If ABC ever runs out of ideas for new soap operas, network executives should look no further than the 2009-2010 Philadelphia Flyers. An Academy Award-winning screenwriter couldn’t write a better drama than what unfolded in southeast Pennsylvania last season. Though the script didn’t end with the quintessential championship victory, the Flyers still earned the respect of the NHL. With the team’s core returning, a sequel is not out of the question.
Save The Date (season matchups): November 7 in Washington; November 20 in Washington; January 18 in Philadelphia; March 22 in Philadelphia.
Stocking Stuffers (notable additions): D Andrej Meszaros (traded from Tampa Bay); D Sean O’Donnell (free agency from Los Angeles); D Matt Walker (traded from Tampa Bay); RW Nikolai Zherdev (KHL).
Gift Receipts (notable subtractions): LW Simon Gagne (traded to Tampa Bay); RW Arron Asham (free agency to Pittsburgh).
Ghosts Of Christmas Past (last season): 41-35-6 – Third in Atlantic Division – Seventh in Eastern Conference
Calling the Flyers’ season a soap opera might be an understatement. Perhaps it could even be an epic action movie. Philadelphia battled adversity in a variety of ways (injuries, a divided locker room and a slow start), overcame said adversity by making the playoffs on the last day of the regular season and carried the newfound momentum into the Stanley Cup Finals. Let’s bullet point the season. Add dramatic music and dialogue to your liking.
– A season of promise quickly turned sour. By Christmas, the Flyers were losers of 14 of 17 (punctuated by a 8-2 drubbing from the Capitals) and only Carolina had fewer points in the NHL standings.
– Even before that, new Flyer Chris Pronger called out captain Mike Richards’ ability to lead, which divided an already testy locker room.
– Richards was already having a disappointing season. Other than his leadership abilities being called into question, his hit on Florida’s David Booth gave him and the Flyers even more negative press. Add to that the firing of coach and close friend John Stevens and Richards’ confidence nosedived. Keep in mind that this all happened before the Olympic break.
– Important producers Danny Briere, Scott Hartnell and Jeff Carter all struggled. Briere and Carter battled injuries, while Hartnell’s goal count plummeted from 30 in 2008-2009 to 14 in 2009-2010.
Here’s where things turn around.
– Once the NHL returned in March, the Flyers didn’t get the inspired comeback that most would expect in a movie. Philadelphia went 9-10-3, but with luck and a shootout win in the last game of the season against the New York Rangers, the Flyers snuck into the playoffs as the seventh seed.
– That inspired comeback finally kicked in during the postseason. The Flyers more or less embarrassed the New Jersey Devils in the first round in five games. The Flyers then made an improbable comeback from a 3-0 deficit against Boston before derailing the other feel-good story of the playoffs, Montreal, in five games to reach the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1996-97.
-Down 2-0 after two games to the Chicago Blackhawks, the Flyers won Games 3 and 4 before losing in Game 6 after G Michael Leighton gave up a soft goal.
Got all that?
Wish List (season outlook): Philadelphia took a cue from hometown hero Rocky Balboa last season, but might not need that this season. Hartnell and Briere had career resurrections in the playoffs; Hartnell had 17 points in 23 games and Briere led the NHL with 30 playoff points after having only 53 during the regular season. The addition of KHL crossover Nikolai Zherdev to the top line could help ignite Carter and Richards and will minimize the impact of Gagne’s loss as well.
The defense, led by Pronger, should be one of the most intimidating in the league on both ends. Pronger, Kimmo Timonen, Matt Carle and Braydon Coburn present a formidable top four, while James van Riemsdyk and newly acquired defensemen Andrej Meszaros, Matt Walker and Sean O’Donnell will round out one of the NHL’s best bluelines.
The question mark lies in the goaltending department (sound familiar, Caps fans?). The Ray Emery experiment failed, but the repatriated Brian Boucher carried the load and played well before suffering an injury down the stretch. Leighton has turned into a reliable starter, but as evidenced by the Cup-winning goal, there is room for improvement.
If Leighton and Boucher play to their capabilities and the forwards excel from the start, the Flyers are in contention for the happy ending that alluded them this summer. Stay tuned.