Fantasy Puck Preview: Philadelphia Flyers

Scott Cullen
9/22/2009 7:50:58 AM
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The Philadelphia Flyers weren't quite good enough in 2008-2009, so they made some bold changes, bringing in new goaltenders and a top-drawer defenceman, which should bring some improvement and means there is plenty of fantasy value to go around.

The Flyers' leader, Mike Richards, is coming off surgery on both shoulders, yet appears to be ready for another point-per-game season. In the last two years, Richards has emerged as a top producer, tallying 155 points and a plus-36 rating in 152 games.

Last year was a breakout season for 24-year-old Jeff Carter, who scored 46 goals and 84 points after notching a career-high 53 points the year before. Now, expectations have to remain high for Carter, who has rare size and skill and can play in any situation.

After a concussion-plagued 2007-2008, Simon Gagne bounced back last season, playing 79 games (his most since the lockout) and scoring 74 points, the second-best total of his career. Playing alongside Richards, the opportunity will be there for another strong season from the four-time 30-goal scorer.

If Gagne can bounce back, the Flyers have to be hoping they can get the same kind of season from Daniel Briere, who played just 29 games last year. However, Briere did put up 25 points in those 29 games and has been better than a point-per-game player since the lockout, so he could be a boom-or-bust fantasy selection.

It may not be reasonable to expect Scott Hartnell to duplicate his career-best season of 30 goals, 60 points, plus-14 and 143 penalty minutes, but he shouldn't fall of the map entirely, either. Skating with Carter, Hartnell is an effective two-way player, made more valuable in fantasy by his accumulation of penalty minutes.

A strong finish to his rookie season has elevated expectations for Claude Giroux, a skilled winger who will be given ample opportunity to play among Philadelphia's top six forwards this season.

For those that want to focus on penalty minutes, the Flyers have a couple of valid selections, including Daniel Carcillo, who could be a fantasy beast with even moderate (say, 20 points) production. Veteran Ian Laperriere has also been a consistent source of penalty minutes, registering his second-highest total (163 PIM) last year in Colorado.

If searching for a rookie, James van Riemsdyk, the second overall pick in the 2007 NHL draft, has a shot at making the team after scoring 74 points in 67 games over two seasons at the University of New Hampshire.

Philadelphia's big offseason acquisition, Chris Pronger, can still do the job, even if the 34-year-old is not the same player he was at his peak. Aside from 2002-2003, when he was limited to just five games, Pronger has put up at least 43 points (with at least 25 power play points in each of those years) in the other nine seasons since 1998-1999. Add in that Pronger has had more than a penalty minute per game in every season except 2005-2006, with Edmonton when he had 74 PIM in 80 games, and Pronger brings more than just offensive production to the table.

Kimmo Timonen has been solid for the Flyers, scoring 87 points (57 on the PP) over the last two seasons. He may lose some responsibiity to Pronger, but figures to still be a power play regular, so Timonen should remain a useful fantasy option.

Touted to be a breakthrough player last year, Braydon Coburn regressed some from a promising 2007-2008 campaign. Now third on the depth chart, Coburn may not have a huge offensive season, but could still be serviceable for fantasy purposes with a good plus-minus and some penalty minutes.

Goaltending is the major question mark for Philadelphia. While Ray Emery had a strong season in the KHL last year, it shouldn't be forgotten that, for all his off-ice troubles in Ottawa, Emery played terribly in 2007-2008 (3.13 GAA, .890 SVPCT in 31 GP), so he'll need to be significantly better than the last time he was in the NHL.

If Emery is closer to his 2006-2007 version (2.47 GAA, .918 SVPCT in 58 GP), then the Flyers will be in great shape. If not, it would be asking a lot for Brian Boucher, who has started 40 games just once in his career, to take on the starter's role.

Gagne and Richards (Photo: Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)


(Photo: Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)
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