Bright Future for Flyers by Jeff Lyons
When the Flyers secured a spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs, I was thrilled. It helped erase the nightmarish memory of the 2006-2007 season when the Flyers finished dead last in the NHL.
The Flyers drew the Washington Capitals in the first round, and I thought a mere playoff appearance would suffice. They'd done wonders to get this far after last year's debacle. And besides, they had no chance against superstar Alexander Ovechkin. But then a funny thing happened - the Flyers beat the Caps in seven games.
That meant a matchup with the conference top seed, Montreal. Again, I thought, no chance for the Flyers. Shows what I know. The Flyers dispatched the Canadiens in five games.
So I started thinking, maybe this is their year. Maybe we're on to something special here. I started thinking like a fan, not an objective observer. I can't help myself sometimes.
And then, Philadelphia happened. Longtime fans know exactly what I'm talking about. All-star defenseman Kimmo Timonen was held out of the first four games of the conference finals because of a blood clot in his foot. Yeah, things like that happen to Philadelphia teams, whose motto should be "expect the worst, that way you won't be disappointed."
And then, adding injury to insult, the Flyers second-best defenseman, Braydon Coburn, is forced out of game two of the series with the Penguins after taking a puck to the eye just moments into the game. Coburn needed more than 50 stitches to close the wound and he didn't play again. So the Flyers were forced to play the Penguins without their best two defensemen.
Down three games to none, the Flyers turned in a remarkable effort on May 15. Grizzled veteran Derian Hatcher seemed like he played the entire game and the Flyers managed to hang on and beat the Penguins to keep the series alive. Then (finally) came some good news when Timonen was pronounced fit to play in Game 5. It could've been the storybook lift that propelled the team. But it wasn't meant to be. The high-powered Penguins completely dominated the Flyers ending the series, and the Flyers season, by a 6-0 score.
Just on a side note, the elimination of the Flyers by the Penguins marked the 100th straight season among the four major sports teams in Philadelphia without a championship. That means no titles in baseball, basketball, football or hockey since 1983. Now that's a drought.
So what have we learned about the Flyers? We know that general manager Paul Holmgren has done a fantastic job in rebuilding the club. The team won 20 more games than the year before and young stars like Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Coburn came into their own.
We've learned that the team is resilient. They overcame a February swoon that saw them lose 10 straight games and slip out of the playoff picture, only to rebound and finish as the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference. They were able to overcome serious injuries to stars like Richards and Simon Gagne and make it deep into the playoffs.
Holmgren needs to take a look at defensemen available as free agents this summer. A couple of names to watch could be Brian Campbell, John-Michael Liles, Michal Rozsival, Dmitri Kalinin and Mike Commodore. The Flyers need to get younger and deeper on defense. Hatcher was absolutely amazing in the playoffs, logging more ice time than anyone else on the team. But his knees are shot and he can't be counted on as a shutdown defender anymore.
I'd say goodbye to late-season additions Vinny Prospal (virtually invisible in the playoffs) and Jaroslav Modry. Young defenseman Ryan Parent earned a full-time job this season.
Another priority will be re-signing Jeff Carter, a restricted free agent. The price will be high, but I think he's worth it. The Flyers might end up dealing playoff scoring machine R.J. Umberger, another restricted free agent. His value is probably at its peak now and I have full confidence that Paul Holmgren will be able to make a deal to improve the team.
This season was supposed to be about getting better. I thought I'd be happy with a playoff berth. I had no idea the ride would last five games into the conference finals. Sure, Flyers fans are disappointed with the outcome. But after last season, they have reason to smile.
Jeff Lyons, senior managing editor of the Philadelphia Bar Reporter and Bar Reporter Online, is a fanatical Philadelphia sports fan now solely focused on the rollercoaster that is the Philadelphia Phillies. His e-mail address is email@example.com.