PHILADELPHIA FLYERS COOKED

The Flyers lost their third game in a row tonight, virtually eliminating them from the Playoffs. There is a very minuscule chance for the Flyers to sneak into the Playoff Picture, however, they would need help from a bunch of teams that are ahead of them. The Flyers Number 1 Ranked Power Play is now 0-for April. Their penalty kill is ranked third. So, judging this season cannot place blame on the Special Teams.

Ok…well with adversity comes questions and the blame game will begin. Many fans have called for the ousting of Paul Holmgren. Although Holmgren has made many good moves in free agency as well as trades, he has failed to sign the players to get this team over the hump. Nonetheless, Holmgren did try and sign Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, Zach Parise and trade for Rick Nash in the offseason. The Flyers brass was unsuccessful with all of these players.

It is no coincidence that ever since star defenseman Chris Pronger went down with post concussion syndrome, this Flyers team has not been the same. And while the Flyers were trying to sign the top free agents and trade for the best talent, they lost some of their own key players. Matt Carle, who came to the Flyers from the Tampa Bay Lightning, had grown into a top tier defenseman and was lost in free agency. The Flyers also lost Jaromir Jagr, who really had a comeback season and made all of the Flyers youth get better.

Lets take a look at why this season has went downhill. First and foremost, the teams major weakness was their Defense and turnovers. As mentioned earlier, the Flyers did try to address their defense in free agency and also at the trade deadline, but were not willing to part with their young talent. However, Holmgren did trade budding young star James Van Reimsdyke in the off season for Toronto Defenseman Luke Schenn. JVR has been superb for the Maple Leafs while Luke has struggled to be one of the Flyers top Defenders.

Another crippling aspect was the loss of Andre Mesaros and Brayden Coburn, probably their two best physical defensemen to injuries. So in retrospect, the Flyers must make some moves this off season this time around. The Flyers need to start addressing their weakness and the major fault is defensive breakdowns. Had the Flyers signed Shea Weber or Ryan Suter, their misfortunes could have been erased. Weber and Suter would bring the same type of physical play and leadership that Pronger gave this team.

Every year the Flyers have fell short in the Goaltending Department. Holmgren tried to address this last season when the Flyers went out and signed Vezina finalist Ilya Bryzgalov. Last year Bryzgalov struggled and was inconsistent. However, this season Bryzgalov has been stellar and he truly has been hung out to dry by a terrible defense. Bryzgalov has played in all but two of the Flyers games. He has all of the team’s wins with 17. His GAA is around 2.85. He has a .900 Save Percentage. Those stats may not be top rate but they would be a lot better if the defense has not let them down.

Of course this week…Bryzgalov went through a ton of turmoil by a Story that was reported that he fell asleep during a team meeting. This is yet another gaffe in the roller coaster of the Philadelphia Media. Then, last week at the trade deadline the Flyers traded for young goalie Steve Mason. This raises questions about who will be in net next season for the Flyers.

The Flyers also lost Daniel Briere…one of their offensive stars and team leaders. Briere may come back this weekend, but this may be his last nine games in a Flyer’s uniform. The Flyers also lost gritty leader Maxime Talbot for the season. Talbot brought tenacity and experience as he won a Stanley Cup for the Pittsburgh Penguins, actually scoring the Game Winning Goal of that championship. Talbot will be back next year and hopefully healthy.

Let us not forget that the Flyers core players have an average age of 23. This fact cannot be discounted. Courtier just turned 20. The Schenn brothers are 23 and 21 respectively. Claude Giroux is 23. Wayne Simmonds is 24. These five players can be considered the Flyers core players. The leaders have to be Scott Hartnell, Daniel Briere, Max Talbot, re-acquired Simon Gagne, and Mike Knuble.

If I am the ownership of the Flyers, I am making a few moves next year. As good as Holmgren has been…I am moving another direction. I would go after former Goalie Ron Hextall to captain the ship. I’m keeping Laviolette. Peter has received a lot of criticism this season, but he has shown a great work ethic and I am keeping him.

