The Flyers start the 2010-2011 campaign tonight against the Penguins in the first ever NHL regular season game at the Consol Energy Center. Below is a brief season preview, as well as some notable Flyers news from the past couple of days.
First, Ian Laperriere will miss the entire season. Even more concerning is that, soon to be only age 37, he is considering retirement. Although he is not young by many standards, this would be another case of concussions ending a player's career too soon (see Keith Primeau). Lappy told CSN that he would only return to play if he was "100 percent" and that "if it has to end this way, I have no regrets." Laperriere will be missed in the clubhouse for his veteran leadership, and on the ice for his "never say die" attitude and work on the penalty kill. Although Laperriere is currently only on the IR, he will soon be moved to the LTIR, where his salary will not count against the cap.
Michael Leighton will also be moved to the LTIR, and he isn't expected to return to action until November at the earliest. Leighton's absence opens up many goaltending questions for the Flyers, specifically whether or not Boucher can be a #1 goalie until Leighton's return. With the Flyers waiving Johan Backlund after his poor performance in Buffalo (he clearly wasn't 100% following offseason hip surgery), Sergio Bobrovsky will remain with the big club to start the season. If Boucher struggles and Bobrovsky steps in and continues to be successful, it will be interesting to see if Leighton needs to "win" his spot back or be relegated to back-up duties. The Bobrovsky storyline will be exciting for Flyers fans to watch heading into the season. That being said, expect Boucher to start tonight in Pittsburgh.
With a full preseason and training camp under head coach Peter Laviolettecompleted, the Flyers hope to be more consistent heading into the new season. The Flyers inconsistensies almost cost the Flyers a playoff spot last Spring; most forget that the Flyers only made the postseason by winning a shootout against the Rangers. The Flyguys hit their stride too late last season and put themselves behind the 8-ball before the turn of the new year – the Flyers need to play more consistent hockey and engage in a full 60 minutes of hockey every night for this not to happen. The Flyers seem to play more motivated hockey under Lavy rather than John Stevens, so hopefully the issue is addressed.
Notable offseason additions include LW Nikolay Zherdev (free agent signing), RW Jody Shelley (free agent signing from Rangers), D Andrej Meszaros (trade with Tampa Bay), D Matt Walker (acquired in Gagne trade to Tampa), D Sean O'Donnell (free agent signing from Anaheim), and G Sergio Bobrovsky (farm system). Offseason losses include W Aaron Asham (free agent signing to Pittsburgh), W Simon Gagne (traded to Tampa Bay), and D Lukas Krajicek (free agency). While the Flyers solidified ther defensive core in the offseason, it is important that Zherdev can pick up some of the goals lost in the Gagne trade. Another storyline to follow will be the resurgence of Meszaros, who could not find the rookie success he had in Ottawa with Tampa. The Flyers will open the season with eight defenseman and thirteen forwards, with Andreas Nodl likely being recalled from the Phantoms before today's game. Forward Bill Guerin was released from his tryout contract Monday. Although he had a poor preseason, I think that the Flyers could have used his leadership.
The Flyers are again battling offensive powerhouses in Washington and Pittsburgh in the Eastern Conference. With the always pesky and defensive-responsible Jersey Devils and much improved Boston Bruins also in the mix, the Flyers will have to earn their playoff spot in the East this year. I predict that the Flyers finish fifth in the conference behind these aforementioned teams, and will again battle an Atlantic Division foe in the quarterfinals of the 2011 playoffs.
The Orange and Black can reach the Stanley Cup Finals, but the road back there will not be easy. I think that it is important for the Flyers develop an identity, play consistently, and establish themselves as a legitimate cup threat early in the year. If the Flyers do this, they will finish amongst the top five teams in the Conference and set themselves up for a deep playoff run.