Flight Plan 10.02.2011

The Philadelphia Flyers played the last game of their preseason schedule yesterday. For now, all anyone can do is patiently, or more likely impatiently, wait until Thursday when the Orange and Black travel to Boston and officially begin the long trek towards the playoffs. One thing is for certain: this Flyers team is different than the one the Bruins faced in both of the last two years in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. No longer will the B’s have an extreme advantage in goal or in size on the wing. The Flyers are bigger and faster, debatably more skilled, and absolutely much younger across the board than they were at any point in the last two seasons.

If you follow the Flyers, you know what they have done this past offseason and if you don’t follow them, well then here’s what they did:

  1. Traded two top line, homegrown, centers in part-time Assistant Captain Jeff Carter to the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for RFA Jake Voracek and a first round pick (who ended up being Sean Couturier) and Captain Mike Richards to the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for RFA Wayne Simmonds and top prospect Brayden Schenn.
  2. Broke a longstanding tradition of spending a small portion of their budget on goaltending and signed Ilya Bryzgalov to a nine-year, $5.67ish million contract, in hopes of finally resolving a goalie issue that has hung over the organization since the 70s without a long-term solution.
  3. Traded Darroll Powe to the Minnesota Wild for a third round pick in the 2013 draft.
  4. Let Nick Boynton, Brian Boucher, Dan Carcillo, Ville Leino, Sean O’Donnell, and Nik Zherdev walk out of town without new contracts with the team.
  5. And finally traded Kris Versteeg to the Florida Panthers for a 2012 or 2013 second round pick, and the San Jose Sharks’ 2012 third round pick.
  6. Signed former Pittsburgh Penguins (and a bunch of other Flyers rivals in the latter’s case) forwards Max Talbot and Jaromir Jagr, as well as former Anaheim Ducks defenseman Andreas Lilja.
  7. Signed RFAs Jake Voracek and Wayne Simmonds to a one-year, $2.25 million deal and a two-year $1.75 million deal respectively.
  8. Extended James van Riemsdyk for six years at $4.25 million as the cap number.

Overall, it was a pretty standard offseason for a team that got dangerously close to being swept two years prior in the playoffs (despite falling just two games short of lifting the Stanley Cup) and then actually getting swept last year.

Either way, now that that it’s a new team, fresh faces, younger, faster, bigger, and apparently having more fun, the question is: how will all the pieces fit together? Here’s a quick look at the first games of the 2011-2012 season for the Philadelphia Flyers.

Boston Bruins:
10.06.2011 at 7:00 pm in Boston

The Boston Bruins are coming off a short offseason as they were able to defeat the Vancouver Canucks in seven games and win the Stanley Cup. The Bruins accomplished this by outworking their opposition throughout the playoffs on most nights and by being extremely opportunistic, as they often scored goals quickly and in bunches during games (especially against the Flyers). Something that also cannot be diminished was the play of the best player at any position the entire regular season and post-season in goaltender Tim Thomas whose numbers speak for themselves, but also his compete level was at an all-time high in last year’s playoff run.

The Bruins are, somewhat, what the Flyers have modeled their new team’s makeup after as they are big on the wing, have a top-tier goaltender, and are strong down the middle. The one area in which the Flyers have a clear advantage would be on the blue-line and an area the Flyers have a slight advantage is in skill in the top six forwards. But for all the Bruins may lack in pure skill and talent, they more than make up for in hard-work, defensive responsibility, and the ability to strike quickly and be opportunistic. Though their power play was fighting hard against the Flyers’ power play for the overall worst of the playoff teams, the Bruins’ power play scored when it needed to and they won games, and eventually the Stanley Cup, because of it.

And although the Bruins may not be as skilled in their top six as the Flyers are, they certainly have some very skilled players on their roster such as Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, Nathan Horton, David Krejci, Mlian Lucic, and Tyler Seguin. They also have a ton of character and grit up and down their lineup with guys like Chris Kelly, Brad Marchand, Shawn Thornton, Andrew Ferrence, and Johnny Boychuk. The Bruins rely heavily on their defense and goaltending, but as they are a very opportunistic team, they matched up well against the Flyers in both of the last two years because the Flyers became an aggressive, up-tempo team under Peter Laviolette. In order for the Flyers to compete and get out of Boston with two points, they will need to simply not get caught down low or on changes and scoring more goals than the other team usually helps.

New Jersey Devils:
10.08.2011 at 7:00 pm in Newark

The New Jersey Devils were one of, if not the, best team in the NHL in the second half last year. After being terrible the first half of the season under John MacLean, Jacques Lemaire was brought in and got his team to play themselves into the playoff conversation. Unfortunately for them, but nobody else in the East, the disparity in points that was created in the first half was too much to overcome and the Devils found themselves watching the playoffs from their summer homes rather than playing in them.

Needless to say, the Devils are a good team and were a good team on paper last year before the season started. The big issue was mentality and personnel. John MacLean wanted to play high-tempo hockey in the same vein as Peter Laviolette’s system, but there was not enough skill, speed, or grit to play that kind of system successfully. Now that the Devils have hired Peter DeBoer, they will likely be much more consistently successful as he is a defense first coach, which is how Lou Lamoriello built this team.

It also doesn’t hurt that since the Devils were so bad last year, they got a high pick in this year’s draft and used it on definitely NHL ready, 18-year old defenseman Adam Larsson. If you were able to catch any of the last two games of the preseason, you’d know that Larsson looked calm, cool, and collected in his own zone, and moved the puck like a young Scott Niedermeyer, though obviously it was just preseason and you never know how he’ll look when the games actually matter against a full roster of NHLers. Back in the fold of course are star wingers Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise. Parise missed all but 13 games last season due to a knee injury and is now playing for a contract as he signed a one-year deal and figures to test the unrestricted free agency waters next summer. The Devils will be without top-line pivot Travis Zajac for this game and more than likely the next two to three months as he recovers from an Achilles tendon injury. The Devils will have a million-time all-star and thousand-time Vezina Trophy winner Martin Brodeur backstopping them, who looked pretty good in the past two preseason games, allowing just three goals in two games.

The Devils, like the Flyers, still have a lot of figuring out to do as to who will actually be on the roster for tonight, but all signs point to it being a pretty tightly contested, low-scoring affair with a goal or two separating the two teams.