Philadelphia Flyers 2005-2006
TEAM PAYROLL: $36,072,360.00 (Including: Eric Chouinard, Brian Savage. Excluding: Antero Nittymaki, Jeff Carter, Mike Richards)
GENERAL MANAGER: Bob Clarke, GM since 1992
HEAD COACH: Ken Hitch*****, coach since the 2002 Season.
FORGOTTEN MOVES: Acquired Mike Knuble at the end of the 2004 Season, a key addition in an attempt to make up for the loss of Recchi to the Penguins. Also Acquired Turner Stevenson at the end of the 2004 Season.
TEAM MODE: The Flyers have prepared themselves to make a great run at the cup this upcoming season. With the new rule changes, the offense shouldn’t be effected as much, nor the goaltending. The defense could have some minor problems, but the preseason shows they are adjusting to not hooking and grabbing, although the same goes with every other team in the NHL.
TO TAKE CHARGE!: There are several key figures in the Flyers organization that need to lead the team this year. I’ll start with the captain, Keith Primeau. Primeau had an amazing playoff performance last year, finishing 6th in points (16) and 5th in goals (9). He showed his true leadership capabilities, and the team responded quite well, rallying around the big guy and his key plays. Another player that needs to take charge is none other then Peter Forsberg. Forsberg will be looked up to by a lot of the younger players on the team, and he needs to have a solid season both on and off the ice. Hitch***** also needs to play a big role behind the bench, as he has done time and time again in the past, bringing great players together and making them an even greater team.
ON THE RUSH (OFFENSE): The Flyers Offense has the Potential to be outstanding this year, especially in the new NHL. The losses of Recchi and Roenick are key, but the Acquisition of Forsberg, and young players like Richards, Carter, and Sim joining the line-up should make the offense even more dangerous then before. Last year, Sim lead the Phantoms in goals (37), points (65), and +/- (21), and he shows no signs of slowing down. In the preseason, He is tied for first in the league with 8 points (as of 9/25). Carter and Richards joined the Phantoms for there Calder Cup winning playoff run, with 23 and 15 points respectively. Carter also led the team in goals in the playoffs with 12. Those 3, Combined with the new Flyers star Forsberg, should compensate for the losses of Roenick (Trade), Recchi (FA), Leclair (bought out), Amonte (bought out) and Zhamnov. The only knock on Forsberg is the fact that he is ‘injury prone’. As long as he stays healthy, he will work wonders for the Flyers. With his recent surgery, people wondered weather he would make the season opener. The answer is yes, as he will begin to skate with the team on Sept. 26th, picking up where he left off. Also, Sami Kapanen will not be back until about 3-5 weeks into the season, but I think he will have no problem adjusting to the new flow of the game. I’ve seen the team practice recently, and I can see the chemistry already. The returning players look extremely pleased to be back on the ice together, and the new players are fitting in quite nicely, Which is the formula to a successful offense.
The new NHL restores a new sense in Special teams, and the Flyers are extremely prepared. They currently are one of the top teams in the league in power play and penalty kill. They had a 30% PP percentage, and the penalty kill, still provides offense, as Simon Gagne is tied for first in the preseason with 1 SH goal thus far. With an offensive line like Forsberg, Gagne and Handzus on the PP up front, they should generate a lot of scoring opportunities. And the PK can be a constant scoring threat, with speedy players like Gagne keeping the pressure on.
COVERING THE D-ZONE: The flyers gave there defense a major facelift this year, with the signings of Darian Hatcher, Mike Rathje, and Chris Therien, three HUGE players to stand there ground in front of the net and on the blue line. At first glance, this might be suicide in the new NHL. But the Flyers defense is actually quite a potent offensive threat. By bringing up Dennis Seidenberg, who was 6th on the Phantoms in points last year with 41, the Flyers have added yet another offensive defenseman to the mix. He has a great shot and is a constant scoring threat. Seidenberg joins up with Joni Pitkanen, who also had 41 points last year with the Phantoms. Pitkanen has adjusted to the North American Style of hockey with the last season of play, which was a big reason why he wasn’t more effective his rookie year. He too is a constant offensive threat. Those players join Kim Johnsson, who is yet another offensive defenseman with a great shot at the point. Those 3 mentioned, paired up with Rathje, Hatcher, and Desjardins, make for a lethal defense. The science behind it is this: When paired up with a stay at home defenseman, the offensive defenseman will be able to join the rush more, thus creating a more potent scoring threat, but not sacrificing much on the defensive end. Also, the defenseman are quick enough to get back, making the Flyers defense a force to be reckoned with. Hatcher had sustained a knee injury in team USA practice, but was skating with the team on Sept. 25th and looked fine. I don’t think that mobility will be a problem for him or any other player on the defense. And though Desjardins is aging, Therien will be there to split time if needed, as he will be the odd man out.
