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Flyers' Woes At Center

on Monday, 29 August 2011.

Replacing The Core Of Their Line Up

Flyers' Woes At Center
Michael Nylander was invited to training camp on August 17th by the Philadelphia Flyers.  The Swedish-born journeyman center last played in the NHL during the '08-'09 season with the Washington Capitals.  A fourth round draft pick by the Hartford Whalers in 1991, the 38-year-old has spent the past few seasons splitting time between the American Hockey League and the Finnish Elite League.  This is a desperate move to bring a modicum of talent to the position after this summer’s self-immolation.

With Mike Richards and Jeff Carter now gone the Flyers are left scrambling to replace young talent.  Danny Briere, their default number one center, has the soft hands and the sense to be in the right spot that make him a threat as a playmaker as well as a goal scorer (34 goals, 34 assists last season).  He does not, however, have the size or ability to create the net presence required of a first line center.  It was necessary for Richards and Carter to play their roles on other lines in order to allow Briere to excel on his own.  Without them Briere’s play will suffer.

And so we come to Michael Nylander, a man who can stick handle in a phone booth.  Or at least he could.  Nylander had the skills of a playmaker.  I watched him loop around and around at the Verizon Center, playing keep away in the high slot.  Between the top of the circles and the blue line he could command the puck to duck and dive on the end of his stick with ease.  With a curl and drag he would pass it away, with mediocre results (24 assists in '08-'09).  Several years older and a step behind the pace of the big time, he is the best answer the Flyers have.

What are their other options?  They signed Maxime Talbot from their Pennsylvania Turnpike rival Pittsburgh Penguins on July 1.  Last year was his first full 82-game season and he scored a meager 21 points.  Blair Betts scored even fewer.  You may say that scoring isn’t their role, but with the loss of Richards and Carter, I’d like to know just where points are going to come from.  Sure, they signed an aging Jagr to a one year deal, but that is a novelty.  It is a sideshow of a sideshow.  He’ll be injured within the first twenty games and his loss will not be missed.

No, with the center position whittled down they will rely much more on their wingers for scoring.  Claude Giroux entered the league firing and I see no reason why he should slow down this season, barring injury.  In only two-and-a-half seasons he has already amassed 150 points.  Look for a career year from him.  Scott Hartnell will have to press harder this year for his team to maintain scoring.  He’ll need to match his career highs of 30 goals, and 30 assists from the '08-'09 season to make up for the departed.

Of course, Paul Holmgren and Bobby Clarke will get a pass on this summer’s dealings if Ilya Bryzgalov pans out.  And by pans out I mean they win 40+ games.  To lose so much offensive talent the team must get supreme defensive value in return.  Bryzgalov has toiled in anonymity out west for the Ducks and Coyotes, earning a career goals against average of 2.53 and 23 shutouts.  While his stats are not stellar, it is true the man has talent and the Flyer brass is wagering that, with a talented team in front of him, Bryzgalov can rise to the next level.  That’s a nine-year, $51 million wager.  That’s close to Rick DiPietro money.  Go ask Mike Milbury how that worked out.  Let’s hope Bobby Clarke isn’t calling games on Versus next year.

It is still unfathomable to me why a team would sell off its key components in such a destructive way.  The reasoning is incredibly unclear.  For a team that had been to the Stanley Cup Finals two seasons earlier and to the Eastern Conference Finals the previous season, auctioning off their best and brightest players smacks of lunacy.  The Philadelphia Flyers are not the Florida Marlins.  They are not the small market team that played the game by the rules and made it big, only to fall apart under the weight of economics.  They are, or were, an upper echelon organization, an elite team.  They were on the cusp of a championship.  Now they are an experiment.  Now they must invite aged warriors back into their halls to fill in the gaps in their formation, having sacrificed their best in acts of pitiful rage.

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