Northeast Times

Flyers are grounded, but wait ’til 2012!

Wel­come to Kids Stuff. Today’s column in­cludes a brief re­cap of all the ma­jor changes that have tran­spired with our NHL team, the Phil­adelphia Fly­ers.

While the end of the sea­son for most teams means sev­er­al months of bore­dom and no news, the Fly­ers con­tin­ued to in­trigue their fans this sum­mer.

The team’s run to the Stan­ley Cup fi­nals in 2010 and strong start to the sea­son that just ended provided hope that the present group of play­ers would be able to achieve the op­tim­al hockey goal — win­ning the Stan­ley Cup.

However, the team’s play dra­mat­ic­ally dropped off dur­ing the lat­ter part of the sea­son, and they con­tin­ued to struggle in the play­offs. They squeaked by the in­feri­or Buf­falo Sabres, and then were swept by the Bo­ston Bru­ins in the next round. The Fly­ers didn’t even come close to the fi­nals this year. Re­mem­ber, this was the same Bru­ins team that the Fly­ers shocked with their his­tor­ic comeback from a 3-0 de­fi­cit in 2009-10, a feat that very few teams in pro­fes­sion­al sports have ever ac­com­plished.

Most fans prob­ably be­came quite de­pressed think­ing that the team was nev­er go­ing to make it back to the fi­nals. Many ques­tioned the makeup of the team and talked about trad­ing play­ers such as Scott Hart­nell. Some talked about trad­ing lead­ing goal scorer Jeff Carter, who al­ways seemed to ac­quire in­jur­ies dur­ing the play­offs. Fans had mixed feel­ings about trad­ing Carter due to his nat­ur­al scor­ing propensity, a much-needed tal­ent on a team.

The cas­cade of events that shocked the Fly­ers’ world began when the Fly­ers signed star goal­tender Ilya Bryz­galov. Many wondered how the Fly­ers would ac­com­plish this without go­ing over the salary cap. This was quickly answered, when the Fly­ers promptly traded both Jeff Carter and team cap­tain Mike Richards on the same fate­ful day in Fly­ers his­tory.

Carter was traded to the Colum­bus Blue Jack­ets for right-wing­er Jak­ub Vo­r­acek and both first- and third-round draft choices in the 2011 entry draft. The big­ger shock­er was the trade of Mike Richards to the Los Angeles Kings for top pro­spect Bray­den Schenn, right-wing­er Wayne Sim­monds and a 2012 second-round draft pick. The sum of the two trades provided the Fly­ers with three prom­ising young play­ers, early draft picks and much needed salary-cap space to make fu­ture moves.

There is no doubt that these trades make the Fly­ers young­er, stronger and faster, which crit­ics sug­ges­ted the Fly­ers needed. The key feel­ing after these trades is the Fly­ers re­main a fran­chise that is al­ways act­ively seek­ing to im­prove and to win, something that its fans have al­ways ap­pre­ci­ated.

The next part of the dom­ino ef­fect was the entry draft where the Fly­ers util­ized their new first-round draft pick, the eighth over­all in the draft to se­lect for­ward Sean Cou­tur­i­er.

Ex­perts be­lieve that the Fly­ers made an ex­cel­lent se­lec­tion and might have made the steal of the draft. Many ex­perts pro­jec­ted that Cou­tur­i­er would be one of the top picks, but he ul­ti­mately fell to the eighth pick. Some ex­perts also stated that when this draft is eval­u­ated years later, many will won­der how the Fly­ers ever ac­quired Cou­tur­i­er at the eighth pick. If he matches his po­ten­tial, the trade may even­tu­ally seem even more im­press­ive.

Many are now won­der­ing if the Fly­ers are done with their ac­quis­i­tions. The team has made lower-pro­file moves: trad­ing Dar­roll Powe to Min­nesota for a third-round pick in 2013 and al­low­ing Dan Car­cillo to leave.

While some may ques­tion the Fly­ers’ de­cision to trade two of their lead­ing scorers at the same time, top teams al­ways are seek­ing ways to im­prove. At the end of the day the trades will be eval­u­ated by how the team per­forms. However, the bold ef­forts to im­prove clearly have made a strong im­pres­sion among fans and ex­perts.

After every­one fi­nally had a chance to make their eval­u­ation of the team after the changes, the Fly­ers con­tin­ued their whole­sale changes, which led to even more ques­tions.

There was a lot of talk that the Fly­ers were go­ing to try to sign highly touted re­stric­ted free agent Steven Stamkos. However, ap­par­ently the team was con­cerned this would tie up too much money and would pre­vent them from go­ing after oth­er free agents.  As a res­ult, they did not make an ef­fort to of­fer Stamkos a con­tract, but in­stead looked to­ward their rival, the Pitt­s­burgh Pen­guins, and signed former Pen­guin and all-time great Jaromir Jagr to a one-year con­tract, es­sen­tially block­ing his po­ten­tial re­turn to the Pen­guins.

Jagr most re­cently played for Avangard Omsk in the Kontin­ent­al Hockey League. Jagr last played in the NHL in 2007-08. To make it even more pain­ful for the Pen­guins, the Fly­ers also signed free agent cen­ter Max Tal­bot. Giv­en their in­tense rivalry, many Fly­ers fans might find it dif­fi­cult to pic­ture both play­ers in the or­ange and black uni­forms. The fi­nal free agent sign­ing of note was de­fense­man An­dreas Lilja from the Ana­heim Ducks.

Oth­er ex­cit­ing news: The Fly­ers have agreed to a con­tract ex­ten­sion with Jak­ub Vo­r­acek, An­dreas Nodl and Tom Ses­tito. However, when there is ad­di­tion, there must be sub­trac­tion. Gone from the Fly­ers are Dan Car­cillo, Ville Leino and Kris Ver­steeg. Of the three, the play­er likely to be missed most will be Leino, be­cause many ex­pec­ted him to be a star play­er for the Fly­ers for years to come.

In sum­mary, it is not of­ten that a cham­pi­on­ship caliber team like the Fly­ers makes such drastic changes with­in one off- sea­son. While it is im­possible to pre­dict the out­come, the Fly­ers overnight have be­come young­er, stronger and faster. It ap­pears their plan was to up­grade their goal­tend­ing and de­fense at the same time they de­veloped young­er and big­ger for­wards. Many are prais­ing gen­er­al man­ager Paul Holmgren for his bold and ag­gress­ive moves. The ques­tion is what will the fans say if the team does not im­prove and make it to the Stan­ley Cup fi­nals next year?

The de­fend­ing At­lantic Di­vi­sion cham­pi­on Phil­adelphia Fly­ers will open their 45th sea­son in the Na­tion­al Hockey League on Oct. 6 at Bo­ston. The home open­er will take place Oct. 12 when the Fly­ers host the Van­couver Ca­nucks at the Wells Fargo Cen­ter, and the 82-game sea­son con­cludes April 7 at Pitt­s­burgh.  In ad­di­tion, the Fly­ers an­nounced that de­fense­man Chris Pronger has been named the 18th cap­tain in fran­chise his­tory.

For tick­ets, call 215-218-7825 or vis­it Phil­adelphi­aFly­ers.com ••

Colum­nist Wil­li­am Feld­man can be con­tac­ted by e-mail at wmkid­scolumn@aol.com

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