The defense also works out quite well for the special teams unit. Johnsson, Pitkanen, and Seidenberg all have great shots, and can be very dangerous on the point in a PP, as well as another player like Hatcher to anchor the line. And Rathje has proven in his SJ days that he is a consistent PK’er, and should work very well this year in doing just that. Overall, the Flyers defense should be fun to watch. With there scoring threats, but overall good defensive players, I think they possess one of the most lethal blue lines in the game.
GUARDING THE NET: For the first time since the ‘Hextall Era’, I can confidently say I like the Flyers goaltending position this year. Starting with the starter: Robert Esche. Esche is coming off a great season with the Flyers, including 2.04 GAA which was 5th in league and a .915 save percentage in the regular season. He also had a stellar performance in the playoffs, where he had 11 wins, a 2.32 GAA, a .918 save percentage and a shutout, and helped the Flyers reach game 7 of the Eastern Conf. Finals. Esche also had another solid performance in the World Cup, Helping team USA get to the semifinals. Esche should have no problem adjusting to the new goalie pad restrictions, as he is a very flexible goalie. But even if Esche falters, though I highly doubt he will, the Flyers are fully prepared. Antero Nittymaki will backup Esche this year, but I think they will end up splitting time. Nittymaki is coming off a Calder Cup winning Season with the Phantoms, in which he was named the MVP. In his 3 NHL games last year, Nittymaki was 3-0 with a 1.00 GAA. He is very flexible, just like Esche, and should have no problem with the new pads. Nittymaki can and will be a great goalie in the NHL, and gives the Flyers yet another key to success. With a solid 1-2 goalie punch, the Flyers can let both goalies rest, keeping both fresh for the playoffs, much like Minnesota in the 02-03 playoffs, which many people think played a big role in there playoff success.
TALKING ABOUT MY GENERATION!: The flyers have several great prospects to choose from this year. Along with Carter and Richards (mentioned earlier), they have R.J. Umberger. Tied for first in points last year with the Phantoms, Umberger should crack the Flyers roster this year. He has an effortless stride and a solid shot, and naturally finds the back of the net. The Flyers also have Stephan Ruzicka. Regarded as one of the fastest rising younger talents in Slovakia, he has extremely soft hands and is very tough to knock off the puck. He was a very under scouted player, but has a very good work ethic and thus even greater potential. He has a very good chance of making the team in the future seasons, and is adapting to the North American Style of hockey in the OHL right now. Of these 4 players, Carter is the most likely choice to become a franchise player. And the opportunity this year to play on the first line with the likes of Forsberg and Gagne, he may very well do just that.
The Flyers offensive lines should look something like this:
Line 1: Gagne – Forsberg – Carter
Line 2: Kapanen – Primeau – Knuble
Line 3: Radivojovic – Handzus – Sharp
Line 4: Brashear – Carter – Stevenson
With Forsberg out, in practice Sharp Played with line one. Also, this preseason the line of Knuble/Richards/Sim has played extremely well together. It will be interesting to see where Sim ends up, because I don’t think the Flyers expected him to play this well thus far. I think he may end up somewhere on the third line, with Radivojovic or Sharp the odd man out, depending on how they play. Another option would be to move Handzus to the wing, which he played in St. Louis, once again, making Sharp or Radivojovic the odd man out.
The defense should look something like this (in no particular order):
Hatcher – Johnsson
Rathje – Seidenberg
Desjardins – Pitkanen
(Therien being the odd man out)
Rathje and Seidenberg have worked well together this off-season, and would make a sensible pair. Same with Hatcher and Johnsson. Desjardins is getting no younger and will likely split some time with Therien.
EXPECTATIONS: The Flyers have extremely high expectations this year. They should end up winning there division, and most likely end up 2nd after Ottawa but before Tampa or Atlanta. In the Playoffs, they should go to at least the Conference Semi’s, if not the Conf. finals, where depending on the opposition, they have a shot at the Cup finals.
PROJECTED: I agree with the expectations set on the Flyers for the most part. I think they can win the East if they have an injury free season, but should not have problems with the division. In the Playoffs, I don’t think they will do worse then Eastern Conference finals, again, barring injuries. If they win what I predict to be a tough series with Boston, they will win the Stanley Cup, due to the fact that the West has lost a lot of its firepower, and just can no longer compare to the East. Anything less then a Stanley Cup appearance will be a major failure this year in the eyes of the Philadelphia People, and the Flyers organization in general. This team has all the weapons needed to go all the way this year.