Questions heading into Flyers training camp

Chris Pronger, shown above, rehabbing his surgically worked on right knee. Photo/Flyers

 

We are a little less that a month away from the defending Eastern Conference Champion Philadelphia Flyers opening training camp. After the success of last postseason, expectations are even higher than normal for the orange & black. But despite the team coming up only two wins short of raising Lord Stanley’s Cup last June, there are plenty of questions going in to the season. 

Pronger’s Health: You can say all you want about the strong play of Michael Leighton in the playoffs, Mike Richards morphing into a true leader during the postseason, the Danny Briere/ Scott Hartnell/Leino line dominating the playoffs, & Peter Laviolette’s coaching. 

However, the sole reason the Flyers even made the playoffs was because of the nastiest S.O.B. in the league, Chris Pronger. When times were tough throughout many parts of the season, it was in large part due to the presence of Pronger that the team stayed afloat enough to finish 7th in the conference. You could argue that had the Flyers won the cup, Pronger would have won the Conn Smythe Trophy as most valuable player in the playoffs. 

Despite the losing effort, Pronger was the best player on the ice for both teams during the finals. However during the offseason Pronger underwent arthroscopic surgery on his knee, and even he isn’t sure if he’ll be ready for the start of training camp or even the start of the regular season on October 7th. Even if it’s the worst case scenario, & he misses a few games at the start of the season, it’s really not a big deal, personally I’d rather take it a little slow with him, simply because he’s so valuable to the team. But my fear is that at age 35, maybe father time will start to catch up to him & “minor” injuries like this will affect him more now than they did in the past. If we want to be playing in June again, there is no doubt we need a healthy #20 

Role players need to step up: We all know who our top guys are; Richards & Jeff Carter. There is no doubt that they both have the ability to be top 20 players in the league, & obviously they need to play at their best for us to have a chance at the cup, but for me, it’s the “other guys” that need to play a huge role in the orange & black’s success in 2010-11. 

If you’d never watched a Flyers game before last season’s playoffs, you would think that Scott Hartnell, Claude Giroux & Danny Briere were three of the top players in the league, indeed they played great in the playoffs, but they all had sub par regular seasons, which helped lead us to the problem of barely making it in, in the first place. Villie Leino was practically given to us by Detroit at the deadline, & was a healthy scratch during much of the rest of the regular season. 

Photo/AP

 

It wasnt until Jeff Carter’s injury in game 4 of the 1st round that Leino got his chance, and boy did he come up big, but for the Flyers to make it back he needs to continue his stellar play from the playoffs. The wild card in all this is Nikolai Zherdev, he will be asked to fill the scoring void left by Simon Gagne. 

There is no doubt this guy has a ton of talent (you don’t get drafted #4 overall without it) but he was exiled to Russia last season after he couldn’t come to terms on a contract with the Rangers, or any of the other 29 teams. So he has a lot to prove this season on a 1 year deal, lets hope that Laviolette can get the most out of him 

Stop me when you’ve heard this before…….Goaltending: I’ve been following the Flyers since 1995, and not once since then have we had a truly solid, reliable #1 goalie, we’ve had plenty of “good” goalies (Hextall, Snow, Vanbiesbrouck, Hackett, Burke, Boucher, Cechmanek, Esche, Niittymaki, Biron, Emery) but Flyers fans haven’t had a guy that they truly trust. Whether its fair or not, that will continue this season with Michael Leighton between the pipes. Personally, I feel that with the stacked defense in front of him, we have a goalie who can take us to a parade down Broad Street. 

If Leighton goes back to being the career journeyman/AHL goalie that he has been his whole career, there will be references made to the fact that we could have had Marty Turco, Evgeni Nabakov, Dan Ellis, Chris Mason, or possibly a few others by way of free agency or trade. 

It’s hard to predict how a teams season will turn out. There are a ton of variables. I never like predicting things based “on paper” but I feel confident in saying that if (fingers crossed) everyone plays to there potential & we can avoid the injury bug as best as possible, we are just as good, if not better than anyone in the Eastern Conference.

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