Michael Conroy is a freelance sportswriter and Flyers fan, and a guest writer for Spike Eskin Dot Com. You can find him on Twitter @MichaelConroyPM.
Three days ago, if there was one word in the English dictionary that would aptly describe the state of professional sports in Philadelphia, that word is hopeless. The juggernaut that was the 2008-2011 Phillies collapsed into rubble last season and the Reid-era Eagles were finally laid to rest. With the 76ers almost out of ways to avoid a total rebuild, the Philadelphia sports scene had descended into darkness.
Suddenly, out on the cold, foggy horizon, a bright orange light appeared. News started to trickle out in bits and pieces on twitter. Countless sources began to indicate that the NHL lockout was nearing an end. Dawn was breaking for Philadelphia sports fans. Miraculously, on Saturday afternoon, the Philadelphia Flyers’ 2013 season was saved.
The most relevant professional sports team in Philadelphia will begin their season this weekend. They will do so against the Penguins, cross-state rivals, Stanley Cup favorites, and employers of two of the best four hockey players in the world. For the first time in months, a meaningful sporting event will take place in Philly and fans are responding. Already setting a record for attendance at Sunday’s practice session, (we talkin’ bout practice) Philadelphia seems ready to embrace this spirited sprint of an NHL season.
Setting aside those emotions, the Flyers’ opening week of action offers little opportunity to shake off the rust. The team will play three of their first four games within the division. All three of those division opponents qualified for the playoffs last season and will be looking to establish an early advantage in the Atlantic division. Of course, this presents as much of an opportunity for the Flyers as it does an obstacle. If the team can get off to a fast start, they can quickly create some breathing room for themselves in the playoff hunt.
Reliably, the Flyers have managed to create some conflict surrounding the goalie position even before the season has begun, re-acquiring the ageless Brian Boucher from the Carolina Hurricanes. Cosmonaut, philosopher, and Chinese tiger law enthusiast, Ilya Bryzgalov will have his work cut out for him dispelling any controversy when he makes his first start of the season against the NHL’s top scoring team.
New face, Luke Schenn will be a key component in making life easier for his goalie, joining a defense that struggled for long stretches of their 2011-2012 campaign. With Chris Pronger likely to retire, the defense needs find some consistency if the Flyers are going to make a deep postseason push. The experience of returning veterans, Kimmo Timonen and Nicklas Grossman should go a long way to stabilize that unit.
Goaltending and defense important as they may be, it’s no secret what the bread and butter of this Philadelphia Flyers team is. Led by their soon-to-be captain, Claude Giroux, the offense is poised for a breakout season. With exciting young talents like Matt Read, Jakub Voracek, Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier and Wayne Simmonds the unit has become impressively deep and dynamic. The only true question regarding the Flyers offense is who will have the pleasure of playing right wing on the top line with Giroux. It looks like Brayden Schenn will get the first crack at it. Last year, Scott Hartnell flourished on the top line, posting a career best 35 goals. Whoever seizes that top line spot could enjoy similar success.
The 2013 Flyers make their debut at 3PM this Saturday before a national audience. The excitement is mounting for what is sure to feel like a playoff game at the Wells Fargo Center. From the dull, lifeless ashes of 2012-2013 Philadelphia sports, a new hope has emerged.