26 July 2010

Back in Black (And Orange): Fresh Start For The Flyers in 2010-2011

Photo Courtesy of: Bruce Bennet, Getty Images

When Blackhawks phenom Patrick Kane beat Philly netminder Michael Leighton from an unholy angle to capture Chicago's first Cup in nearly five decades, it was a tough pill for Flyers fans to swallow.

Disbelief quickly transformed into anger and disappointment.

Each day that passed was increasingly painful, and what would have otherwise been a fantastic season felt more like a gigantic failure for ending the way it did.

I couldn't help but self-masochistically watch the Cup parade through the Windy City, along with innumerable advertisements on NHL.com and ESPN for Blackhawks 2010 Champion gear.

It felt like it would last a lifetime; nothing could take away the fact that the Flyers were that close to glory and collapsed at the very last second.

But at last, thoughts of last season are finally beginning to fade and now it's time to look forward.

The offseason is a time for wounds to heal for players and fans alike, as well as to regain the strength and confidence required to compete for the greatest trophy in sports.

With that, let's take a look at your 2010-2011 Philadelphia Flyers.

The greatest change for the orange and black has already received plenty of analysis--the Simon Gagne trade.

In short, the absence of Gagne in the Flyers lineup makes room for Claude Giroux, James van Riemsdyk, and Ville Leino to take their game to the next level and become high-impact players for Philly.

While all three of these young athletes have shown flashes of brilliance--especially in the playoffs--it's time for them to become more consistent contributors during the regular season.

Secondary scoring was a huge factor for the Flyers success in 2008-2009 (six players with 30+ goals), but last year only Mike Richards and Jeff Carter surpassed the 30-goal mark.

Even without Gagne, Philadelphia is still stacked offensively with the aforementioned Richards and Carter, in addition to Daniel Briere, Scott Hartnell, and recently-signed Nikolai Zherdev.

Hartnell stumbled last year--posting 44 points in 81 games--but had a fantastic postseason, reminiscent of the 60-point player he was just two years ago.

With increased production from Hartnell and the team's young core, the Flyers will be a serious threat in the opponent's zone.

On the back end, Philadelphia has only improved upon what was already one of the best defensive units in the league this past season.

Led by grizzled veteran Chris Pronger, the Flyers defensive pairings feature a perfect blend of toughness and offensive ability.

Kimmo Timonen is year-in and year-out among the most consistent and responsible blue-liners in the game. Although he often goes unnoticed because of his size, Timonen's flawless positioning and anticipation make him incredibly frustrating for star forwards to play against.

Filling in alongside Pronger and Timonen are Matt Carle and Braydon Coburn, respectively. Both of these young players are smart, smooth-skating defenseman that nicely complement their more-experienced defense partners.

GM Paul Holmgren also acquired Andrej Meszaros from Tampa Bay and Sean O'Donnell from Los Angeles to round out the Flyers third pairing. Both stand at 6'2" and at a combined 460 lbs, these two defensemen bring even more grit and sizey to a team that's renowned for their physical style of play.

Oskars Bartulis and new acquisition Matt Walker are the odd men out for Philadelphia, and will likely not see playing time unless one of the top-six gets hurt.

In net, the Flyers will be sporting the less-than-threatening duo of Michael Leighton and Brian Boucher.

That being said, if Leighton plays more consistently, he's as good of a starting goaltender as any other out there.

Boucher was reliable as a back-up last year, but struggled when he was shoved into the #1 spot due to Ray Emery's season-ending injury.

Lastly, the Flyers added even more grit to their bottom lines by signing heavyweight enforcer Jody Shelley to a three-year deal.

Contrary to what many have said and believe, Holmgren has every intention of giving Shelley serious playing time and not just using him as a pair of granite boxing gloves.

All-in-all, the orange and black won't look as different next year as one might imagine, given the number of moves they've made this summer.

For the most part, Philadelphia has managed keep their roster intact after just missing out on hoisting the Stanley Cup in June.

The Flyers' careful balance between grit and skill that has been the shining star of this organization since its inception in 1967 remains strong today, and the team will undoubtedly make another serious run for the Cup next season.

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