(also posted on HockeyAnalysis.com)
What they lost: The heart of their offense. Gone are LeClair, Recchi, Amonte, Roenick, and Zhamnov. That’s four future-Hall of Famers gone in one extended offseason. Four of their top five scorers, and five of their top ten are gone. No team in the division was harder hit on offense than the Flyers.
What they gained: Peter Forsberg, one of the all-time great talents in the game, has come back to Philly. Unfortunately for the Flyers, he isn’t the same player he was when they originally gave him up for Eric Lindros. Forsberg still has the talent to win the Hart trophy, but he averages less games played than the Big E over the past five years. Mike Knuble will be a great fit in Philly with size and a scoring touch, and Turner Stevenson will toughen up the offense. Philly also picked up a huge trio on defense… Chris Therien, Mike Rathje, and Derian Hatcher. This is a gamble on GM Bobby Clarke’s part. With added emphasis on speed and puck-movement in this new NHL, big guys like these could get left behind and prove to be a weakness. We’ll have to wait and see if size-over-skill pays off on D for Philly. One way or another, Hatcher is a great pickup for the team. He was captain for coach Ken Hitchcock when they won the Cup together in Dallas in ’99, and you can’t underestimate player/coach chemistry like that.
Staying at home: Captain Keith Primeau is still there, and that is great news for Philly. With Mark Messier and Scott Stevens retiring, that leaves Primeau as the most tenacious captain in the division. Simon Gagne will be expected to step up his offensive game this season big time. Robert Esche and Antero Nittymaki will probably end up in the middle of a goalie controversy at some point this season, and I believe Nittymaki is the better of the two. Jeff Carter and Mike Richards are stepping up from the AHL champ Phantoms and right into important roles in the Flyers offense. Michael Handzus is the only remaining player from the Flyers top five scorers from last season.
Bottom line: The Flyers lost 99 of the 229 goals they scored last season by letting their big four forwards go, and are replacing them with two rookies and three forwards who combined for 53 goals last season. Philadelphia’s hockey team has been cursed in two areas for the past decade: injuries and goaltending, and those fortunes don’t seem to be changing just yet. They go into training camp without Forsberg, Hatcher, and Kapanen because of injuries. Esche won’t last the whole season as starter and Nittymaki will take over around the Olympic break. Lack of consistency up front, speed on the blue line, and steadiness in net will leave them in 3rd in the division. If they are healthy come playoff time, they will be a legitimate threat for the Cup.