The Philadelphia Flyers will look to improve on their 99-point, fifth-placed finish that ultimately ended in a first round exit. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Bullies are rarely mathematicians.
As such, the Philadelphia Flyers have tried to stuff way too many high-priced bodies in their dressing room and face an impending salary cap crisis one year from now.
The Flyers have nearly $46 million committed to 13 lucky – financially, at least – players for 2010-11. If the cap falls as severely as some expect for that season, Philly could be left pounding the calculator in an attempt to sort out signing about seven players for a total of roughly $4 million.
Maybe their next move should be finding out if Albert Einstein has any relatives interested in the incredibly rewarding yet underappreciated academic discipline of capology.
But while Philadelphia management will be tied up with graphs and charts next season, the players will be doing wonderful things with sticks and pucks.
At this point, it goes without saying that goaltending is an issue in Philly. Like disappointment in Cleveland, big bucks in the Bronx or Patriots winning games in New England, the fact the Flyers will strap pads on understudies and let the chips fall where they may is just an accepted aspect of the North American sports scene.
However, the rest of the roster is getting so good it might not matter whether or not Ray Emery and Brian Boucher hit the high note.
Detroit got bad goaltending all year last season and still finished with 112 points.
Don’t think the Orange and Black belong in the same breath as the Red Wings? Maybe your brain is still strangled up by those numbers I threw out earlier.
Over the past 10 years, Nicklas Lidstrom has been most often cited as the game’s best defenseman. The two guys who most consistently threatened to knock him off the block were Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger. In case you missed it, Pronger, four years Lidstrom’s junior, is now a Flyer.
That creates a 1-2 of Pronger and Kimmo Timonen on the back end, something Philly fans should be excited about. Additional optimism comes in the form of the continued development of young blueliners Braydon Coburn, Ryan Parent and Matt Carle.
If all three of those players – of whom Carle is the oldest at 24 – take another step forward, look out.
Up front, Detroit boasts an MVP candidate in two-way dynamo Pavel Datsyuk. Mike Richards isn’t on that level, but few contribute as thoroughly in all aspects of the game as the Flyers captain. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Richards post a heart-and-soul 85-point campaign that earns him a Hart nomination in the next couple years.
Jeff Carter can’t hound like Henrik Zetterberg (who does?), but he’s rapidly becoming one of the league’s truly elite snipers. Daniel Briere carries a crippling contract, but the little guy is due for a big bounce-back season – which is our cue to mention Simon Gagne, who returned last year from injury to confirm his status as the league’s quietest top-tier goal-scorer.
Losing Mike Knuble hurts, especially on the power play, but 21-year-old Claude Giroux is ready to play a bigger role.
Top to bottom, Philadelphia’s stable of skaters stack up against any in the league.
The team hedged its bets by bringing in Emery and Boucher, hoping, between the two of them, they can stop most of the shots that get through a tight defense for the discount rate of a combined $2.5 million in salary.
Investing money saved from the blue paint and putting it into the blueline is the blueprint Detroit has previously used for success, as Wings GM Ken Holland told THN after winning the 2008 Cup:
“If another team pays $4-5 million a year for a goalie, we’ll pay $1-1.5 million and sink the rest of our money into defense.”
If that plan works as well for Philly as it did for Detroit, the Flyers will be sorting out their cap issues over champagne next summer.
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Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear regularly in the off-season and his column, Top Shelf, appears Wednesdays.
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