For the Philadelphia Flyers, preseason in previous years has been filled with the excitement of newly acquired players and the confidence that they will make a serious run at the Stanley Cup. This season may be different. An unusually dull offseason paired with the sudden retirement by stalwart captain Keith Primeau, the Flyers are going into the 2006 season with more questions than answers.
For the six years Keith Primeau was a Flyer, he was the heart and soul of the team. Primeau’s career was cut short due to a concussion he suffered in October 2005, which put him out for the year with a vicious case of post concussion syndrome. After trying for a spirited comeback against the devastating concussion, the leader of the Flyers emotionally hung up his skates in mid-September of this year.
Shortly after Primeau’s official retirement, the Flyers passed the captaincy torch to second year Flyer, Peter Forsberg. Peter the Great is more than qualified for the job on the ice and off — with nine seasons studying under one of the best leaders in the NHL, Colorado Avalanche captain Joe Sakic.
The leadership question is not the only issue that will haunt the Flyers well into the season. A major problem late last season was the poor play of the injury ridden defense. The Flyers would have a quality defense according to the “old” NHL standards, when size mattered. The new rules NHL gives advantage to the quick, non-physical players, which leaves the Flyers big defensemen like Derian Hatcher, who lost 20 pounds in the off season to gain quickness, and Mike Rathje, appearing like oak trees on skates. Yet the addition of extremely average defenseman Nolan Baumgartner, and the surprising rookie from Sweden, Lars Jonsson, should help, but a breakout year will be needed from talented Joni Pitkanen if the Flyers have any chance of turning last years defensive woes around.
If the Flyers’ defense is going to be leaky at best, their offense will have to simply out score an opponent rather than shutting them down. With the offensive maturation of second year forwards Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, and the underrated acquisition of Kyle Calder, who led the Chicago Blackhawks in scoring last season, the Flyers’ offense should be one of the most productive in the league if they manage to stay healthy.
Undoubtedly, the Flyers will have to overcome adversity this season to be successful, but if they can somehow solidify their defense, be consistent on the power play, and get solid play from Robert Esche while Antero Niittymaki is on the injured reserve with hip problems, they will be back atop the Atlantic Division the way Flyers fans are used to seeing.