When Mason is on his game, he’s been great. His rookie year in 2008, he went an impressive 33-20-7 with 10 shutouts, a 2.29 GAA and a .916 save percentage, to win the NHL’s Calder Memorial Trophy for Rookie of The Year. He became the first Columbus Blue Jacket to win the award. He also finished in the top 3 in voting as well that very same year for the Vezina Trophy, although he went on to lose to Bruins’ netminder Tim Thomas.
Two years ago, he had the worst year of his pro career. He went 16-26-3 with an abysmal 3.39 goals-against-average, and a save percentage under .900 (.894%). If Mason can regain his form, and quick, the Flyers will be a lot better than they started in the goaltending department. Mason may want to up his game to come upon some monetary gain as well. Thus far, he’s only made $8 million in five NHL seasons, for an average-annual-salary of $1.65 million per-season. Considering Mason played so well his rookie year — which is rare — I’m sure he’ll be seeking a max contract from a potential suitor next off-season, given he plays well this year and steals the starting job from Ray Emery as well. So, Mason going after the money may help the Flyers this year, given all goes well.
-By the numbers: Including his Calder-winning 2008-09 campaign, Steve Mason has posted a .905 save percentage over 239 career NHL games. None of the other 25 goalies to play at least 200 games in that span have managed a worse number.
As for Emery, he’s had his share of problems and ups-and-downs as well the past several seasons. Although he had a phenomenal year last season with Chicago, prior to that he sustained a number of season-ending injuries- including one with the Flyers.
In 2007-08, he missed a couple months worth of games with Ottawa, due to a sustained wrist injury that occurred in the pre-season. Two years later, with Philadelphia, he was placed on the injury-reserve list, in order to have surgery on a torn muscle in his abdomen. He was originally scheduled/expected to miss around 6 weeks worth of game action because of this, but his prognosis changed when it was discovered that he had avascular necrosis; a bone disease. He would go on to miss the remainder of the season because of this. That off-season, he became a free agent because his injury deemed him unable to play until he recuperated fully from it.
Overall, Emery’s injury is a cause of concern for Philadelphia, but shouldn’t be too much of a nuisance this season. Fortunately, he’s only a low-salary impact player because of his injury, with him only being on the books for $1.6 million this season.
The team needs to be more prepared and smarter when it comes to taking penalties. Last year, the Flyers once again were among the league leaders in team penalty minutes with 755, behind only Toronto’s 776. On the flip side, the positive thing is that as many (dumb) penalties as they took last year, their opponents were penalized just as much. Specifically, they had 751 penalty minutes against, which lead the league (ironically, Toronto was second).
Penalty minutes aside, as far as strategies are concerned, head coach Peter Laviolette returns for his fifth season as team head coach. Despite missing the playoffs last season, it is surely believed that the coach and team will use the same strategies as last year and in year’s past. Laviolette often doesn't change his in-game strategies, which can lead to trouble for the team in close games, divisional games or playoff games, among others. For their opponents, defensively, teams usually break off the long breakout passes from zone-to-zone and force turnovers.
Fortunately enough for Philadelphia, they have so many skilled offensive players than in years past that they can possibly avoid the mistakes or overcome them. But if they don’t, defensively it could be a nightmare. A very bad, prolonged nightmare. Strategy wise, and offensively, the addition of Lecavalier — considering his size (he’s 6’4 and 208 pounds) — could help the Flyers strategy tremendously by being able to retrieve pucks on the boards faster, and penetrating the offensive zone. With now another potential offensive weapon on the team, Laviolette could potentially be altering his offensive game plan.
With the addition of Streit, Laviolette’s dump-and-chase scheme could change as well.
Statistical Predictions (Goals-Assists-Points)
Claude Giroux- 33-61-94
Jakub Voracek- 35-48-83
Vincent Lecavalier- 29-48-77
Scott Hartnell- 34-41-75
Matt Read- 27-33-60
Wayne Simmonds- 29-28-57
Brayden Schenn- 24-31-55
Kimmo Timonen- 11-40-51
Mark Streit- 14-31-45
Sean Couturier- 11-24-35
Scott Laughton- 12-17-29
Max Talbot- 15-13-28
Erik Gustafsson- 9-15-24
Luke Schenn- 5-14-19
Braydon Coburn- 4-11-15
Adam Hall- 5-10-15
Andrej Meszaros- 3-11-14
Zac Rinaldo- 4-9-13
Nicklas Grossman- 3-7-10
Hal Gill- 2-6-8
Jay Rosehill- 2-4-6
Ray Emery- 0-4-4
Steve Mason- 0-2-2
-Goalies (Games Played- Wins-losses-OTL- Goals Against Average- Save Percentage- Shutouts)
Ray Emery- 46 GP- 24-14-8- 2.47 GAA .907% 4 shutouts
Steve Mason- 36 GP- 18-13-5- 2.60 GAA- .901%- 3 shutouts
Team Awards/All-Star Game Representatives Predictions
Bobby Clarke Trophy (Team MVP)- Claude Giroux
Barry Ashbee Trophy (best defenseman)- Luke Schenn
Pelle Lindbergh Memorial Trophy (most-improved)- Matt Read
Yanick Dupre Memorial Class Guy Award (class guy)- Wayne Simmonds
-All-Star Game Representatives
Penguins- 48-21-13- 109 points
Rangers- 44-22-16- 104 points
Flyers- 42-27-13- 97 points
Capitals- 45-31-6- 96 points
Islanders- 41-28-13- 95 points
Devils- 39-27-16- 94 points
Blue Jackets- 38-34-10- 86 points
Hurricanes- 32-43-7- 75 points
I think the Capitals and/or the Islanders could finish ahead of the Flyers this year in the standings, but I went with the Flyers ahead of the two due to their experience and offensive depth. The Islanders are a real good, young team. I think of them as the Pittsburgh Pirates of the past few years of hockey though in that they need to keep growing and learning how to win before they try to overthrow the Penguins for the division this year. Realistically speaking, this team could be a contender within another year or two. Washington as well. The Blue Jackets are a good young team, but they don’t have enough offensive firepower, depth, or experience in general to compete with the top tier teams within the division, or in the East for that matter.
Playoffs Predictions/New Format Changes
With the new divisional format this season, there comes a new NHL playoff format as well. The top three teams in each division make the playoffs (4 divisions overall), plus — per conference — there’s two Wild-Card teams as well (for a total of 16 playoff teams, 8 per conference). Unless Pittsburgh sustains numerous injuries and the Rangers lose Henrik Lundqvist, it’s most likely that — given they make the playoffs — they’ll make it as a wild-card team. If this occurs, they’d most likely play Pittsburgh/New York or a dominant team in the Atlantic, such as Boston, Detroit or Ottawa, in the first round.
I could see Philadelphia making the playoffs and losing in the first (quarterfinals) or second round (semi-finals). The problem is, unless Steve Mason can get on a hot streak come mid-April, due to the lack of a # 1, superstar goalie and an above-par defense, this team can only go so far with their talented offense. Last season, everyone saw it coming and predicted it: that Pittsburgh would run away with the Cup once they acquired sniper Jarome Iginla. Boston not only beat them in the Conference Finals but swept them, proving that defense and goaltending wins championships (just ask Jonathan Quick).