Sean Couturier and Matt Read didn't exceed their output from the previous season, but they didn't backslide either. Expect a step forward this year. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Grading the Flyers' Offseason, Part 2: Forwards

In my previous post about the Flyers offseason, I discussed the broad view of the Flyers’ additions and subtractions via free agency, the draft, hirings, and where their moves put them with the salary cap. In this second portion, I’ll be looking into the Flyers strengths and weaknesses on the front line. Without further ado…

Giroux may have faltered in his first season as captain, but that has more to do with the systemic team failure that saw them miss the playoffs for the first time since 2007. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Forwards

There can be little doubt that the Flyers have a crop of forwards that fit snugly at number one in the NHL in terms of talent, scoring, checking, grit, and youth. The perfect model to suit the team is all-star captain Claude Giroux; he was drafted and developed by the team, leads by example, doesn’t take a shift off, possesses mind-blowing creativity, limits his defensive errors, knows when to elevate his game, doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty, and will drop the mitts if he feels it’s absolutely necessary.  Several of these attributes can be ascribed to each player on the roster, but no one embodies them like Giroux. Last season will not go down as his best, but that had more to do with the overall soundness of the team than his abilities as a leader. He’ll be fine.

Joining him on his left wing, most likely, will be stalwart Scott Hartnell, who bangs, irritates, and scores like few can. The problem with Hartnell is that he seems to take a gigantic step forward one season, only to regress for the next two, a fact bared out distinctly by his career output. If there’s one season where he bucks the trend, it’ll be this one, but don’t count on it. On the right side, newly minted top-liner Jakub Voracek will handle the speed and finesse side of things. The gigantic step forward in his confidence last season will help him fulfill the upside projected by his selection at 7th overall in the 2007 entry draft. Certainly one of the best first lines in the sport on paper right now, but the Flyers have always been a team that has strength in numbers. After this, the lines get highly theoretical.

Newly acquired Vincent Lecavalier will likely center the second unit, and there are few better suited for the job in Philadelphia; unlike his predecessor Daniel Briere, Lecavalier knows how to play defense and has more than once shown his exuberance in standing up for his teammates, and on the Flyers, his position in a supporting role will allow him to do this with zero difficulty. He’s also a proven scorer with something more to prove after having been bought out by the Lightning. Wayne Simmonds, who will likely slide in on his right wing, showcases that players with an ability to score and grind are at their best in Philadelphia. With Brayden Schenn likely to settle in on the left side, this may be the toughest secondary scoring line in the NHL. Imagine the space they’ll create.

Former shutdown legend Sean Couturier (whom Malkin still hates, even to the detriment of Crosby) is practically a guarantee to center the checking line. Since line combinations get fuzzier down the roster, it’s logical to mention two other great checkers in Maxime Talbot and Adam Hall on his wings. Couturier shuts down opposing players with finesse, Talbot does so with grit, and both of them can score. Hall earned himself a new contract by his studious approach to defense and his remarkable face-off ability (.590 on the Flyers). No weaknesses here.

Sean Couturier and Matt Read didn’t exceed their output from the previous season, but they didn’t backslide either. Expect a step forward this year. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

After this, the Flyers have three more spots to fill with any combination of Matt Read, Zac Rinaldo, Tye McGinn, Jay Rosehill, Simon Gagne (if he signs, which he probably will), and perhaps even Scott Laughton. Read and Gagne are the only two guarantees on a given night, and that amount of speed and skill is terrifying. Rinaldo is a likely to stick around, having reduced his PIM per game from about 3.5 in 2011-2012 to about 2.5 in 2012-2013 and providing valuable energy, but CORSI magician McGinn may give him a run for his money. Rosehill is possibly the best enforcer the Flyers have had in a decade; true, he earned 64 penalty minutes in 11 games, but 27 of those saw him taking a dance partner to the box and he’ll assuredly see limited action. Laughton is absolutely the odd man out, but one injury makes him an attractive call-up, to say nothing of Eric Wellwood, should his rehab prove productive.

Now, grading this group on paper is easy using stats and individual analysis, but there are some important intangibles to take into account. First of all, the Flyers were in the middle of the pack in overall age last season, but with Briere, Knuble, and Shelley gone, this number dips dramatically, even with the addition of Lecavalier. It bodes well for the future that the core of the team pops into the youngest third of the league. Second, cornerstones Giroux, Hartnell, Simmonds, and Voracek are signed long-term at reasonable rates, though one could easily argue that Hartnell is overpaid, and this is important for sustainability. Third, three of the young supporting players, namely Couturier, Schenn, and Read, were only in their sophomore years last season, which is the prime year for talented youngsters to slump.

All three of them matched (or exceeded, in Schenn’s case) their previous PPG output on a lackluster squad, so with a serious reality check after their comparatively easy freshman campaign, it wouldn’t be presumptuous to expect a step forward. Fourth, and most importantly, the Flyers have always had a lot of success drafting and developing forward prospects.

Even if a few of veterans jump ship in a few years, standout prospects like Laughton, Nick Cousins, and Jason Akeson join an already enviable overstock of varied and talented young guns. Provided the flow of the forward pipeline continues at its current pace, the Flyers look good up front for the foreseeable future.

Grade: A

Tags: Chris Pronger Claude Giroux Danny Briere Flyers Forwards Ilya Bryzgalov Jakub Voracek Kimmo Timonen NHL Philadelphia Flyers Scott Hartnell Simon Gagne Wayne Simmonds

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