Even with lockout, 2012 a headline-packed year for Flyers

Claude Giroux is awesome, even with a creeper 'stache

Image courtesy of Philadelphia Flyers

Admit it, even with a mustache, Claude Giroux is awesome but coming into his own was just one of the many big stories coming out of the Flyers’ organization this year. (N.B. Leaving Mark Howe’s overdue number retirement out of this post was a complete oversight on my part.)

10. Flyers lend a hand with Operation Hat Trick and Team Pennsylvania 2003

“We want to be playing,” said Scott Hartnell in a Puck Daddy article. “It’s unfortunate that we’re not playing right now.” Fortunately, former Flyer, Joe Watson, had the idea to help out the victims of Superstorm Sandy and suggested it to Hartnell. Operation Hat Trick was born out of that discussion and packed in 11,000+ fans to raise over $500,000 for victims of the hurricane.

The generosity did not stop there, though. Soon thereafter, the Flyers teams up with cross-state rivals, Pittsburgh Penguins to help form Team Pennsylvania 2003, giving local-area youths a chance to participate in the upcoming Brick Invitational Super Novice Hockey Tournament in Edmonton, Alberta from July 1-7. Mark Recchi, who played for both the Flyers and Penguins, will be a part of the team’s coaching staff.

9. Scott Hartnell embraces #HartnellDown

It started as a joke between Seth Hastings and Mark Trible. The two bloggers enjoyed keeping track of how frequently Scott Hartnell fell down over the course of the season. Hartnell eventually learned of the count and the #HartnellDown hashtag and, like everything else he’s encountered off the ice, took it in stride. He formed a website, a foundation, sold merchandise to raise money for good, and even features a link to Hasting’s Twitter account in the site’s footer.

8. Former Flyers win Stanley Cup in Los Angeles

Over the last few years, more and more former Flyers found themselves in La La Land. Dean Lombardi, Ron Hextall, Terry Murray, and John Stevens all made their way into the front office. Colin Fraser, Justin Williams, Simon Gagne, Mike Richards, and Jeff Carter all took the ice wearing black and white. The team was mockingly referred to as “Flyers West” across the nation. The term was particularly popular in the Philadelphia region until the Kings outlasted the Flyers in the postseason and many Flyer fans soured on the term.

While it was rough for many to see Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, players once known as the untouchable core in Philadelphia, hoist the Cup, it was nice to see Simon Gagne do it, after all of the injury and concussion problems he had in his career.

7. Fans select Claude Giroux to be on cover of NHL 13

EA allowed fans to vote on NHL.com for which of 60 possible players would be on the cover of NHL 13. Claude Giroux, the top seed, defeated P.K. Subban, Anze Kopitar, Evgeni Malkin, and ultimately Pekka Rinne to win the honor of being on the cover of the latest installation of the award-winning video game. Teammate, Scott Hartnell, also made a solid run in the tournament.

6. James van Riemsdyk shipped to Toronto for Luke Schenn

During his often-maligned time in Philadelphia, James van Riemsdyk showed flashes of brilliance and absolutely dominated the ice when he was at the top of his game. At other points, though, the winger disappeared for long stretches and never quite lived up to his billing as a second overall draft pick. Under Laviolette, JvR seemed to be misused at times, including instances when he was put on the point during the powerplay instead of planting his big, power forward body in front of the net. Similarly, in Toronto, bruising defensemen, Luke Schenn, was asked to be more of an offensive player and his game suffered as a result. While the fanbases of both teams are mixed about this trade, it should work out for both teams in the long run. JvR will provide some additional offense and complement the players on either of Toronto’s top two lines well. Schenn, meanwhile, will give Philadelphia something they missed since Pronger’s absence, a physical presence who is not afraid to hit hard and clear the crease.

5. The battle for Pennsylvania turns into a war

Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are two players that could strike fear into the heart of any opponent — especially during the postseason, where the superstars are allowed a bit more room to work their magic. However, that was not the case when they faced off against Philadelphia this past April. Couturier completely shutdown Malkin and Crosby was rendered ineffective by Giroux, despite the fact that Crosby allegedly broke Giroux’s wrists during the series. Giroux was completely dominant against Pittsburgh, scoring a franchise-record six points during game two and 14 points during the six game series, second only to the 15 points Tim Kerr amassed during a 1989 playoff series.

4. Ilya Bryzgalov sets shutout streak record

Nearly 13 years after John Vanbiesbrouck’s shutout streak of 227 minutes and 40 seconds came to an end on a shorthanded goal by the Vancouver Canucks, Ilya Bryzgalov surpassed Beezer’s mark and set a new franchise shutout record of 249 minutes and 43 seconds. Bryz, whose first season in Philadelphia was quite the roller coaster ride, began coming into his own by the spring and win over fans as the season winded down. Shy of a buyout, Bryzgalov will have up to eight more seasons to top his own record.

3. Young core proves future is bright for Flyers

The Flyers went through some dramatic changes last offseason, reshaping the core of the team and getting younger up front while trying to deal with the loss of Chris Pronger and the inevitable decline of Kimmo Timonen. Some called the changes an overreaction after a poor playoff performance the previous postseason. Whatever it was, it worked out better than the Flyers ever imagined and every player added to the fold, from Sean Couturier to Max Talbot performed well beyond anyone’s expectations.

2. Giroux finds home among league’s elite

Third in the league in scoring during the regular season and fourth during the playoffs despite only playing ten games, Claude Giroux was a dominant force during the 2012 season. No longer in the shadow of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, Giroux was given the opportunity to come into his own and, at only 24, his best years are still ahead of him.

1. Flyers send huge offer sheet to Shea Weber, Nashville matches

There was no player better suited to wear the Orange and Black and to replace Chris Pronger than Shea Weber. The right-handed, rugged stud of a blueliner was born to be a Flyer. After Nashville matched the 14-year, $110 million offer sheet he signed with the Flyers, it’s unlikely that will ever happen now. The contract was the second largest in league history, behind Alexander Ovechkin’s 13-year, $124 million deal. It was Philadelphia’s attempt to fill a gaping hole in the team while also using the franchise’s financial muscle to push the small market Predators out of the picture.

Honorable mentions

2012 Winter Classic vs. the Rangers, The Lord’s toughest competition returns (on 12/31/11), “Ghost” emerges and haunts Germany, Shane Doan nearly a Flyer, Philadelphia selected to host Frozen Four in 2014 (which is technically not a Flyers story but is still awesome), Flyers select Scott Laughton in first round because they clearly do not need any legitimate goaltending prospects like Malcolm Subban or anything.