Chris DiFrancesco (our Flyers expert) and Chris Johnson (Top Ten expert) go head to head and dissect the upcoming Flyers season. They see it differently.
Chris D: With an off-season highlighted by the departure of captain Mike Richards and sniper Jeff Carter and the arrivals of Ilya Bryzgalov, Brayden Schenn, Max Talbot, Wayne Simmonds, and Jaromir Jagr, the 2011-12 Flyers season will be one to watch.
The Flyers and GM Paul Holmgren are hoping, they’re banking, that players like Claude Giroux and James van Riemsdyk will carry the torch forward for years to come. When the Flyers inked Bryzgalov to a nine-year deal worth $51 million the franchise and the city of Philadelphia finally had the opportunity to say that the organization has a franchise goaltender.
Guys like Schenn, Talbot, rookie Sean Couturier, Matt Read, and Simmonds aim to leave their mark on a lineup filled with new faces. The Flyers will also have the privilege of hosting the 2012 Bridgestone Winter Classic against the New York Rangers on January 2nd, 2012 inside Citizens Bank Park, home of the Philadelphia Phillies.
Throughout the offseason, the Flyers have been the city’s best reality show. Now, they get to showcase their new toys on the ice come October 6th in Boston.
Chris J: Right. Let’s do this.
1. With the obvious exception of goaltender Bryzgalov, which of the numerous new additions to the Flyers will be most important to the team’s success in 2011/2012?
Chris DiFrancesco: Without a doubt, Jagr. With 1,599 career points, arguably the greatest European hockey player in the NHL’s history, Jagr will provide experience, natural goal-scoring ability, and an incredible history of power-play productivity. The 39-year old proved during his first two preseason games that his tank has a lot left in it. If head coach Peter Laviolette puts Jagr with Giroux, the highlight reels might need an upgrade. Expect 25-30 goals and 65-70 points for the future hall of fame sniper.
Chris Johnson: I’m not counting on Jagr for anything. Until he wins the Flyers a Cup I’m still going to be under the impression that he’s a spy for the Penguins. Yea, he’s scored a lot of goals in the preseason, but do you know what preseason stands for? BEFORE THE SEASON. Ima go Jakub Voracek here. He’s young, not old, a high draft pick that’s going to benefit from a change of scenery (ie: Sea Isle, NJ) and has the longest hair on the team since Jagr cut his mullet and Scott Hartnell left (he did leave, right?).
2. Which of the returning Flyers has the most pressure on them for the upcoming season?
CD: When the Flyers dealt Carter to Columbus, the spotlight got a lot hotter for JVR. Partly the reason behind dealing Richards and Carter was JVR’s dominant performance in the last season’s playoffs. He notched 70 shots in only 11 games and proved to be one of the only bright spots for the Flyers before being ousted in four games against the Bruins. It’s time for JVR to show he has the ability to take over a game. Many games actually. The organization and myself expect a 30-plus goal season for the 22-year old American.
Giroux is another superstar who has something to prove this season. He will most likely be paired with Jagr this season which should give him every ounce of added confidence as a play-maker. Jagr will create plays for Giroux and vice versa, which provide many jaw-dropping highlights. I don’t think it’s a stretch to expect over 80 points for Giroux in a span of 82 games, if healthy.
CJ: When the Flyers dealt Richards to the LA Kings, an obvious void was left. No, not his 66 points. His “C”. Luckily, “C”hris Pronger’s foot had healed (it healed, right? He’ll be able to play all 62 games?) and the Flyers seamstress was able to get ahold of his jersey for a few days to sew the “C” onto it. The pressure always falls on the captain, right? So why would it change now? That’s why everyone hated Richards last year… because he was the captain and he didn’t win the “C”up.
3. The Flyers power play was last season, to put it lightly, horrible. With the roster shakeup, how much can we expect it to improve in 2011/2012?
