Keeping Up the Momentum: A Flyers 2013 Season Preview
Can you imagine Seinfeld with a different crew?
For example, what if the show only had George or Kramer for a year or two, and then had to find actors to fill the void?
As the show came to prominence, those actors were irreplaceable. It wouldn’t be the same show even if Larry David himself was berated by the Soup Nazi.
That’s part of the reason I find it amazing that playoff hockey has become a fixture in Philadelphia. The Flyers consistently assemble new casts that find success.
With ensembles that have featured Eric Lindros, John LeClair, Mark Recchi, Jeremy Roenick, Eric Desjardins, Rox Hextall, Adam Oates, Tony Amonte, Simon Gagne, Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Chris Pronger, and now Claude Giroux, the Flyers have watched careers rise and fall multiple times since the last strike-shortened season in 1995, but the team has only missed the playoffs once.
Seriously, look at that list of players that I just named off the top of my head. Some of those guys are involved in front offices, coaching staffs, and retirement homes by now.
With this type of sustained success and the lack of a recent Stanley Cup, it becomes easy to overlook the smaller accomplishments. Yeah, we remember Eastern Conference titles in 1997 and 2010, but do we care about advancing against the Sabres in the first round in 2011? Probably not, and that’s perfectly understandable.
Last season was different from most of this era, though, and it upped the ante on our expectations.
Brayden Schenn’s crosscheck to the back of Sidney Crosby 10 days before the playoffs served as a warning shot for the unforgettable chaos that eventually ensued.
With big hits, suspensions, comebacks, and highlights, the Flyers-Penguins series was like something out of Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey and it could not have been any more exciting.
That was the series where Claude Giroux generated hype as the best in the world, did this, ascending to legendary status in Philadelphia. It was also when 19-year-old Sean Couturier outplayed Evgeni Malkin and briefly took over Game 2, a series-swinging game. Schenn also backed up his late-season bravado, posting 6 points in 6 games in the Pittsburgh series after a somewhat disappointing 18-point rookie campaign.
The effects of that series are still felt today, and the Flyers will look to build off that momentum.
Giroux left no doubt that he is the face of this franchise, and earned the captaincy despite having just turned 25. The Flyers let Jaromir Jagr walk, with the idea in mind that young players like Couturier and Schenn, as well as Wayne Simmonds and Jakub Voracek, will replace his contributions.
There are a lot of reasons to be excited for this season. Giroux is a bona fide star (TSN named Giroux the league’s third-best player earlier this week) and Scott Hartnell seems like a perfect complement to his game. Right now Brayden Schenn, who was viewed by many as the best player not in the NHL prior to last season, is slated to play on the right wing on the top line.
Brayden Schenn never looked completely comfortable playing with Danny Briere (who had a rough year) and Simmonds (who provided most of his production on the power play). After a successful lockout stint with the Phantoms in which Schenn had 33 points in 33 games, Schenn is expected to step up.
According to Sam Carchidi, the Flyers have Couturier between Max Talbot and Jakub Voracek. This presents a huge upgrade for Couturier, who frequently lined up with Zac Rinaldo last year. It will be important to put Couturier with scorers even after Briere returns from a wrist injury. As strong as he was as a lockdown center, Couturier has an impressive offensive pedigree. The Flyers could reap the rewards if he blossoms as an elite two-way center.
Talbot probably overachieved last season (just look at his shooting percentages), but Voracek makes this a pretty threatening line if Couturier takes the projected steps forward.
Like in the Penguins series and most of last year, the Flyers shouldn’t have any trouble scoring goals this season. However, as we saw during that series and against New Jersey, the defense leaves something to be desired.
Most of the defense returns, for better or worse. Kimmo Timonen, Braydon Coburn, Nick Grossmann, and Andrej Meszaros should all do solid work. The Flyers brought in Kurtis Foster and Bruno Gervais, but they’re both essentially sixth or seventh defensemen.
The biggest move was the decision to let Matt Carle walk and to trade James van Riemsdyk for another big defenseman, Luke Schenn.
Carle led the Flyers in minutes last season and was one of their most productive defensemen, facing stiff competition and typically starting in the defensive zone. He also played the power play well.
Luke Schenn will try to replace Carle this season. He is coming off a tough season in Toronto, where he was deservedly scratched despite playing on a horrible team. While Luke Schenn has never played up to his billing as the fifth overall pick of the 2008 draft, he has played better than he did last year, and needs to for the Flyers.
Ilya Bryzgalov is the goaltender until he’s bought out next summer, and his career numbers suggest he’ll be better than he was last year.
Saturday will be an awesome continuation of the best rivalry in hockey but, just like last season, there’s life after Penguins, and it’s not always pretty. As fun and exhilarating as this team can be, there are weaknesses that won’t go away.
But, also like last April, this season will be another step in the right direction. Young players will progress and should be better by the end of it. Considering the Flyers tore apart an Eastern Conference champion in June 2010, last season was a huge success. I’m not sure anyone expected them to compete so quickly.
But keep in mind, with that rebuilding process, this team became very young very quickly. That’s part of what makes this team’s perennial playoff trips so amazing. Despite constantly changing the cast, the show remains a success.
Don’t fool yourself – with so much invested in players who have yet to enter their primes, this will probably be another transition year for a team on the rise. That said, it’ll continue to be a fun ride.
1. Boston Bruins-63 points
2. Pittsburgh Penguins-60 points
3. Washington Capitals-55 points
4. New York Rangers-58 points
5. Philadelphia Flyers-56 points
6. Tampa Bay Lightning-53 points
7. Carolina Hurricanes-51 points
8. Ottawa Senators-49 points
1. St. Louis Blues-61 points
2. Los Angeles Kings-59 points
3. Vancouver Canucks-58 points
4. Chicago Blackhawks-56 points
5. Nashville Predators-53 points
6. Detroit Red Wings-52 points
7. Phoenix Coyotes-51 points
8. San Jose Sharks-50 points
Cup Finals: Blues over Bruins