Five Questions: How would you grade the Flyers for first half of the season?

Flyers Faithful asked Bill Meltzer from HockeyBuzz, NHL.com, and PhiladelphiaFlyers.com, Joshua Janet from GCobb, Michael DeNicola from Orange and Black Pack, and our very own Bob H five questions about the second half of the season. We are very grateful that they took the time to share their opinions and predictions with us. Each day of this week, we will run the answers to one of those questions. Today’s question is:

How would you grade the Flyers for first half of the season? What needs to change and what needs to remain the same?

Bill Meltzer: I addressed this in a recent blog. The team is on pace for 108 points (without a single shootout win to date), and that’s with having lost Chris Pronger for the season and playoffs and with Ilya Bryzgalov struggling. There is a lot of work to be done between now and April for the Flyers to be a legitimate Cup Final contender, but I think they are capable of beating any Eastern Conference team but Boston in a seven-game playoff series — and, yes, that includes the Rangers and Penguins. What needs to get better is the club’s consistency of commitment to defense (which is not just a matter of trading to add another proven defenseman) and the way it handles teams like the Rangers and Tampa that play buttoned-down defensive systems. The Flyers have to do a better job of knowing how to win when they only get one or two goals.

Joshua Janet: The Flyers earned 54 points through the first 41 games of the season. That certainly translates to a passing grade, but there have been too many times this season when their defensive shortcomings cost them valuable points. Whether you blame the defense or the goaltending, the team ranks 23rd in the NHL in goals-against per game. Benchmark teams like the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers are ranked 1st and 2nd, respectively.

The best attributes that the Flyers have going for them are their locker room camaraderie and resiliency. As long as the players continue to believe in themselves, future success is just a matter of improving system execution for a full sixty minutes.

Michael DeNicola: If anyone were to grade these Flyers less than a solid B, they’re out of their mind. Before answering this question, one must take a look back at the latest off-season. Philadelphia underwent a COMPLETE facelift which involved handing a plane ticket to our ex-captain Mike Richards, and puck potter Jeff Carter. Paul Holmgren made moves on Free Agency Frenzy Day that left Flyers nation picking up their jaws weeks after the date. Peter Laviolette’s decided to start a large handful of rookie skaters – a quantity which would lead anyone to believe the Flyers were undergoing some sort of rebuilding stage.

On top of everything else, we’re still fourth in our Conference despite goalie drama, a permanently injured Chris Pronger, and a defense that’s suffering physically. Could you imagine if this team were 100% healthy and clicking? Obviously what needs to change is Bryzgalov’s performance in net. It all starts between the pipes. If it continues down this path of discrepancy then there’s no chance this team can establish momentum defensively.

And speaking of the defense; With Chris Pronger out of the lineup for the remainder of the 2011-12 league year, we’re left with a gaping void on the blue line that any existing Flyer is incapable of filling. You don’t lose a future Hall of Fame defenseman and expect to get the job done as effectively as you would with him on the ice. If it proves anything, it proves one thing – This team needs to begin rebuilding their blue line. Kimmo Timonen is not getting any younger, and I fear his effectiveness could be spent sooner in the season and hit a drought in the latter half. Pronger could be done with professional hockey altogether. These aging, key pieces of our team’s defense will soon be gone. Start now and go after a big body for the defense before the trade deadline. Even if it’s just a rental fifth or sixth defenseman, we do not have enough depth on the bench to get deep in our slot and clear the netminder’s front porch.

As far as the offense is concerned, I’d like to see more pucks put on the opposition’s net. There’s been too much fancy passing, especially during our Power Plays. The more shots taken at the net, the higher the chance we have to score or capitalize on rebounds. We have the fire power to do it and the bodies in front to pick up the garbage.

Bob Herpen: What you have to keep in mind is that any possible grades are on a curve because of the constant stream of injuries plus the fact that virtually everyone beyond the goal line has played above expectations. The forwards I’d give an A for again being near the top of the league in goal scoring. The defense without Chris Pronger I’d give a B- simply because everyone operating at full strength cannot possibly make up the difference of having Pronger in the lineup, and a lotta warts are being exposed. The front office needs to know pretty damned soon if Pronger is finished for his career and then act accordingly through some kind of deal at the trade deadline.

Goaltending gets a B- because Sergei Bobrovsky is shining above Ilya Bryzgalov, but as we all know, that judgment’s not on an equal plane. Also, there are single netminders, like Tim Thomas, Henrik Lundqvist, Marc-Andre Fleury and even Ryan Miller who alone show us more than both of Philly’s crease guardians. However, I’d say the Flyers have intangibles, such as being so young they don’t know they’re supposed to be this good, that can help them mentally down the road. So they got that going for them. Which is nice.