CD: Jagr will definitely provide comfort in that area this season. The Flyers power-play was abysmal last season, for sure. However, Jagr is one of the all-time greats when it comes to lighting the lamp, especially on the power-play. Jagr, who ranks 23rd all-time with 181 power-play goals, will help Giroux and Danny Briere by detracting defenders so they can get more looks at the net. Jakub Voracek is another guy who is expected to get a serious chance to put pucks in the net this season. A very underrated player who can score 25-goals if given the minutes and right linemates.
If Jagr can provide half of the scoring prowess he once had the Flyers will come out smelling like roses. Jagr has already stated this isn’t a one year fling to make a fool out of himself. He wants to play. He wants to win. Alongside Giroux, who Jagr called ‘Little Mario (Lemiuex),’ Jagr will have ample opportunities to put up points.
CJ: How many hockey players does it take to “light a lamp”? 1! And that’s how many extra players the Flyers get on the ice when they have a power play. So the answer is simple here… and it comes down to a coaching thing. Get the puck to the guy who isn’t covered and tell that guy to put the biscuit in the basket. Please guys… for the love of PECO Power Plays, please score as often as possible for lots of cases of Tastykakes. Hitchcock is getting hungry over there on the bench.
CD: Bobrovsky can do one of two things; 1. Sit back and watch a fellow Russian superstar, Bryzgalov, and look up to him as a mentor to get better. 2. He can complain about his lack of playing time and request a trade or make it seem he doesn’t want to stick around and wait 4-5 years to become a starter again in Philadelphia. In my opinion, I think Bobrovsky has a ticking clock that’s winding down his time in this town.
Nothing against ‘Bob,’ it’s a matter of playing time, or lack thereof. Bryzgalov is in his prime and has average over 65 starts a season for the past three years. There’s no reason why Laviolette and the Flyers won’t continue that stat. ‘Bryz’ is a horse and he prefers it to stay that way. Bobrovsky, 22, will see about 12-15 starts this season and beyond, there’s no point to keep him sitting back when plenty of other NHL teams can use him as a number one stopper.
CJ: What happens to Bob? What always happens to the backup goalie?! We’ll see him in November, when Ilya goes through a rough stretch forgetting to stand on his head. And then we’ll see Ilya again, and then Leighton, and then Illya again, then Boucher, then Bob, then Hextall. Then the playoffs will be here and Ilya will be fine. But if he’s not, we’ll need to go out and get a big time goalie.
CD: I can’t see the Flyers finishing any lower or higher than fourth. I truly believe their scoring didn’t take a major hit with the departures of Carter and Richards. Why? Giroux, JVR, and Jagr should make up those numbers and more. If Bryzgalov can play as advertised, and paid, he should break the 40-win plateau and possible get Vezina consideration. Newcomers like Schenn, Simmonds, Voracek, and Talbot should combine for over 75 goals and well over 100 points. Voracek has the ability to post 30 goals with Simmonds putting up over 20. It’s almost a guarantee this Flyers lineup can have another season of 6-7 players with over 15-20 goals. Pretty impressive considering the turnover.
A vital aspect of this season rests on the shoulder of new captain, Chris Pronger. If Pronger can stay healthy and man the blue-line and lead only the way he can, the Flyers have every chance to get back to the promised land.
I don’t see the Flyers hoisting the Stanley Cup. However, I have the Flyers making it back to the Finals only to fall short to the, yes, Los Angeles Kings. Unfortunately, for Flyers fans, I see Simon Gagne and Richards holding up Lord Stanley’s Cup in June.
CJ: Predictions already? We’re still months away from the opening game, aren’t we? Flyers vs Rangers at the Phillies stadium? OK, since you twisted my arm I’ll go ahead and say that they’ll win the Stanley Cup. They have forwards who don’t like to party, funny defensemen and a goalie who was good in Phoenix the past few years. And the coach has awesome hair and chews gum really powerfully. I’d listen to him. Go Flyers!