Mon. Jan 17th, 2022

After a year with no NHL hockey, many fans around the United States and Canada can’t wait for the season to get underway on Oct. 5. With the salary cap now in place at $39 million, perhaps no team did as much to improve their roster than our own Philadelphia Flyers. Players who were here during the last season but are now gone include Jeremy Roenick, Mark Recchi, John LeClair and Tony Amonte on offense. On defense, the Flyers lost Mattias Timander, Vladimir Malakhov, Marcus Ragnarsson and Danny Markov.

Offensively, the Flyers added Jeff Carter and Mike Richards from the Phantoms, Jon Sim, Mike Knuble, Turner Stevenson, Brian Savage and most notably Peter Forsberg, arguably the best free agent signing of the new salary cap era. Forsberg was involved in the draft day deal that brought Eric Lindros to Philadelphia in 1992. Lindros’ career in Philadelphia resulted in only one trip to the Stanley Cup Finals in which the Flyers were swept by Detroit and came to a tumultuous end after a few concussions and frequent head-butting with General Manager Bob Clarke.

Since then, with the Colorado Avalanche, Forsberg has become a seven-time All-Star, the league’s most valuable player, and had his name engraved on the Stanley Cup. Makes you wish he had been in orange and black that whole time doesn’t it? Eric who?

On defense, the Flyers added three big, tough and experienced players in Derian Hatcher, Mike Rathje and former Flyer Chris Therien, all of whom are at least 6’5″ and 200 pounds. Their physical presence should make the Flyers defense quite stingy despite the new rule changes that should add more offense to the game.

The Flyers are also solid in goal, with Robert Esche still between the pipes after a solid pre-lockout season in which he backstopped the team into the Eastern Conference Finals. If he does falter, Antero Niittymaki would be a reliable replacement, having just lead the Phantoms to Calder Cup glory.

The only bit of bad news to come out of Flyers camp, which got underway in Voorhees, New Jersey on Sept. 13 was that Derian Hatcher, Peter Forsberg and Sami Kapanen are all injured.

Hatcher partially tore some ligaments in his knee at USA hockey camp and will miss about 3 weeks. Forsberg had an inflamed bursa sac removed from his ankle and will miss 2-3 weeks as well. Kapanen’s injury is more serious. He tore cartilage in his shoulder near his rotator cuff and will have surgery to repair it. He will miss approximately 10 weeks and be back Nov. 22 at the earliest.

All these injuries may have hindered the team in the past, but with the talent level as it is, the Flyers should be fine. They have any number of players with the team or even with their AHL affiliate Phantoms that can step up and fill the void if need be.

If you look at any other NHL team’s roster, none of them seem to compare to that of the Flyers. From top to bottom, they are loaded with talent, size and toughness. Along with just the right mix of experience and youth, this is a team to be reckoned with in 2005. We’ll just have to wait and see if what is obvious on paper will develop into the right mix of chemistry on the ice under the brilliant hockey mind of Coach Ken Hitchcock and possibly translate into the Flyers winning their third Stanley Cup.

What better way to put to rest the thoughts of a season without hockey in Philadelphia than a parade down Broad Street with Lord Stanley’s Cup?

Many of us were too young to have experienced the last time that the Flyers won it all in back to back seasons with Bobby Clarke as their captain. Now as their General Manager, it seems he may have finally put together a team capable of ending an almost 30-year drought.

The brand of NHL hockey that you see once the season begins won’t be the same game you watched before the lockout. Several rule changes will be in place this season that should make for a much more exciting game for fans to watch. The center ice red line has been removed, allowing for the two line pass and more breakaways.

The goal line has beenmoved back two feet which willincrease the size of the offensive zone giving players more room to be creative and perhaps larger passing lanes.

The goalie equipment will see several changes this year. The blocker and leg pads were both made smaller and must adhere to a certain size regulations.

Gone will be the ridiculously large jerseys worn by several top net minders around the league, which sometimes slowed down or stopped shots from tickling the twine behind them. This should most definitely allow for more goals to be scored and far less dominance by goalies around the league.

Finally, referees will now begin to strictly enforce rules on obstruction that have been in the books for years but were never called. Players will no longer be able to check another player unless he has the puck or has just passed it to someone else. This should help eliminate much of the sloppy neutral zone centered play that boggeddown many games during the pre-lockout era. It was all that clutching and grabbing that took much of the flow out of the old game resulting in many 1-0 or 2-1 scores once the final buzzer sounded. Enforcing obstruction may also put an end to the defensive trap system utilized most notably by the New Jersey Devils.

The rule changes, salary cap, flurry of free agent signings around the league and rookie sensation Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins should all go a long way in bringing fans of all countries back to this game after such a long hiatus.

Having never had the same devoted following in the United States as it did in Canada or Europe, all of this excitement once the collective bargaining agreement was signed should spur interest in many cities around the league.

The same small market teams that struggled to draw fans before will most likely still have the same problem, but at least now clubs won’t lose as much money with the salary cap helping to bring parity to a league that desperately needed it.

Small market teams such as Pittsburgh and Edmonton did plenty of wheeling and dealing under the salary cap and have a fresh new product to bring to their fans that have suffered for years under the illusion that their teams could never compete in this league.

The NHL now has the infamous distinction of being the only professional sports league to lose an entire season to laborunrest. Both NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and player representative Bob Goodenow should share the blame equally in this situation. It was on Goodenow’s watch that player salaries soared far too high for a sport that year after year finished behind the NFL, NBA, and MLB in revenue. But Bettman was also responsible for letting the situation linger for so long that he had no other choice but to lock out the players to ensure the future financial stability of a game loved by many across the world.

A new NHL logo shield has been created to symbolize a new start, new rules have been drawn up to make the game more exciting to fans and a salary cap has been put in place that should ensure that the future of this game will remain bright. Its time for some new leadership to emerge and lead this sport in the right direction now that all this ugliness is behind us.

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