I think the Flyers are better now, at least on paper, than they were one year ago.
Mike Richards and Jeff Carter coming off of up and down seasons, Joffrey Lupul coming in from a dreadful year in Edmonton, a huge lack of mobility and dependability on the back end, a starting goalie that had never seen a playoff game from the ice....
Now, 12 months later, Richards has established himself as the Robert Earle Clarke of my kid's generation. Carter looks to be a perfect Rick MacLeish to Richie's sheer balls. Simon Gagne's health is a question mark, but if he can come back at even 90%, they have a top line gunner, capable of 35-40 goals, who plays a good two way game.
Lupul seems to have rediscovered his mojo after his hometown disaster. Scottie Upshall seems to have realized what he needs to do to stick in the NHL. Scott Hartnell and Mike Knuble did exactly what they were expected to do, and should repeat that this season.
Riley Cote has made himself become a NHL player. Patrick Thoresen is a good player, despite the fact he can't score a goal. Glen Metropolit is an improvement over Jersey Jim Dowd in most areas. Claude Giroux looks like he could easily match RJ Umberger's lost offense, and perhaps Steve Downie will use this summer to hone his game and body like Cote did last summer.
Also, looking at the defense, I'd argue that it is actually better than the group that started last year. Kimmo Timonen is a borderline elite defenseman. But Braydon Coburn's huge strides have moved him from being a good young kid with potential to being a good, top pairing defenseman, who will only get better. Derian Hatcher had the same balky knees last year. And this will be his last year-outside of Knuble, this is a young core of players. Randy Jones, should he stay, has taken major strides.
EDIT: Jones was signed to a 2 year, $5.5mm contract, according to the Philadelphia Daily News' Ed Moran: http://www.philly.com/phi..._forward__defenseman.html
Lasse Kukkonen has proved that he's not only a decent third pair defenseman, but that he's a team guy. Not everyone would have taken his long benching with the degree of professionalism he did. True, they lose Jason Smith's grit, leadership and toughness, but they also lose his lack of speed, poor puckhandling and inability to clear the puck when pressed.
Steve Eminger and Ossi Vaananen both have better puck skills and mobility than Smith does. And while I'd love to add a Wade Redden or Brian Campbell type player, under the salary cap, it's not feasible. Names like Jeff Finger, Mike Commodore, Ron Hainsey and Kurt Sauer are, in reality, just expensive lateral movements.
This isn't me trying to praise Paul Holmgren, but looking at the sheer....obscenity of the contracts tossed around today, I'd rather roll into battle with this group than have the forwards decimated to add Hainsey or a like player.
It does contradict some of my earlier sentiments, but those were sentiments held before the orgy of dumb that takes place every July 1st in our league.
Do the Flyers have a perfect squad? No, not at all. But they also didn't have one 12 months ago. Looking around, there's at least 28 other teams that have imperfect rosters, too.
Yeah, Detroit is f**king scary as Hell.
In closing, does this mean that there won't be more changes? Nope. Does it mean that falling short of the ECF is a step backwards? Not necessarily. The goal this year, short of winning the Stanley Cup, has to be gaining consistency in performance, effort and execution. With one eye on the short term success, and one on the long term success, this team is just growing and being nurtured.