Can The Flyers Win the Cup?
According to the Hockey News, they can. The moves they made to shore up their D, deepen their farm system with strong drafts and trades, and getting perhaps the best player in the world are good reasons why the team has a strong chance to win.
Peter Forsberg was the biggest coup this summer. no doubt the cream of the crop available among the free agents, Forsberg a guy guaranteed to provide offence whenever he steps on the ice. The new rules to open up the game like the no redline, zero tolerance on obstruction and the bigger offensive zones will certainly give Forsberg the time and space to be even more dangerous.
The additions of Derian Hatcher, Mike Rathje and Chris Therien provide a healthy balance of size and toughness to go with their smaller, skilled players on D.
And the additions of youngsters Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Antero Nittimaki, Jani Pitkanen, Patrick Sharp and perhaps RJ Umberger and Denis Seidenberg will allow them to not only get use to the cap world without the aid of buying top players but instead developing their own. And it is always good to implement some youthful enthusiasm.
However several questions need to be answered before we can annoint them champions after just 1 pre-season game so far.
1. The Flyers need to stay healthy. No doubt the biggest key to the team’s success. Already 3 top players are hurt. Forsberg’s injury is minor and he should be back to start the year, but he will miss valuable time getting use to his new teammates and new system under coach Hitch*****. Rarely mentioned is the country club atmosphere Forsberg played with in Colorado and the kind of adjustment he will need to make under the strict Hitch*****.
Hatcher is out until possibly late October with his bum knee. By only playing 27 competitive NHL games in a 2 year span, he needs to simply put in the work and get in game shape. The knee will likely give him trouble year round. Though he knows the Hitch***** system well, it will be a huge adjustment for him to get use to the new rules and the increased speed of the game. He is not too fast to begin with.
Kapanen will be lost for 10 weeks and that is a bigger loss than some make out to be. The Flyers are not that deep on the wings and Kapanen’s speed and skill are a big asset in the opened up NHL. He is one who should put up big numbers in that type of game but it will take some time for him to adjust and be able to not shy away from the physicality of the game.
The team must also worry about Desjardins and Primeau who missed some time the last few years with injuries and are not getting any younger. I think the added youth and depth should help them as they will not have to do much too much and can be saved for the playoffs.
2. The Flyers need top goaltending. They should get it from Robert Esche but they have seen a goalie who had one great year with their team go south after that. Brian Boucher had one terrific year a few years back and looked like the guy who would anchor the team in goal for years. He faded after 1 good year. The hope is Esche wont do the same but I think they have an even better goalie in Nittymaki who could pull a Kiprusoff year for them. I think the best route for Philly is to make it an open challenge for the number 1 role and let Esche earn it as he seems to be a better player when challenged and doubted.
3. The rookies have to produce. There are some good young players in Philly. Carter and Richards are Calder candidates, as is Nittymaki. But keep in mind they are replacing several veteran players who were proven talents.
The team did lose 5 of their top 9 forwards. Many claim the losses were minimal but Recchi was their leading scorer in the regular season, Roenick was a huge playoff performer, Zhamnov was roughly a point per game player, Leclair was a good powerplay guy and Amonte was a player who could give you at least 20 goals.
Carter and Richards have not played an NHL game yet, Sharp has only been a bit player so far and needs to show more and Umberger may not be ready to contribute offensively right now. To assume these youngsters with minimal experience can put up the numbers that those proven vets have year after year right away may be too much to ask. hopefully the big hype and high expectations wont get to them.
4. Some of their veterans need to step it up offensively. Gagne needs to be the player he is capable of being. He has the potential to score 35-40 goals with his speed and skill but seems to hover around 25 for the most part. He cannot simply blame the Hitch***** system for holding him back. He has to finish off plays.
Primeau cannot go another year of scoring 7 goals in 54 games. He needs to pick it up offensively to compensate for the team’s loss of proven scorers. He has scored in the past and must get back to that again.
Knuble must prove he can score without the help of Joe Thornton. He did nothing when he was not playing with Thornton and he will be counted upon in Philly to put up the kind of numbers he did in Boston and not be the player who struggled as a Ranger. Can he do that remains to be seen.
And if Brian Savage can light it up for October and November at least like he always does, that will offset the loss of Kapanen and perhaps give some time for the rookies to get their feet wet.
The Flyers have 82 games to get healthy, work out the kinks in terms of adjusting to new rules and new teammates and to get use to their opponents as with so many changes, styles will change from team to team. I think the Hockey News is not far off in their prediction, but with such a long layoff, and so many changes league wide, simply playing the games will allow us to get a better read on who are the contenders and who are the pretenders. With parity more prevelant than ever, it is foolhardy to hand Philadelphia the cup now. They certainly have to earn it and on paper, they have the tools to take it all. But games are won on the ice, not paper so it remains to be seen if the Hockey News is correct (and they have never seemed to be right in their predictions but they have chosen Ottawa pretty much every year). We will all have to wait and see.