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.