30 in 30: Flyers add veterans, expect better season
Back in July, on the day the Philadelphia Flyers introduced their three biggest offseason signings, chairman Ed Snider was asked if his team was better with the additions of defenseman Mark Streit, goalie Ray Emery and center Vincent Lecavalier.
"You don't add three terrific players like that without getting better," Snider said. "We're better, no question about it."
There might be no question in the mind of the Flyers' founding father, but others might not be so sure.
In the summer of 2011 the Flyers signed Ilya Bryzgalov to a nine-year, $51.5 million contract in the hope he could be the undisputed long-term answer to the never-ending goaltending question in Philadelphia. Instead, he turned out to be what general manager Paul Holmgren called a "costly mistake," and in June the Flyers used one of their compliance buyouts to terminate the final seven years of Bryzgalov's deal. They'll pay him more than $1.6 million not to play in Philadelphia this season, or about the same amount they'll pay Emery to split time in net with Steve Mason.
Mason, acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets in April, was impressive in seven late-season games, going 4-2-0 with a 1.90 goals-against average and .944 save percentage. But that came after four mostly down seasons following his dazzling Calder Trophy-winning season in 2008-09.
Emery, playing behind an elite defense with the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks, went 17-1-0 in 21 games, and was third in the League with a 1.94 GAA. However, the last time Emery was a full-time starter was his first time in Philadelphia, the 2009-10 season. And when the 30-year-old looks at the defense now in front of him, he certainly won't see Duncan Keith or Brent Seabrook.
Holmgren, who traded for Mason and signed Emery, said he was more than satisfied with what his team has in net.
"They're both good goalies that we like," Holmgren said. "Steve's a young guy (25) who obviously started out with a bang and had a couple down years. I think last year, even in his time in Columbus, it looked like he had bounced back, and we were certainly happy with the way he played for us at the end of the year.
"When you've got two good goalies that you're comfortable with, they're both extremely competitive, both very athletic, both good teammates … I think it's a real positive for our team."
Holmgren was effusive about Streit, the puck-moving defenseman he felt his team was missing last season.
"[Streit is] the type of defenseman we need," Holmgren said in July, "a guy who can play on the power play, a guy who can provide offense [at] 5-on-5, a defenseman who gets up in the rush and joins the rush, and at times can lead the rush and make plays come out of our end. We've needed that."
Streit has averaged 46 points the past six seasons he's been healthy (he sat out 2010-11 with a shoulder injury). However, he's 35, adding another veteran to a group that features one player younger than 27 in its projected top six: 23-year-old Luke Schenn. That position also was the most fragile on the team, with seven defensemen ending the season on the injured list and 13 players skating at least one game, tied for the most in the NHL.
Streit said he believes he's not the average 35-year-old, mainly because he didn't arrive in the NHL until 2005, when he was 28.
"I think it's a big difference when you're 35 and you've played 15 years in the League or you've played eight," Streit said. "The wear and tear is big in hockey, in the NHL. I feel great, I'm healthy. I had one unfortunate season with the Islanders when I was hurt the whole year, but other than that I've played almost all the games every year, so I'm in good shape and I want to play for a long time and I really think I can help this team."
It's a unit that could use some help. Braydon Coburn and Nicklas Grossmann, expected to be the top shut-down pair, combined for a minus-11 rating and had their seasons ended by injuries in late March. Andrej Meszaros had a slow start recovering from offseason back surgery, played 11 games and was done in late March because of a shoulder injury.
The most productive member of the unit was 38-year-old Kimmo Timonen, who had 29 points in 45 games and gutted out more than a month with a broken foot before sitting out the final three games of the season.
About the only benefit to the late-season rash of injuries that also claimed Kent Huskins (concussion) and Bruno Gervais (torn stomach muscle) was a chance to get prime NHL playing time for younger players Erik Gustafsson, Oliver Lauridsen and Brandon Manning. Lauridsen, at 6-foot-6, 220 pounds, is the most intriguing of the three.
Though Streit's offensive ability is something the Flyers were missing, Lauridsen's size and physicality are something the Flyers haven't had on a consistent basis since Chris Pronger left the lineup in November 2011. Lauridsen had two goals in 15 NHL games (one more than he had in 59 games in the American Hockey League), 35 hits and 34 penalty minutes.
"I think he made a big jump last year at the end of the year," Flyers director of player development Ian Laperriere told NHL.com. "We called him up because of injuries and he played really well. He played physical, he fought, he scored, which was a very nice surprise because he's not known to be a goal-scorer. He played really well for us last year."
The Flyers hope any issues they have on the back end will be more than compensated for with their offense. They had a deep group of forwards prior to signing Lecavalier to a five-year contract to upgrade the second-line center spot left open when Daniel Briere was bought out of his contract.
It's likely Lecavalier will center a second line with wings Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds. The question is whether Lecavalier, 33, can keep pace with the up-tempo offensive attack preached by coach Peter Laviolette, and if he can stay in the lineup. He has played 65 games or fewer the past three seasons, and he missed nine games with a broken foot last season. Lecavalier said he feels strong and is excited to be a part of Laviolette's system.
"I want to be on my toes when I play the game, I don't want to be on my heels," he said in July. "He [Laviolette] is a very smart coach. When you get that puck, you want to go, you want to skate, you want to play in [the offensive] zone. From playing against them, here in Philly and Carolina, I thought it was a really tough team to play against. That's why I want to be part of it.
"I feel good, I feel healthy. The last injury I've had -- the last three -- were blocked shots."
The top line will feature Claude Giroux, who should be recovered from August surgery to repair torn tendons in his right index finger sustained during a mishap at a golf outing, between Scott Hartnell and the breakout star from last season, Jakub Voracek. The 24-year-old had a career-best 22 goals and was second on the team with 46 points (Giroux had 48).
The Flyers have solid depth on the lower lines. A third line of Couturier between Matt Read and Tye McGinn will be solid defensively and contribute offensively, especially if Couturier and Read can return to the level of their rookie seasons of 2011-12. A fourth line of Adam Hall, Maxime Talbot and Zac Rinaldo has the potential to create chaos in small doses.
"I like our team," Holmgren said. "I like our chances. I think we have a good mix of young and old, some skill, some players who maybe are a little more gritty. So, I really like our team. … We continue to look for any ways we can improve our team, but I think we're a team that is certainly competitive right now."
FLYERS OFFSEASON OUTLOOK