2008-09: 44-27-11 (5th in the East – Eliminated in Conference QF by Penguins)
TSN.ca Pre-season Power Ranking: 9th
General Manager: Paul Holmgren (4th Season)
Head Coach: John Stevens (4th Season)
What They Did In The Off-season:
Call it a return to the days of the Broad Street Bullies, as virtually every off-season move the Flyers pulled off this summer made them significantly tougher.
The club's first two transactions of the summer really set the tone. They brought in Ray Emery from his KHL sojourn by signing the controversial netminder to a one-year deal. They then acquired one of the most intimidating players of the last decade, Chris Pronger, from the Ducks for Joffrey Lupul, Luca Sbisa and Ryan Dingle. Pronger was then signed to an enormous seven-year contract.
Mike Knuble, Martin Biron, Antero Niittymaki, Lasse Kukkonen and Andrew Alberts were all allowed to walk, while Ole-Kristian Tollesen, Krys Kolanos, Lukas Kaspar and Jason Ward were brought in as replacements.
Former team captain Derian Hatcher also announced his retirement, ending an excellent 16-year career.
Biggest Issue facing the team:
While the Flyers weren't exactly shrinking violets to begin with, they were very proactive in increasing their team-wide toughness this summer. It's a bold move in the post-lockout NHL, but Philadelphia has the luxury to be able to add grit and aggression when they already have their fair share of skill and speed.
Thanks to the offensive prowess of Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Simon Gagne and Scott Hartnell, the Flyers finished Top 5 in the league for goals-scored last season. Add in a full season of sophomore sniper Claude Giroux and a finally healthy Daniel Briere and the team could really up the ante in terms of firepower.
If ever there was a player born to wear the black and orange, it's Pronger. He's big, mean, nasty, powerful and remains one of the game's top two-way threats from the blueline. He should fit in perfectly and become an instant fan favourite. With Laperriere and Tollesen joining an already beefy lineup featuring Daniel Carcillo, Aaron Asham and Riley Cote, the Flyers will be a team that no one enjoys facing.
But the key for Philadelphia will be to contain this aggression and focus it in the right direction at the appropriate time. There are bound to be nights where the pot boils over, and Flyers games will resemble either a scene from Slap Shot or a throwback to the good old days of the 1970s when GM Paul Holmgren was slashing ankles as opposed to payroll.
Player to watch:
It goes without saying that this will be a career-defining season for Ray Emery. The much-maligned goaltender has been given a relatively clean slate in Philly and has been handed the No. 1 goaltender position heading into the season. It remains to be seen whether this is a good thing or not.
Many of Sugar Ray's exploits in Ottawa could have been blown out of proportion, forcing the Sens to run him out of town on a rail after making him a scapegoat for their second half collapse two seasons ago. The words ‘pariah' and ‘bad teammate' were being thrown around by many of the same people that described him as ‘colourful' and ‘a free spirit' - just one season before when Emery helped lead the team to the Stanley Cup final.
What the Flyers will get is a player on a one-year contract who is motivated to prove that he belongs not only in the NHL, but among the game's top tier of goalkeepers. While Emery has never been the most fundamentally sound netminder, he is one of the best all-around athletes in the game who relies on his instincts and quick reflexes to make up for what he lacks elsewhere.
On top of that, Emery is a battler in every sense of the word, he loves to compete and he plays to win. And those traits will help him greatly as the fans in Philadelphia will certainly appreciate that passion. He has been given the benefit of a very strong, veteran-laden team in front of him. And the presence of Pronger in front of him will certainly help. Emery has been handed a great opportunity to succeed in Philly and perhaps the only one standing in his way is himself. If he has learned his lesson after a one-season exile, it will be a great year for hockey in the City of Brotherly Love.
Scott Cullen's Fantasy Take:
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.