We've been so wrapped up with our Phillies here in the Illadelph that even us hardcore Flyers fans almost forgot that the Orange and Black start their season tonight. We've asked hockey guru Martin Slamon, who keeps a pretty hilarious blog over at digidigidigi, to give a full run down on the upcoming Flyers season, which begins tonight in Calgary. Much more after the jump.
From the creators of last seasons' box office flop, "My Right Foot" starring Peter Forsberg in the title role, comes the much hyped blockbuster smash (or so we hope) "Back With A Vengeance." The Philadelphia Flyers hope to erase the memory of their 40th anniversary season (22-48-12), the worst in franchise history, when they take on the Flames in Calgary tonight. They'll start "wiping the slate clean" with 8 players making their Flyers regular season debut, including free agent acquisitions Danny Briere, Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell.
Flash back to the beginning of last season. The Flyers, off to a horrible start after bowing out of the first round the previous year in an embarrassing loss to the Sabres, are faced with the firing of their head coach Ken Hitchcock (1-6-1 start), and the resignation of burnt out GM, Bobby Clarke. Couple that with Forsberg's (their captain at the time) world-wide search for a magical right skate that would make him 100%, and you have a nightmare of a hockey season. Phantoms coach John Stevens (2005 Calder Cup Champ), upgraded to the big club and with the help of new GM Paul Holmgren, began to see some progress towards the end of the year. The team was really just a "soft core" version of their former self, made up of numerous call ups from the Phantoms.
Here's a break down of the Flyers roster, coupled with possible line combinations, as per Tim Panaccio of the Philadelphia Inquirer: The top line will consist of Mike Knuble and Simon Gagne on the wings of (love) new center Danny Briere. You may know him from such commercials as "Hey, watch me hit that window pane to the left of the one I just hit." He was one of the big three center free agents available in the offseason, with the Rangers acquiring the other two in Gomez (Devils) and Drury (Sabres). Look for Briere to pick up where sir Peter left off, only without the whole play two games, sit out three games scenario.
The Flyers have what equates to two 2nd lines, with Mike Richards centering Joffrey Lupol and Denis Tolpeko... and Jeff Carter centering Scot Hartnel and Sami Kapanen. I say this, because both Carter and Richards have been mediocre in their first two seasons, showing flashes of brilliance only in less frequent spurts than moments of futility. Richards was rumored to have the best camp out of all Flyers forwards and was rewarded with an A on his sweater. His willingness to scrap is admirable and he does a lot of the little things right on the ice, but the Flyers need a viable 2nd line center to provide scoring depth. Carter is a complete mystery (so far) and a player who has all the right tools but hasn't implemented them.
Jim Dowd (former Devil) is paired on a bruising fourth line, with Jesse Boulerice and Ben Eager. Dowd is a smart veteran center who brings some legitimacy to a line that would much rather beat your face in than play hockey. Eager led the Fly-guys in penalty minutes last year, but he isn't big enough and has too much skill to be labeled a sure fire "heavy-weight." Boulerice is also rather diminutive when compared to the top echelon of fighters in the league, but he's had an impressive camp and a number of eye opening (or gash opening) fights, including his two-time defeat of Devil's Cam Janssen.
On defense, Braydon Coburn, who came in a trade with Nashville for Peter Forsberg is paired with big n' slow Derrian Hatcher and starts his first full season as a pro. Impressive youngster Lasse Kukkonen and Randy Jones worked well together in the pre-season. Jason Smith, long time captain of the Edomonton Oilers, is now our 16th captain, after securing the job late last Saturday in a loss to the Rangers. He dished out several punishing checks and fought twice in the game, carving a place in the hearts of true Flyers fans. His partner, Timmonen is the puck carrying defenseman the flyers always wanted Joni Pitkanen to be. The 7th alternate d-man is Nate Guenin, a suprise to make the club who looked strong in camp and edged out the hard hitting Denis Gauthier. Look for the retirement of other creaky defenseman, Mike Rathje... one of the last physical leftovers from Clarke's grand vision of the new NHL.
Marty Biron, long time Sabres back up and pal of Briere, gets his chance to prove he deserves the number one goaltender position on the Flyers. Silent Bob Esche is gone and Nittymaki looks to rebound after his labrum injuries of last season. Former Flyer Brian (Bobby) Boucher is back, but as a starting goalie for the Craig Berube led Philadelphia Phantoms. As far as predictions go, I nor anyone else in their right mind knows what the Flyers will do this season. Injuries, all the new faces, and the possible return of Peter the Great make the future pretty uncertain. I will go out on a limb and say they make the playoffs as a lower seed (5-8) and are ousted in the 2nd round. But don't take my word for it.
Tidbits: Injuries are once again the story this year, with four of them occuring on or around the controversial "Downie Killed McCammond" game. Joffrey Lupul and Scottie Upshall (out 3-4 weeks) both sustained wrist injuries, but Lupul hopes to play tonight. R.J. Umberger broke a pinky finger after a really strong preseason, but he hopes to join the club as soon as the Vancouver game. Randy Jones had a hip flexor but is slated to start and Timmonen had a scary collision in practice with goalie Antero Nittymaki, but both are fine. Speaking of Downie, the Flyers appear to have "buried" him and the story on the Phantoms after the announcement of the 20 game suspension. What's worse is that the AHL commisioner suspended Downie for a month after reviewing the hit. Downie could possibly make his AHL debut on Nov. 3, but still has to serve the NHL suspension before playing pro.