Are 2013-14 Flyers pulling in too many different directions?

Are 2013-14 Flyers pulling in too many different directions?

A new season is dawning for the Flyers, and with any new season comes hope. The road to the Stanley Cup Playoffs is a long one, and there surely will be bumps along the way, but if the Orange & Black can return to the postseason, anything can happen in the NHL.

Are the Flyers a playoff team? I think so. They are healthier than they were heading into last season, their young players have another year under their belts, and they only built on to the roster over the offseason—unless you’re of the belief Danny Briere’s and Ilya Bryzgalov’s modest contributions will be sorely missed.

But are the Flyers a Cup contender? Sure. Anything. Can. Happen. GM Paul Holmgren could swing a monumental trade at the deadline that alters the landscape of the Eastern Conference. Either Ray Emery or Steve Mason could theoretically get hot in net at the right time. Brayden Schenn and/or Sean Couturier could elevate their game to superstar levels. We just don’t know.

But as the Flyers stand today, on Day 1 of the NHL season, do they look like a Cup contender? I’d have to venture a no. To me, they look like a team that’s stuck in between too many opposing philosophies at work.

In June of 2011, Holmgren sent Mike Richards and Jeff Carter packing only one year removed from a Finals appearance. The deals signaled a youth movement that for all intents and purposes is still ongoing. Jakub Voracek (24) and Wayne Simmonds (25) are just now starting to establish themselves as core contributors for this franchise, while we wait patiently for B. Schenn (22) and Couturier (20) to join them.

To complete the picture, Claude Giroux (25) was named captain prior to the 2013 campaign. At that point, Flyers management could have decided to sink or swim with these kids—a pair of whom might be a year or two away from truly blossoming yet (and several others in their minor league system)—watching players grow and picking up more draft picks.

Clearly that was not the direction the organization decided to go in based on their offseason. The Flyers’ additions of Vincent Lecavalier (33) and Mark Streit (35) look like win-now moves, which flies in the face of the very concept of a youth movement. They bring tremendous veteran leadership and one can only hope a couple quality seasons left in the tank. They would be tremendous players to have for a Cup run.

But if that’s not where the rest of this team is at, the moves are perplexing and perhaps demonstrate some confusion over what the next step was supposed to be. By the time everything comes together, Lecavalier and Streit could be another year or three older and further in decline, perhaps even detriments to the Flyers’ progress. They’re here now though, and likely give the club some polish as a playoff contender, but a championship?

That vision doesn’t even align with the situation the front office has created in goal, where the Flyers once again own a timeshare. It’s not a question of whether they were justified in moving on from Bryzgalov—they were—or if a tandem of Emery and Mason is a decent stopgap for one season—it is. But can either man carry an NHL team through the trials of the Stanley Cup Playoffs?

Again, my best guess is no. Emery’s comeback has been amazing, and he posted incredible numbers in Chicago last season, but while facing fewer shots against per start than any entire club in the league on average—it won’t be that easy in Orange & Black. Mason has looked good since his arrival, but it was only seven games. History suggests he’ll come back down to earth.

The Flyers are stuck in a holding pattern at goaltender, either until 2012 second-round pick Anthony Stolarz is ready (and he’s probably a ways off) or somebody else becomes available. Either way, that person is not in Philadelphia right now. Veterans are. And so are a bunch of players that are still developing.

It’s an odd mix to say the least. If the front office goal was to put a legitimate championship contender on the ice this season, I’m not sure they achieved that, or could have for that matter. They tried anyway, and now I’m not sure what they have.

If nothing else, the journey should be fun to watch. Giroux wants to get back in the conversation with the Ovechkins and Stamkos and Crosbys and Malkins. The young core is exciting, and I do want to see what Lecavalier and Streit do to give the Flyers a makeover. I’m just not certain all of the pieces fit.

But then I guess we won’t know until they fall away.

Best of NBA: Wall, Wizards top Knicks for 4th straight win

Best of NBA: Wall, Wizards top Knicks for 4th straight win

NEW YORK -- John Wall had 29 points and 13 assists, scoring Washington's final four points in the last 32 seconds as the surging Wizards beat the New York Knicks 113-110 on Thursday night.

Otto Porter Jr. made six 3-pointers for the second straight night and added 23 points, but the Wizards needed big plays from Wall down the stretch to win their fourth in a row.

He made two free throws to put Washington back on top after New York had rallied to take a 110-109 lead, then rebounded Carmelo Anthony's miss and left all the Knicks in his dust as he raced down the floor for a dunk with 13.7 seconds to play.

