I tend to be pessimistic but hopeful. I can see the Flyers getting off to another bad start but not being non competitive like they were last year. The team made a lot of moves after February, some I like, some I like less, some seem to come with question marks.
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I wanted them to sign Drury but they ended up with Briere so I was a little disappointed there. I hope he doesn't regress to what he was in Phoenix. Buffalo fans claim he's not much of a self motivator. I liked the trade for Lupul and Smith but wonder whether Lupul will be Calder (who knows). If he is then we've given up Pitkanen for Smith and that's not making me feel all that good. While I really see potential in Upshall I'm a little gunshy about his injury history. He can't seem to make it through the season. Hartnell seems a gritty pick up but can he score his share. A lot is riding on Carter, Umberger and Richards and their performance this season. Downie will be waiting in the wings should they stumble but they're third year players who all crashed to some extent last year. When the team started to go bad they weren't picking it up. Richards and Carter lost a quarter of the season for the second consecutive year. Gagne's a star and Knuble has two cup rings. Sami can only see his prime in the rear view mirror. Is Holmgren thinking Jim Dowd is our defensive stopper? If he's not, who does he think it is because Richards tried it last year and was over matched. Other than a couple forwards there's a question mark stapled to the back of most of the offense.
Coburn may turn out to be my favourite player and Parent certainly sounds like a keeper but they're both raw right now. Picard can be up and down because he's young and probably needs more seasoning. Smith and Timmonen, you simply can't find any fault in these two pickups. They're solid veteran defensemen who will stop the jail breaks our goalies experienced last year. Hatcher and Gauthier have something to prove. Lasse Kukkonen is an intelligent shot blocker and moves the puck well.
Biron is an upgrade from both of our goalies from last year. If he's healthy he's got a foot up on them. Can he carry a team when things don't go our way? Who knows. Nittymaki is watching and waiting. Boucher is across the parking lot trying to win his way back to the NHL.
Certainly they've upgraded the team tremendously but has it been enough to get into the playoffs. You have to figure the top three are set: Ottowa, NYR, and Pittsburgh. Buffalo (they haven't lost Miller) and Tampa, should both make the playoffs. That leaves three spots for Toronto (one point out last year), Carolina (finalist two years ago), Atlanta (Won the Southeast last year), Washington (People, you can roll your eyes but this team is the Penguins from last year with a better goalie and a worse defense), New Jersey (Brodeur) and the Flyers. It's going to be a dogfight.
I think there are situations lurking around this team that I don't like. Rathje is front and centre right now. How will this affect the team in training camp and to start the season? If they get off to a slow start how long of a leash does Stevens have and who do we have waiting in the wings? Terry Murray? Joey Mullen? Is that something to look forward too? Will the slow start cause the team to panic and dump salary to sign Forsberg? Is that really a Circus we want to revisit and how do you seperate him from Gagne if Gagne and Briere are clicking. Does he see himself as a second line centre behind Briere?
I'll go into the season cautiously optimistic but I can see a real struggle to make the playoffs. There's a lot riding on a group of unproven players. Can Gagne, Knuble, Briere, Timmonen,Smith and Biron carry them to a playoff spot? Maybe Tavares will be in the draft next year and this year we'll win the lottery and it'll all be fate. Just stacking my deck.
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