From now through the start of the NHL season on Oct. 4, TSN.ca presents '30 Teams In 30 Days,' a quick glimpse at each NHL club as the 2008-09 campaign approaches. Get the lowdown on every lineup, storylines to follow and Scott Cullen's fantasy analysis. It continues today with the Philadelphia Flyers.
After suffering through the worst season in franchise history in 2006-07, the Flyers bounced back in a big way last year. They went from finishing dead last in the East to a team that reached the conference final.
The remarkable turnaround can be partly attributed to the team's decision to be aggressive in the free agent market. They re-vamped their lineup with power forward Scott Hartnell and defenceman Kimmo Timonen, centre Daniel Briere, blueliner Jason Smith and forward Joffrey Lupul.
And with a new roster, they burst out of the gate. Mike Richards improved by leaps and bounds in his third season in the league, nearly tripling his goal output and playing in all key situations.
The positives, however, were quickly overshadowed by their growing reputation of being a dirty team. Rookie Steve Downie announced his presence in the NHL by blindsiding Ottawa Senators' forward Dean McAmmond with an elbow to the head and was suspended for 20 games. Forward Jesse Boulerice received a 25-game suspension of his own for a crosscheck to the face of Canucks' forward Ryan Kesler, while defenceman Randy Jones earned a two-game suspension for a hit from behind on Boston's Patrice Bergeron. The NHL was now watching every move the Flyers made.
On top of that, the team had problems of their own as Simon Gagne played just 25 games due to ongoing concussion issues. The troubles continued as Hartnell received a two-game suspension for a hit on Boston's Andrew Alberts, while Downie once again made headlines with a sucker-punch to the face of the Maple Leafs Jason Blake.
The team was able to put all the controversy aside long enough to make a push for the playoffs, acquiring Vaclav Prospal from the Lightning just prior to the trade deadline. The team finished the season with 95 points, a 39-point improvement on the previous season and good enough for sixth place in the East.
They knocked off the red-hot Washington Capitals in perhaps the most entertaining series of the first round of the playoffs and upset the highly-favoured Montreal Canadiens in five games. The team appeared to be out of gas by the time they reached the conference final, falling to the Pittsburgh Penguins in five games. While the loss may have been hard to take, the progress made by the team in just one year was impressive and something to build on for the coming season.
General Manager: Paul Holmgren (3rd season)
Head Coach: John Stevens (3rd season)
2007-08 Record: 42-29-11 (6th in Conference)
Points Leader: Mike Richards - 75
Goals Leader: Daniel Briere - 31
Assists Leader: Mike Richards - 47
PIM Leader: Riley Cote - 202
Plus/Minus Leader: Braydon Coburn - 17
PP Goals Leader: Mike Knuble - 15
SH Goals Leader: Mike Richards - 5
What they did: With the Flyers right up against the cap, there was no big free agent splurge over the summer. They did take care of some housekeeping by re-signing Lupul, Jones and forward Jeff Carter. To stay under the limit, the team was also forced to ship playoff hero R.J. Umberger to the Columbus Blue Jackets and send Prospal back to the Lightning. Jim Dowd, Jaroslav Modry and Jason Smith were all let go via free agency and were replaced by Ossi Vaananen, Glen Metropolit and Arron Asham. Veteran defenceman Derian Hatcher, placed on the long-term injury list, will continue to collect his $3.5 million salary but it will not count against the salary cap. The team invited former Calder Trophy winner Bryan Berard to training camp to try and add some foot speed to their blueline.
What to watch for: It can be argued that the Flyers overachieved last year and while they should still be a playoff team, there's a good chance that they'll fall back a bit. But there are still plenty of reasons for optimism in the City of Brotherly Love. Gagne will be back and (fingers crossed) healthy. The team is also depending on the continuing development of young forwards such as Richards, Carter and Scottie Upshall and anticipates a bounce-back campaign from Briere. The speedy centre's point totals fell from 95 in his last season with the Sabres to 72 in his first year with the Flyers. He was also a minus-22 on the season after being a plus-17 just a year earlier.
On the blueline, the Flyers have relied on big, physical bruisers. In fact, Timonen is the lone member of the Flyers' top six who is smaller less than 6'2" and 200 lbs. A key factor this season could be the play of Braydon Coburn, who was excellent in his first full season in Philadelphia. Under Timonen's wing, he has the potential to be a Norris Trophy candidate someday. But as a whole, Philly's blueline could stand to use a mobile, puck-moving defenceman.
With an opportunity of being 'The Man' in net, Martin Biron grabbed the ball last season and ran with it well. Not satisfied with simply being a TSN playoff analyst, he gave the Flyers solid goaltending night-in and night-out - something that they haven't had since Ron Hextall was manning the pipes at the old Spectrum. Once again, he will be asked to do yeoman's work in the net for a team that has aspirations of greatness. With backup Antero Niittymaki sidelined six weeks because of hip surgery, the team signed Jean-Sebastien Aubin to fill the gap.
Parting shot: Philadelphia has a well-earned reputation as one of the toughest sports towns in North America, and they have no problem booing stars they think are underperforming (just ask Eric Lindros, Mike Schmidt and Donovan McNabb). They are desperate to celebrate a championship of any sort, but are also quick to praise hard work. That being said, there is plenty of competition in the market as hopes are high for the Phillies, 76ers and the Eagles. With little offseason buzz, the Flyers will need to get out of the gate in a hurry if they want to keep their share of the spotlight in the sports scene.