Anthony finished with 34 points but Wall stole the ball from Brandon Jennings to prevent the Knicks from attempting a 3-pointer that could have tied it (see full recap).

Leonard scores 34 to lead Spurs over Nuggets
SAN ANTONIO -- Kawhi Leonard scored 34 points, rookie Dejounte Murray added a season-high 24 and the San Antonio Spurs overcame a pregame injury to Pau Gasol in beating the Denver Nuggets 118-104 on Thursday night.

Denver's three-game winning streak was snapped despite a career-high 35 points from Nikola Jokic.

Leonard had his fifth straight 30-point performance, right after learning he will start for the Western Conference in the All-Star Game for the second consecutive season.

The Spurs were unexpectedly without Gasol, Tony Parker and then coach Gregg Popovich. Gasol and Parker were both late scratches due to injury, and Popovich was ejected for the first time this season.

Gasol broke the ring finger on his left (non-shooting) hand by jamming it against Kyle Anderson's shoulder during pregame warmups while attempting a running hook. The 16-year veteran center immediately clutched his hand and left the court.

X-rays revealed the break, and the Spurs said there is no timeline for Gasol's return.

Irving, James lead Cavs over Suns
CLEVELAND -- Kyrie Irving scored 26 points, All-Star teammate LeBron James had 21 points and 15 assists, and the Cleveland Cavaliers looked more like themselves at home in a 118-103 win over the Phoenix Suns on Thursday night.

The Cavs were back in Quicken Loans Arena following a six-game road trip (their longest of the season) that concluded with an embarrassing 35-point loss at Golden State. But on their home floor, they had better offensive balance and ball movement while improving to 30-11 -- the same record Cleveland had at the halfway point of its 2016 NBA championship season.

Channing Frye scored 18, Iman Shumpert 17 and James Jones 14 while filling in for star forward Kevin Love, still bothered by back spasms.

Tyson Chandler had 22 points and 16 rebounds, but the Suns lost for the fourth time in five games (see full recap).

Best of NHL: Surging Capitals rock Blues in St. Louis

Best of NHL: Surging Capitals rock Blues in St. Louis

ST. LOUIS -- Andre Burakovsky, T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov each had a goal and an assist to lead the Washington Capitals to a 7-3 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Thursday night.

Jay beagle, Brett Connolly, Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams also scored, and Alex Ovechkin and Daniel Winnik each had two assists to help Washington earn at least a point in its 12th straight game (10-0-2) for an NHL-best 66 points.

Braden Holtby bounced back from his roughest outing of the season with 22 saves. Holtby was pulled after giving up a season-high five goals on 26 shots in an 8-7 overtime loss at Pittsburgh on Monday. He improved to 22-8-4 and 5-0 lifetime against St. Louis (see full recap).

Grabner scores 2 goals, Rangers top Leafs
TORONTO -- Michael Grabner scored two goals against his former team, helping the New York Rangers snap a three-game losing streak with a 5-2 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night.

Pavel Buchnevich, Brady Skjei and J.T. Miller added goals for New York, and Henrik Lundqvist made 23 saves following a series of rough outings.

Tyler Bozak and Zach Hyman scored for Toronto, which had a three-game winning streak stopped. The Maple Leafs had earned 21 of a possible 26 points in their previous 13 games (10-2-1). Frederik Andersen gave up four goals on 40 shots (see full recap).

Tavares leads Islanders to shutout of Stars
NEW YORK -- Getting a new coach this week didn't change things much for the Islanders -- and oddly enough, that's a good thing for New York.

John Tavares narrowly missed out on his second hat trick in a week, Thomas Greiss got his second straight shutout and the Islanders beat the Dallas Stars 3-0 on Thursday night in their first game since firing longtime coach Jack Capuano.

New York canned Capuano in the middle of his seventh season Tuesday, replacing him on an interim basis with Doug Weight (see full recap).

Niederreiter, Wild dodge letdown, edge Coyotes
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Nino Niederreiter had two power-play goals and an assist, including the go-ahead score for the Minnesota Wild with 7:06 remaining in a 4-3 victory over Arizona on Thursday night after the Coyotes came back from a two-goal deficit.

With Shane Doan in the penalty box for hooking, Niederreiter knocked in a nifty redirect of Mikael Granlund's slap shot for the winner. Devan Dubnyk stopped 20 shots for the Wild, who are 18-2-2 in their last 22 games.

Louis Domingue made 21 saves for the Coyotes, who lost their fourth in a row and fell to 2-12-1 in their last 15 games starting with a 4-1 loss to Minnesota in Arizona on Dec. 17 (see full recap).