Flyers' season depends on the youth

My first article, so be gentle.

Many were quick to criticize the Flyers during this year’s free agency period, as they chose not to go after many big names and were strapped down by their attempts to sign Gagne. Not knowing how much Gagne is going to make yet limited their ability to sign highly-payed players. They instead signed defenseman Nolan Baumgartner, and wingers/centers Randy Robitaille and Mark Cullen. I say wingers/centers simply because Center is a position the Flyers are overloaded with right now, and these players will most likely be converted to the wing. They also signed 2000 unsigned draft pick Lars Jonsson, who spent recent years in the Swedish Elite League, but has yet to play an NHL game. Bob Clarke countered these seemingly small signings by claiming that they made their big moves last year, in obtaining Forsberg, Knuble, Hatcher and Rathje. This would be a fine answer if Rathje and Hatcher actually panned out, but apparently admitting mistakes isn’t something this franchise likes to do too often. But, all is not lost.

As the title says, the youth movement on the Flyers is going strong, and can only get better. The Flyers’ rookies last year, especially as the season went on, were outstanding. Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, R.J. Umberger, Freddy Meyer and Antero Niittymaki were all key parts to the Flyers’ 101 point season and near-miss Atlantic Division Title last year. When injuries ran rampant, these five stepped up and kept the train rolling. My only complaint was that the forwards were practical no-shows in the playoffs. But with an entire season under their belts, they can no doubt have breakout seasons next year. One only has to look at Eric Staal, who in his rookie year did decent at 11 goals and 20 assists in 81 games, but exploded in his second season, leading his team with 100 points and contributing strongly to the Canes’ Stanley Cup championship. I don’t expect everyone to get 100 points, but simply pointing out that one year can make a huge difference, and these guys have nowhere to go but up.

So what’s left as far as roster moves? The Flyer’s biggest holes are left wing and depth at defense. If Gagne can’t get signed (even though he’s most likely staying, or else he would’ve filed for arbitation) then we’re in even bigger trouble. Sami Kapanen is listed as a Right Wing but can play both sides. R.J. Umberger played LW with Jeff Carter, and hopefully will stay there as they had great success with Niko Dimitrakos after last season’s trade deadline. After that our wingers are scarce, as we’d most likely be relying on former Phantoms such as Ben Eager, or converted centers as discussed earlier. Handzus spent some time on wing with Nedved, so he could be called upon to will in a spot I necessary. It’s been rumored that newcomer and NCAA star Ryan Potulny will also be moved to wing.

As for depth on defense, if no more moves are made they’ll be looking at their youth again there. Many people point fingers at Rathje and Hatcher being too slow and unable to adapt to the new game. While I think this is a legit argument for Hatcher, I think this is unfair to Rathje. Everyone seems to forget he played pretty darn well in the first half of the season, but went on the decline after his injury. He definitely came back too soon and played hurt with a bad hip. I’m thinking that with his surgery out of the way and an offseason of recovery, he can still be effective. Freddy Meyer became more and more comfortable at the position last year as he gained more high-level experience and should make the main roster no problem. Lars Jonsson is a crapshoot. Alexandre Picard and Wade Skolney are Phantoms mainstays that will have a shot at the roster this year. But, what our defensive depth lacks is NHL experience. Every year someone gets injured, and it’s been a major problem every season, but a problem they seem to constantly ignore. They go in with a strong starting 6, but as soon as one guy goes down everything is in shambles. They need to go after another cheap, veteran defenseman. They don’t need a superstar, just someone who’s been around the block and can hold down his own end of the ice. It baffles me that hey don’t realize that injuries CAN be planned for, and can’t be constantly used as an excuse.

So after all that, how about the lineup? Few people realize that the Flyers also signed former NHLer and Flyer Marty Murray, who spent last season in Germany, before the draft. He’s the kind of guy who seemed like he could produce if he was just a little bigger, but with the new rules is the kind of player that could thrive. Another wildcard is Petr Nedved. I don’t see him having a place on the team next year. I’m hoping he can be traded for an experienced defenseman or a winger. Robert Esche is also most likely gone, as Niittymaki is the team’s future. The only question is, when will he go? If they wait until the season starts, his value is only going o go down, as he’s going to seem like they guy who lost the starting job. But if he’s traded soon, they could most likely get a good pick or another depth guy. Bottom line is, Esche needs to move on. Keith Primeau is currently in playing in Finland with Sami Kapanen, and his return is looking more and more likely. Finally, as everybody knows, Forsberg is out for a while, and a January return is still looking likely. So, here’s my prediction for the opening day lineup as it stand right now.