The Flyers should also let Briere go, unless he decides to sign for a bargain price. They should also buy out Bryzgalov’s contract not because he has been horrible, but to have more payroll flexibility. They would save millions of dollars and could go after another top scorer as well as a Top Tier Defenseman. They should look at the goalies that will be available and if they can sign Luongo do it…if not go with Steve Mason who is only 24.

I think this team is still one or two years away from a Championship. Even though Jeff Carter and Mike Richards won a Cup after leaving the team…I still believe this team is more talented than the team that went to the cup a few years ago. The XFactor…Chris Pronger. Pronger was a Born Leader and was the player that made this team go, go, go. Anyways, this has been a disappointing season but there is still a bright future for this very young team.

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GAGNE RETURN HIT WITH FANS: MORE TO COME

Last night marked the return of Simon Gagne to Philadelphia. Gagne was acquired in a trade with the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday. Well, Gagne finally won that elusive ring last season with a few other Flyers of the past. As a huge Flyers fan, and an even bigger admirer of the NHL, I could never be jealous that Gagne won a cup wearing another teams jersey. Look, the ultimate goal of any player Is to win a Cup, and lets face it, Gagne had never tasted it in his plus ten years with the Flyers.

Ok…flash forward to last night at the Wells Fargo Center. As Gagne took the ice, I cannot remember a louder ovation for a returning player in an extremely long time. Simon was always a fan favorite and was drafted by the Flyers. He had many great seasons with this team. Some of his most notable goals were the Game 4 Overtime winner against Boston in the 2010 SemiFinals that saw the Flyers down 3-0 to the Bruins. He also scored the game winner in Game 7 of that same series. The last goal that Gagne would score as a Flyer was in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals against the Chicago Blackhawks, the closet he would ever come to tasting Cup Glory as a Flyer. The Flyers eventually lost that game in overtime as a seeing eye dribbler went past Michael Leighton and ended the Flyers chase for Glory.

Well, the Blackhawks are perfect his season so far…sitting a top the NHL in almost every statistical category that is measured. Last Seasons Champion, the Los Angeles Kings have also been on a role after an early struggle. However, Gagne had not scored a goal and was a healthy scratch for six straight games. When the trade was announced on Tuesday, I have to admit that I wasn’t surprised. Caught off guard, yes, but not surprised. The Flyers have been known to bring stars back into the fold after trading them away. Mark Recchi three times, John LeClair, Ron Hextall, Mike Knuble most recently and the list could go on for days. The point I am trying to make is that the Flyers have actually made a wise choice at a wise time.

Simon was struggling on the Kings this season…to the point that he was benched. However, he still has better than average speed and a knack for putting the puck in the net. Gagne also should be able to help both sides of the Flyers special teams with their horrible penalty kill and their average power play. Gagne’s presence on the ice paid off immediately in his first game back last night as he scored a power play goal, his first goal of the season. Now Gagne not only brings veteran leadership back to this team, he also brings playoff experience and a ring. Never discount the importance of that fact. Look at the Rangers in 1994 when Mark Messier brought the Rangers a Cup. It happens all of the time. Now the Flyers should make a few more trades for veterans to mix with the star youth of this team. They should not be ready to give up on the season yet…anything can happen if they just make the playoffs.

The trade rumors for Daniel Briere are just that…rumors. First of all, Briere has a no trade clause. Secondly, even though he is struggling right now, he may be one of the best active performers in the playoffs right now. Thirdly, I think trading Briere would send a bad message to the team that they are basically not going anywhere this season. Instead of trading Briere, how about trading Courtier or another young player for a veteran that can put the puck in the net. Look at the trade block, there are many big names available that could help the Flyers get back on track. It’s great to have Gagne back on this team and I believe he Will give this team a tremendous lift. Stay tuned for more moves. Paul Holmgren never sits back.

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