2014-15 Flyers Preview: Different, but Still Kind of the Same
There is a bonus to being a fan of the Philadelphia Flyers. Like all Philadelphia sports teams, they equip you with the tools to deal with crushing disappointment. But it goes beyond that: Almost 40 years since the team last won a Stanley Cup, the Philadelphia Flyers are still considered pretty tough.
And this goes beyond the general stereotypes of hockey player toughness. The original “Broad Street Bullies” moniker has stuck with the team in the four decades since the Flyers won a pair of Stanley Cups in their seventh and eighth seasons. And why not? The Flyers are still known as a team that values brawn as much as brain, that hits hard and doesn’t make apologies for it. Even articles defending them for not being dirty note their high number of penalty minutes.
And this is, well, kind of cool. Kind of stupid, too: One could make a convincing argument the Flyers have relied too much on brawn since their last Stanley Cup, which has kept the team from winning another. But, if you’re not going to win a championship, at least you can have this.
The Sixers are a joke. The Eagles haven’t won since 1960. The Phillies — despite being named part of baseball’s new power triumvirate just a few years ago — are the laughingstock of the league. The Flyers? Well, at least they’re tough.
Only: Maybe not any longer. This season, the Flyers are not even carrying an enforcer. The Sporting News’s Sean Gentile theorizes Ron Hextall — named the new general manager in May, with former GM Paul Holmgren being bumped up to president — is “a smart dude who… knows that it’s better to have effective players who, should the need arise, can fight, rather than a player with little other value.”
But don’t get it twisted. The Flyers are, well, still the Flyers. That’s meant to be taken literally: The 2014-15 Flyers are pretty much the same as the 2013-14 Flyers — only maybe a bit worse. The Flyers were eliminated in seven games by the New York Rangers, the eventual Eastern Conference champions, in the first round of last year’s Stanley Cup playoffs.
The two biggest changes in the offseason were the departures of Scott Hartnell and Kimmo Timonen. Hartnell was traded in May to Columbus for R.J. Umberger — a move pretty much every analyst hated for the Flyers. Umberger, who is in his second stint with the club, does have a redeeming trait that should make you happy he’s returned to the club: Occasionally, his name shows up in closed captioning as “Archie Hamburger.”
Timonen is a sad story. He has blood clots in both his lungs and is unlikely to ever play again. If the Flyers do get him back, it’d be for the second half of the season. The Flyers signed Rangers castoff Michael Del Zotto to take Timonen’s place — who has had two down seasons after a promising start to his career. Otherwise, the Flyers’ defense is exactly the same as last year. “The Flyers clearest weakness is their defense,” a headline on Broad Street Hockey reads.
On offense, the Flyers are pretty much the same besides the Hartnell/Umberger swap. Claude Giroux remains the team’s best player and goal scorer, with his torrid ending to last season giving fans hope for an MVP-caliber year. On the down side, he was injured 15 minutes into the first preseason practice. Wayne Simmonds should continue to be one of the best power play forwards in the league.
In net, the Flyers have uncharacteristic stability: Steve Mason — the Flyer with the shirtless selfie with dog Instagram series — remains the starter, with Ray Emery the backup. No enforcer? Consistency in net? Who are these Philadelphia Flyers.
ESPN’s official word on the team, apparently, is that Ron Hextall will bring a “winning formula” to the club. And according to the TV station that also broadcasts the Flyers games and has the same parent company of Comcast, the team’s in for a great season. The puck drops at 7:30 p.m. (TV: NBCSN) Wednesday night for the opener against the Bruins.
Follow @dhm on Twitter.