After having a great 2005-06 season, the Flyers took a nosedive last season. The nosedive affected everyone from management to coaches to players. This team flat out crashed, allowing the most goals (297) and winning the fewest games (22). There were lots of other lows, too. Only one player played in all 82 contests (Derian Hatcher). Goaltending was inconsistent. Losing became an infection that kept spreading and getting worse. While Simon Gagne managed to remain a serious scoring threat, he alone could not carry his team. The injury to Mike Knuble and other key players did not help. This season the Flyers look to lift themselves up off the ground and turn everything around.
The first thing the Flyers did was they brought in new people to change the mindset and attitude of the team. Landing free agent Daniel Briere, of course, was key to that. Last season he led the speedy, highflying Buffalo Sabres into the playoffs. The Sabres had multiple lines of scoring threats. The Flyers on the other hand had only one line with scoring ability. If an opposing team could shut down that one line, they could shut down the Flyers. Simon Gagne was the main scorer (41 goals), in fact he contributed 19.2% of his teams overall goals (third in the league).
This coming season, things will be different. Briere has speed, he can handle the puck, he can pass, he can be a deadly accurate sniper, and best of all he’s healthier than Peter Forsberg. With the new NHL a strong power play is important, but teams cannot always rely on it. Good thing they added Briere, who led the league with 65 even-strength points. Look for Gagne and Knuble to benefit big time from Briere’s ability to make plays. If Briere stays healthy he could reach the 100-point plateau and look for Gagne to soar and surpass a career year in goals.
While Briere should help propel this team, the Flyers added a few other little engines that will bring stability. Scottie Upshall, Scott Hartnell, and Kimmo Timonen all came over to the Flyers from the Nashville Predators. Like Buffalo, Nashville was a team with multiple lines of scoring threats. Hartnell and Upshall were among that group. Both are young and are still yet to reach their potential but that could change in Philly. Jeff Carter could be the key. He will likely center those two on the second line. Last season he was unable to get things going with Kyle Calder and/or Geoff Sanderson. Injuries also did not help. Both Calder and Sanderson are now gone. This second line will have youth and speed throughout. Do not be surprised if the Flyers experiment with also newly acquired Joffrey Lupul on the right wing. Two seasons ago he scored 28 goals with Anaheim. Last season playing on Edmonton’s third line he only tallied 28 points. Lupul was not used to his ability and the Flyers could be the right home for him.
There have been rumors that Teemu Selanne might not retire and could end up playing with the Flyers. It is no surprise the “Finnish Flash” would consider this when you take into account all of his fellow Finnish countrymen on the Flyers (Timonen, Kukkonen, Kapanen, and Niittymaki). Too bad Pitkanen just left! Could this be a second coming of the Olympics? Selanne would be a great addition, but it is likely just a silly rumor. In all seriousness, Kimmo Timonen should do a fine job replacing the recently departed offensive-defensemen Joni Pitkanen. Look for Timonen to put up at least 50 points. Kukkonen’s played 20 games with the Flyer’s last season and did not do much, but nor did his team that was mentally out of it at that point.
As for goaltending it will be very interesting to see what Marty Biron can do playing on a regular basis. He was acquired last season from Buffalo where he had been playing back-up to Ryan Miller. On the Flyers, he posted the teams best save percentage of all their goalies. Biron does have talent and will hopefully get his opportunity to finally shine as a fulltime starter with a new team in front of him. If not, Antero Niittymaki is still in the picture and will look to rebound from his poor season. This team will most likely not make the playoffs, but will surprise everyone like the Islanders did last season.