The Flyers went from missing the playoffs two years ago to going to the Stanley Cup semifinals. They smartly overhauled their team, and brought in players that were speedy, without losing too much of their aggressiveness and checking ability.
Now they’re one of the top teams in the Eastern conference, and should be better this season.
Forwards: This team should automatically be better if Simon Gagne can stay healthy. Gagne had seasons of 47 and 41 goals before last season, when he went down with a concussion. He only played in 25 games. If he can stay healthy all season, the team has a good chance to challenge for the conference title.
Daniel Briere should continue to be one of the best small men in the league. He has a heart that never gives up. Look for him to improve on his 72 points from last year.
Mike Richards broke out last season with 28 goals and 75 points. He’ll continue to improve, and should be able to challenge for 100 points this season. He’s a threat on the ice whether the team is on the powerplay, penalty killing or even strength.
When you throw in the fact they still have quality players like Scott Hartnell, Scottie Upshall, Jeff Carter, Joffrey Lupul and Mike Knuble, it’s easy to see why this team should be considered one of the elite of the league.
Defence: Except for Kimmo Timonen, this defence won’t be getting a lot of points. But that’s okay, because they’ll be too busy punishing opposing players. Maybe they won’t get away with it too much in the regular season, but once the playoffs start, they’ll be a force to deal with.
A couple of years ago, Derian Hatcher’s career seemed to be on the way down. The game was too fast now, and he couldn’t keep up. But he proved in the playoffs last year that he can keep up just fine, as he helped the Flyers shut down the opposition in the first two rounds.
Goaltending: Martin Biron has been the biggest pickup this team has done in the past three years. He immediately gave them credibility in the net, and helped the Flyers become a force. He stood on his head in the postseason, especially in the second round against the Montreal Canadiens, when they were outshot and outchanced in every game.
Two years ago, he wanted out of Buffalo so he could be a number one goalie somewhere. Now he’s showing he’s able to carry a team.
Pool picks: Simon Gagne may slip down a few rounds because of injury concerns and the fact he didn’t have a lot of points. If you can get him in the fourth or fifth round, you should take a chance. Or you could take a flyer (ha ha, get it?… Moving on…) Jeff Carter has shown improvement every year, so he might also be worth a risk if you think he will improve on his 53 points from last year. Stay away from: Braydon Coburn. He had a career year on defence last year with 36 points, but I think that he will plateau at that level.
Miscellaneous: The biggest knock on the Flyers is that they are cheapshot artists. They had several players suspended last year for dirty hits, several of which knocked top players on other teams out for the season with injuries. No player is worse that Steve Downie. The Flyers have done so many things right over the past two years, that it’s a shame they lose so much respect because of some their stupider incidents.
Expected finish: Second in the Atlantic division, fifth in the Eastern conference
Overall: If it wasn’t for the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Flyers would be dominating their division for the next few years. Their young players continue to improve, and after some original hesitation, the Flyers have learned how to play within the new game.