Gagne – Richards – Knuble

Umberger – Carter – Dimitrakos

Kapanen – Primeau – Handzus

Potulny – Murray – Robitaille

Rathje – Pitkanen

Hatcher – Meyer

Gauthier – Baumgartner

Niittymaki

???

Maybe the Esche trade can bring in a back-up goalie, someone we KNOW will be back-up, so Niitty can be comfortable in the starting role.

So while many are dooming the Flyers only a week after free agency, everything isn’t all gloom on the horizon. No team ever looks the same at the end of the year as they do to start it, so I think with some key trades this team will still make the playoffs. But as the theme of the article says, it all depends on the youngsters. If these guys can deliver, and Niittymaki plays the way we saw him in the Olympics, then there should be no problem come April. We all like to think our team is better than they actually are, whether we admit it or not, but I think this is a realistic assessment. Thanks for reading.


46 Responses to Flyers' season depends on the youth

  1. habs_fan_in_korea says:

    I agree with you in that youth seems to be the way to go in the new NHL. I was disapointed in the Flyer’s performance nearing the end of the season, especially in the playoffs. Forsberg is always prone to injury, he was a gamble and I guess you have to take the consequences that come with him. Nedved, I thought, showed a little flash near the end of the season and in the playoffs, but he definitely lacks consistency in that he has been on more teams in the past than I can remember to count. Excellent post.

  2. wheresthesoda says:

    flyers will try and sign legace for cheap, and legace and nittymaki can battle it out for the starting job, or split time.

  3. nova_scotia123 says:

    Nice post. You make a lot of good points about the team. I think the reason the behind the end of the season finishing the way it did was due to inexperience and injuries. The team proved they have depth in the organization but were just too inexperienced and too banged up. 70% of thier team had some kind of surgery. When healthy they are as good as any team. Being healthy is what it takes to be a championship team.

    I like your point about Stall and how much he grew as a player from one season to this season. Not so sure this will unfold like the Stall story but I do believe some of these younger players (Carter, Richards, Umburger) will take on larger roles and help the team. I expect all these guys points to jump up but not to the 100 point marker.

    I think the biggest thing the Flyers are lacking is an offensive defensemen. They have Pitkanen but are in need of another one who is mobile and offensive. Not sure where they are going to find one. Also a winger who can play on one of the top two lines would easy the work load on Gagne and Knuble.

    As far as Eshe goes. I do not agree. I think the Flyers should keep the two guys around. Let them battle for the number one spot. Now days in the NHL I believe there is a need to have 2 goalies who are capable of playing. Look at Buffalo. Miller started as the backup this year. Biron dropped the ball, Miller got injuried, Biron had a huge winning streak, Miller came back and claimed the number 1 spot and carried the momentum into the playoffs. And I don’t think I need to explain the stanley cup champions goaltending situation.

  4. flyerjim says:

    I’m happy that this is the way we can go about re-building. To re-tool your team and still have a shot at the playoffs, or even the Division is a good sign. If they stay relatively healthy this year.

    Let’s not forget, Turner Stevenson is under contract and apparently fixed up, so he’s in the mix. As for Esche…he’s here for this year. Clarke said they’ll address the goaltending situation next offseason. Nedved is gone.

    This year looks tight…but next year looks very, very promising with Downie possibly coming up and Forsberg likely extended if his ankles hold up.

  5. Habfanforever says:

    What’s Primeau’s condition? Will he be ok to suit up at season start? Also will Steve Downie be a Phantom this year?

  6. flyerjim says:

    why would they want legace…Esche only makes a million a year

  7. flyerjim says:

    I don’t think Downie CAN be a Phantom…..he either has to play for the Flyers or go back to the Pete’s. Like Brule in Columbus, last year. It’s too bad though, he’s done everything he can in junior…personnally, I don’t think he’s ready for the show, but is ready for the “A”.

  8. NiittymakiForVezina says:

    Glad you agree with some points. An offensive defenseman is a good point, but Freddy Meyer has shown he has an offensive knack, and Baumgartner contributed well in his first full season on Vancouver, so those two may be able to fill that need.

