Every year since 1975 Flyers fans have been stuck asking "is this our year?" or muttering the phrase come spring time "there's always next season." Many times over the years Flyers fans have watched the Orange and Black come so close to reclaiming Lord Stanley but falling short in the end. While factoring in injuries and 'down' seasons I'm going to look at the case for the 2013-14 season as being the Flyers year.
The 2013-14 Flyers roster boasts the potential of an extremely talented top 3 lines. In all honesty there are very few teams in the league with as much offensive skill as the Flyers have on their top 9 forwards. Their first line could look like Voracek-Giroux-Hartnell. This line is very balanced and the Giroux-Voracek combination took off last season once paired together, hopefully that chemistry carries over. Hartnell adds a nice scoring touch and toughness around the net to make them one of the hardest lines to match up against. The 2nd line will most likely be Simmonds-Lecavalier-B. Schenn. Simmonds has proven to be a hard-nosed player who can put up 20-25 goals. Schenn has shown flashes of offensive skill and will need to continue to work on his consistency to really help the team this season. The unexpected signing of Lecavalier is a key component to this line and this team moving forward. He is only 31 and had a few down years in TB recently but that is no reason to knock him. He has essentially been a PPG player and his pure offensive ability and size will make for some very tough match-up decisions from opposing teams. His presence will also take some pressure off of his linemates, and more importantly Giroux. The third line is beginning to look like Read-Couturier-TBD. Read has proven he can be a 25-30 goal scorer in this league in only 2 seasons. This will give Couturier some much needed help on the wing having a player with Read's speed, hands and shot in the offensive zone. Couturier is poised for a breakout year. He struggled by many people's terms last year but was right on pace with points from his rookie season and towards the end of the year was really playing his best games alongside the likes of Matt Read and Simon Gagne. If he can use his frame and develop a bit more of a power forward game and really tap into his offensive prowess he could become a force to be reckoned with in the eastern conference. The winger slot is still to be determined as it could be filled by many players on the roster. One option is the feisty Max Talbot, but he may be better served centering a 4th line energy group and remaining one of the teams top penalty killers. Tye McGinn showed he belonged in the NHL last year until an injury cut his season short. He is a big body with pretty decent speed and a very good net presence. If he could chip in offensively and create space for his linemates this 3rd line could be and absolute nightmare for teams to put up as their skill would certainly over-match many other teams 3rd lines. The 4th line of Rinaldo/Cousins/Laughton-Talbot-Rosehill/Hall is a mixed bag of players at the moment. Laughton/Cousins could potentially make this team out of camp or be put on reserve notice for the season in the AHL. Laughton is not eligible for the AHL so he essentially has a 10-game tryout to prove he belongs in the big leagues. The Flyers have the depth and potential to be a very strong offensive team during the upcoming season.
The Defense Isn't As Bad As You Think
The Flyers defense got a bad rap last seasons due to numerous injuries to them. The only player on the backend who played the entire season was Luke Schenn. Due to the salary cap situation one of the Flyers defensemen will most likely be moved in a salary dump before the season starts. The two most popular picks are Coburn or Meszaros. Given their abilities I feel Meszaros will be moved to a team looking for defensive depth for a late round draft pick. Coburn had a down year but he was also looked at to be Pronger's replacement, which he is not. He is a very good defensive defenseman who has some offensive ability. He is very smart in his own end and his speed is incredible. Here's what the defense will look like for the upcoming year. Unit 1 should be Timmonen and Coburn. This is a pairing which has historically done very well together given how much their games compliment one another. Hopefully teaming them up again will give Coburn his game back and help him become a very good player again. The 2nd pairing will most likely look like Streit and Schenn. Streit will help the transition game and the play in the offensive zone greatly after last seasons struggles. Schenn will continue his growth and maintain his rough and tumble style of play to solidify the defensive zone and make up for Streit's shortcoming in his own end. The 3rd pairing will most likely feature Erik Gustaffson and Grossman. Hopefully Grossman can say healthy this season and Gustaffson can improve on an impressive 2013 season with the club. Gustaffson's speed and quick passing can be very useful when facing lesser matchups as a 3rd pairing and Grossman brings a booming shot and nastiness in front of his own net. There are also players like Oliver Lauridsen, Bruno Gervais and Brandon Manning who will most likely see time with the club this year and provide great depth when any injuries may occur. The Flyers look strong on defense this year contrary to the popular belief.
Gone is Bryzgalov. Steve Mason showed flashes of his rookie season in a 7-game tryout last season. One can only hope he has re-found his game and Jeff Reese can make him into the goaltender he was projected to be only 4 short years ago. Then there is the Razor, Ray Emery. Emery returns to Philly just after winning a Stanley Cup with Chicago and posting an amazing 17-1-0 record in the regular season. Say what you will about the team, NO GOALIE can win 17 games with out being very good regardless of the team in front of them. Emery will give good competition to Mason and make him stay sharp plus be able to provide relief and not have a significant drop off in talent like in recent years with the backups. He has also shown he can be a team player from the bench when not in the cage and this may be the biggest key to the Flyers success this upcoming season. They finally have a locker room which is at peace. No more headaches from Bryz's media circus and what has started to leak out was a toxic relationship with his teammates.
Front Office and Coaching
Welcome home Ron Hextall. He returns to Philadelphia after spending the last 7 years building the LA Kings into a potential force to be reckoned with for the next 5 years. He was the man who oversaw their entire minor league operations and player development. The Kings have many very good home-grown players and the Flyers are looking for Hextall to help them save a dying farm system and rebuild the prospect pipeline. Hextall is also going to light a fire under Holmgren as he now knows their is a chance his job could be gone by mid-December if this team doesn't perform. Holmgren has made some very good moves this offseason in retooling the team, but he needs to let them develop together now. The core is in place with Giroux, Voracek, Schenn, Simmonds, Read and Couturier at the NHL level and Laughton and Cousins waiting in the wings for their chance.
Laviolette also needs to get this team back on the same page. They need to get back to his signature style of up-tempo forecheck and speed. The team in 2010 mastered this and nearly took home the Cup. They will need to be a little tighter in their own end at times, but the tandem of Mason and Emery should provide them more than enough good goaltending to allow this system to flourish. If these goalies can do what Bryzgalov never did, which is steal a game in the playoffs and shut the door, the team will be poised for a long playoff run.
While there are many variables to this including injuries, trades and down years I do believe the Flyers will be strong contenders for the Stanley Cup come next spring. They have a very good combination of youth, skill, toughness and veteran leadership, not too mention a group of players who have been through the rigors of long playoff runs in the past. This year the Flyers have that chance to say "yes" when asked the question of is this our year?