September 15, 2011 Leave a comment
During the 2011 NHL offseason, the Philadelphia Flyers abandoned numerous pieces of their offensive juggernaut – Ville Leino, Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Nikolai Zherdev, Darroll Powe, Daniel Carcillo and Kris Versteeg – in exchange for some much different faces in Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek, Maxime Talbot, and Jaromir Jagr.
In the process, they lost 112 goals and 129 assists (241 points), plus-41 in offensive production, and 337 penalty minutes. In the faces they got back, they received 36 goals, 61 assists, 97 points, 167 penalty minutes and minus-7 in NHL offensive production, in addition to over 100 points in non-NHL production (Western League for Schenn and Kontinental League for Jagr). It doesn’t take a math professor to figure out that the numbers simply don’t add up.
Regardless of the Flyers’ intentions when they traded away their two franchise cornerstones in Richards and Carter, it is indisputable that in terms of right-now talent, the Flyers took a step back. Therefore, their offensive numbers are going to decrease as well, right?
Not so fast.
Although Carter, Richards, and Leino alone accounted for 78 of the Flyers’ 255 goals in 2010-11 (almost 31 percent), their replacements should not be looked at in terms of their offensive numbers only, but as a matter of how they will fit into the roster.
James van Riemsdyk had an impressive showing in the Flyers’ two playoff rounds last spring, scoring seven goals in just 11 games, but creating enough chances that he could have potted twice that number. With Claude Giroux still improving each year, expect those two to be paired together, with Giroux playing the center position. The best choice for that line could be to place the newly-acquired Jagr on the right wing, allowing a power forward (JVR), a slick playmaker (Giroux) and a talented goal scorer (Jagr) to create what could become one of the best lines in the conference. After Giroux scored 76 points last season, a pairing with the best European player of all-time and a young winger that can fight his way to the net could lead to an 85-point season, translating to over 25 goals and 50 points for Jagr and possibly 30 goals for van Riemsdyk.
On the second line, Danny Briere can be expected to play up front with young gun and Calder Trophy favorite Brayden Schenn and Scott Hartnell on the wing. Hartnell provides a physical presence on a line that would also include the energy and raw talent of a young Schenn and the experience and talent of Briere. This combination could see Briere repeat his 68-point performance, and possibly surpass that mark. Hartnell could also find himself with the second 50-point season of his career, while Schenn could prove his detractors wrong by netting 20 goals and 50 points.
A third line could feature grinder and hated former-Penguin Max Talbot at center with former-Blue Jacket Jakub Voracek on one side and former-King Wayne Simmonds on the other. Although both Simmonds and Voracek could be better suited playing on a second line in place of Hartnell, the two of them combine puck skill, scoring ability and a physical presence, along with Talbot’s energy, defensive play and ability to annoy the hell out of the opponent on a regular basis.
Depth has always been the key to the Flyers’ success in recent years, and 2011-12 will not be any different. Last season the Flyers had six players with 20 goals and eight players with 15. This year won’t be any different. Expect Briere, Giroux, Hartnell, van Riemsdyk, Jagr, and Schenn to hit the 20-goal mark, while Voracek, Simmonds and even Talbot to hit 15.
The team might look different – along with the face of the locker room. But even if there are chemistry problems, both on and off the ice, at the start of the season, expect the growing pains to dissipate rather quickly, and the Flyers to retain their offensive abilities that they’ve shown for the past four years.
Alan Bass, a former writer for The Hockey News and THN.com, is the author of The Great Expansion: The Ultimate Risk That Changed The NHL Forever. He has worked for the Philadelphia Flyers’ Fan Development department, going to schools throughout the tri-state area to teach about fitness and the importance of teamwork. He is the General Manager of the Muhlenberg College Division II hockey team as well. You can contact him at Alanbasswriting@aol.com.