    As for the goalies, the problem is, for the past 4 seasons or so, we haven’t known our starting goalie going into the playoffs until it’s right on top of us. It’s always a point of controversy, and the media always makes it a big deal, causing a distraction for the team. I think if we know our starter from the beginning it would be better for the team overall.

  9. NiittymakiForVezina says:

    I actually forgot about Stevenson. I figured we would get rid of him somehow.

  10. CrosbyMalkin66 says:

    i just dont think phillys lineup is good enough for the division they are in… they have decent young players but other than Gagne none of them seem like players who will step into the role Forsberg did last year

  11. N25philly says:

    Decent assessment on the Flyers. Their problems are a big bigger that a slow defenceman or two despite what everyone wants to say. They are definately moving in the right direction.

    Eshe will be there at the beginning of the season and he and Frank will fight it out for the starting role. They aren’t going to make it Frank’s until they are sure he is ready.

    The defence is fine considering what they have contractually. It would be nice to see someone like Picard who should be on the big club at some point to get some time as well.

    As for forwards, I think you got in mostly right, but I would switch Primeau and Richards. Clarke should trade Nedved for anything anyone is willing to give him for him. He’s a waste of a roster spot at this point. Also, if I were Clarke I would trade Gagne right now for something good before they start the next season and realize he’s average without Forsberg on his line. Maybe get someone who actually plays like he cares, or a good kid or two and some draft picks. It will free up some payroll too.

    It’s hard to tell what is going to happen over the year, but I see a 4-5 seed finish and a second round exit based on the current roster.

  12. BlueLine says:

    Does anyone know if Stephan Ruzicka has an outside chance of cracking the flyers line-up anytime soon?This guy has got talent.

  13. NiittymakiForVezina says:

    I’d say definitely. Wing is a spot that’s wide open right now. I was just guessing Potulny would make it, but Ruzicka has just as good a chance.

  14. nova_scotia123 says:

    Yeah it would be nice to know the legit number 1. But I guess we can’t have Brodeur or Luongo.

  15. nova_scotia123 says:

    I think he is an overage player (20) this year in junior so that would make him eligable to play in the AHL. The rule is Canadian players under 20 can not play in the AHL until there 19 year old junior season is finished. As a 20 year old they are free to play in the AHL if they make the team. However European players under 20 can play in the AHL if the make the team. Not really fair.

  16. BWbullies says:

    They baught out Stevenson contract. He is already gone.

  17. FlyersfanKyle says:

    what do u mean not good enough for their division

    ok im not going to go on a bashing streak because i know the Flyers are going to have some troubles this year but lets look at the other teams

    2of the players on jerseys top line cant be resigned because of cap issues

    outside of Crosby Pittsburgh has nothing

    the Islanders are rebuilding and are not even a threat to pittsburgh

    and the Rangers showed in the playoffs that if Jagr misses a game they lose that game plain and simple

    so it looks to me like the Flyers are just as lousy as every other team in their Division other then NYR when they have Jagr

  18. FlyersfanKyle says:

    mabey let Gagne go to Montreal for Ryder and a Draft pick

  19. FlyersfanKyle says:

    did you see Ruzicka at the juniors 2 years ago he was amazing if he had anyone else to help him out Slovakia may have been able to take a medal

  20. NiittymakiForVezina says:

    I don’t see how Ryder is an upgrade over Gagne.

  21. FlyersfanKyle says:

    i agree with most of th points you made but i think that there is going to be some big changes by means of Trade, Hatcher will most likley be traded for little return but beggars cant be choosers and Esche will be traded probably around the time that Forsberg returns(niitty will have had time to become a number one by then), Nedved will be gone for anything that can be had. Rathje was pretty good i thought untill about mid january when he got hurt so i think if he is healthy he and paired with someone fast he can be usefull. I believe that Ben Eager is going to become a mianstay on the Flyers and Robitaille will be assigned to the Phantoms Stefan Ruzicka will also be given a chance to make the Flyers. the lineup may look like this

    Gagne-Primeau-Knuble

    Umberger-Carter-Dimitrakos

    Kapenen-Richards-Handzus

    Eager-Potulny-Ruzicka

    Rathje-Pitkanen

    Picard-Meyer

    Gauthier-Baumgartner

    Niittymaaki

    Esche

    also if Gagne is Traded Montreal would prolly be the best option maby

    To Philadelphia:

    Ryder

    1st round pick 2007

    2nd round pick 2007

    to Montreal:

    Gagne

    Esche

  22. FlyersfanKyle says:

    true but how much else are we gonna get for him?

