Philadelphia Flyers Preview
The headliner of this summer for the Flyers was the all too predictable hiring of Coach Ken Hitch*****. The introduction of another head coach by the Flyers management (a management core which has become the laughingstock of the NHL) leaves many questions, such as how will the players respond to another disciplinarian? Does this team really need another ego in its crowded locker room? Will the Flyers have the patience to play in Hitch*****’s restrictive system?
In addition to the coaching position the Flyers gave the roster a tweaking as well. First order of business was the Adam Oates release. While it was obvious that Oates was not a fit with the team, he did express an interest in signing a short term contract. Why Clarke didn’t seal his rights and trade him to a contender is a question that plagues all Flyers fans. So Oates walked and Flyers lost Maxime Ouellet and three picks in the upcoming draft for few assists in another dreadful spring.
The Flyers also parted ways with fan favorite Luke Richardson. Granted his asking price was too high and the team has already committed big bucks to J.R and John LeClair, but this will put the Flyers defense in peril. If draftee Joni Pitkanen is not ready this year they will have to rely on the late round wunder-kid Bruno St. Jacques.
Despite Clarke’s lack of imagination in the hiring of his new coach and the Oates’ situation he did pull off two amazing trades that will give the Flyers a silver horizon. The first of the two deals gave the Flyers clarity in goal and brought forth a Selke candidate and potential 30 goal scorer. The Michal Handzus and Robert Esche deal for Brian Boucher, will give the Flyers a great boost.
Even though the Handzus trade was a great deal for the Flyers, it doesn’t begin to compare for the pre-draft swindling he performed in Toronto. The Flyers gave up B prospect Ruslan Fedotenko for the 3rd overall pick. The Flyers picked up a Finnish defenseman with great puck handling skills named Joni Pitkanen. Off-season shoulder surgery will slow this youngster down for now, but Pitkanen contends that he will be another Janne Niinimaa, but with more offensive skills.
The final order of business before training camp starts is the signing of restricted free agent Simon Gagne. Gagne is looking for slightly more than the Vincent Lecavalier deal reached last season (3.5 mil to 4 mil a season).
In a Nutshell:
*Simon Gagne (in negotiations)
The team had the potential to do what was best by cleaning out the front office and starting anew after last season’s eruption. Instead they took the conservative route, by signing a coach with Stanley Cup credibility and making improvements that will not augment the payroll, and giving into the demands of players. While fiscal responsibility will be a welcomed addition to this front office, the Flyers could have laid the foundation for long term success by dumping some of their underachieving veteran contingent for the young talent and picks; they chose the cop out.
At First Glimpse…
…the Flyers are banking on chemistry and disciplined play this year. The team will tell you the collapse last year was due to a lack of chemistry and the restrictive style of Bill Barber. The pundits will tell you that the Flyers talent is washed up and a youth movement needs to take place. While the latter of the two is a damning prospect, yet it must intrigue Flyers fans.
Despite the fact that Jeremy Roenick suffered a drop in production last year, his plus/minus was second in the league. His metamorphosis to a more complete player may translate into a MVP caliber season.
Too much surgery, too much money, too many expectations, in a perfect world the Flyers could give him a change in scenery, but his obnoxious salary prevents. He needs to return to form in order for his team to be successful.
New contract, new role, new position, how will Gagne handle the pressure? Hitch***** has sent an early challenge to the youngster by moving him back to center, a position he was out-manned in, in his rookie season. Gagne upset the team by returning to Quebec for the second consecutive off season. The Flyers encouraged him to stay in Voorhees and work with Strength and Conditioning Coach Jim McCrossin (like Justin Williams did for the last two off seasons), but he has not taken up the offer or participated in Flyers Summer Charities (string of staged training sessions and softball games benefiting firefights and children’s charities). If he wants to be a leader he needs to bulk up and establish himself in and out of the locker room. Hitch***** wants to stop the carte blanche treatment he’s been getting. The Flyers are about to make him a very rich man, he needs to return the favor.
Talking about returning the favor, Cechmanek has had his hindrance removed (Boucher), now its time for him to step up? His numbers over the last two years are among the best in the league, but his postseason record is abysmal (3-7). While the reasons for his postseason failure can be passed on to the team in front of him, he needs to straighten up and fly right. The Flyers made him the undisputed starter (finally), he needs to step up.
In my humble opinion the hiring of Ken Hitch***** could have devastating results for the Flyers. Another ego in that locker room will not bring about the change this team needs, they will refuse to listen to him. While it is a given Hitch***** is more knowledgeable and has better credentials than Bill Barber did, he is a disciplinarian at heart and will not be able to tolerate lapses in the system. When the Flyers band of unapproachable veterans starts a mutiny, nobody will be able to bring them in. The luster will wear off and the rifts seeded in miscommunication and cowardice will develop. Expect the Flyers to jump from the gate, but to sputter as the season goes on.
A strong contingent of veteran talent mixed with the impending greatness of Simon Gagne will make this a competitive team, a lock for the playoffs. When the team rushes back together and gets serious for a playoff run they will fair better than before, but how much better? Go enough to win a championship? I doubt.
Eastern Conference Forecast
1. New York Rangers
2. Ottawa Senators
3. Washington Capitals
4. New Jersey Devils
5. Philadelphia Flyers
6. Toronto Maple Leafs
7. Montreal Canadiens
8. Boston Bruins
New York Rangers
Toronto Maple Leafs
New York Rangers
Detroit Red Wings