  23. NiittymakiForVezina says:

    As I said that was the lineup as it was right now. I also hope that Eager can make it on the regular roster, he adds some needed size and grit.

  24. Raccer says:

    Don’t trade Esche to Montreal they already have Huet and Abeisher and Danny is almost ready to be the backup.

  25. habs_fan_in_korea says:

    Montreal doesn’t need another goalie for starters and I don’t think the Canadiens will give up on Ryder this easy. I like Gagne alot, would be amazing pickup for the Habs, but not if we have to get rid of Ryder.

  26. JNurk17 says:

    are you sure? hes showing on TSN’s payroll for the flyers. where did you hear this?

  27. JNurk17 says:

    Who is Frank? haha

    I think you mean, Antero.

  28. nonhl2005 says:

    I was thinking LA might be the place for Hatcher to go, since we never got compensation for the JR trade, maybe we can unload Hatcher’s salary on them as the compensation. Also I wouldn’t be surprised to see Eric D retire and then possibly come back late in the season as fill in, less salary, injury replacement. He knows the system better then anyone and wouldn’t have the wear n’ tear of a full season on his body come playoff time.

  29. marcs797 says:

    i think some might be suprised by lars johnsson. on hockeysfuture.com they have him as one of the top d-men not in the nhl, and they say he can be a top 3 dman anywher in the league…

  30. BWbullies says:

    I read it on the web site or in an article on philly.com. It was at the end of the article. If you check thier roster on thier web site his name is not listed.

  31. Farva says:

    Although I have never been a huge fan of the Flyers, I wouldnt go counting them out yet. If forsberg comes back at a reasonable point in the season, and the kids (Umberger, Carter, Richards) continue too improve, the Flyers shouldnt have a problem securing second in the division. NYR has taken huge steps this offseason, so they are probably out of reach, but any team with a Simon Gagne is always a threat.

  32. NiittymakiForVezina says:

    Frank’s his nickname around here, Frank Nitty was a local mobster back in the day.

  33. NiittymakiForVezina says:

    That’s what I mean though, we can’t be sure. He could be the next Umberger, as in not getting signed by the team that drafted them first round, then getting picked up by us and hitting it big.

  34. PensFansRejoice says:

    So its a toss up in the Atlantic. I’ll take that any day of the week.

    Pens will be more than ready to step in as the top team in the East in a couple of seasons, until then I am more then ok with them missing the playoffs as I understand fully their predicament. This city is a joke politically and the fans of the sport suffer for it.

  35. PensFansRejoice says:

    Thought I was reading a Leafs article for a second there…

  36. flyerjim says:

    Downie won’t be 20 until next April.

  37. NiittymakiForVezina says:

    Wow, a Pens fan with a head on his shoulders.

  38. NiittymakiForVezina says:

    Say Car RamRod!

  39. Glen says:

    Sounds like another Jiri Dopita….

  40. NiittymakiForVezina says:

    Dopita was a center.

  41. N25philly says:

    Just read that Primeau is having concussion symptoms again…

  42. NiittymakiForVezina says:

    Where?? gahhhhhhhhh

  43. Glen says:

    He was also labeled the best player not in the NHL.

  44. Phillyfanatic says:

    Excellent synopsis. I too while disappointed in the lack of an exciting off season in Philly, we do need improvement from our kids. Forsberg has now been upgraded to being clear to play in late october/early november. With him and Gagne we still have one of the top tandems in hockey. Youth improvement in the upcoming season could have the naysayers singing a different tune during 2006-2007.

  45. Phillyfanatic says:

    I personally saw Downie get 3 points in an ohl game. He is talented but is not yet ready for the NHL, even though Clarkie is singing his praises.

  46. Phillyfanatic says:

    That is a Leaf worthy trade proposal. Absolutely horrible! How can Ryder even be mentioned in that trade. If Gagne was at all being shopped, it would have been as a package in a possible Luongo deal.

Leave a Reply