February 18, 2012

Can the Flyers win in 2012?

Four days ago, Frank Seravalli wrote a column about how maybe the Philadelphia Flyers should be sellers at the trade deadline.

Two days later, the Flyers traded two draft picks for soon-to-be unrestricted free agent Nicklas Grossman. So I guess all that's cleared up.

But the real question remains: Can the Flyers compete for a Stanley Cup in 2012?

As someone who attended last weekend's 5-2 shellacking at the hands of the New York Rangers, I would have to say no.

Out of all the teams with 70 points or more -- the Rangers, Flyers, New Jersey Devils, Boston Bruins, Detroit Red Wings, St. Louis Blues, Nashville Predators and Vancouver Canucks -- the Flyers have given up the most goals against, 171. The Devils are second-worst with 158.

And when comparing the Flyers to the four Cup favorites -- the Rangers, Bruins, Red Wings and Canucks -- you can see a stark difference. The Flyers are second only to Boston in goals scored, but the Bruins have a +60 goal differential; the Rangers are +44, the Red Wings are +50 and the Canucks are +43. The Flyers are +18.

To me, this reinforces that there are two distinct tiers in the National Hockey League, and the Flyers are firmly in tier two. They might not even be the best of tier two, not with the way Ken Hitchcock's boys have been playing.

The sad part is that this team already has exactly what it needs: Chris Pronger. Unfortunately, their hulking captain is still struggling to resume regular life activities; returning to competitive hockey is nothing but a pipe dream.

Grossman seems to be the kind of stay-at-home, shot-blocking defenseman that's been missing post-Pronger, but is he really going to turn the team around? Can he teach Braydon Coburn to play the body, the forwards to backcheck, Ilya Bryzgalov to be less insane? If not, he's just a small piece of an glaringly incomplete puzzle.

After what I saw at the Wells Fargo Center last week -- a sloppy defensive team with tiring rookies and wavering special teams -- I just don't see how they can stand up to the big boys. I don't expect them to repeat last year's collapse; I just think that maybe 2013 might be a better time to strike. Bryzgalov will have a full year in Philly under his belt, and most of these guys aren't going anywhere. The rookies will get better and stronger. James van Riemsdyk will (hopefully) be healthy again. There's no reason for long-term pessimism.

Maybe today's game against the Pittsburgh Penguins will change my mind, but the fact is that right now the Flyers are closer to eighth place than they are to first. With only 25 games left to play and additional moves unlikely, this team is probably set. And what they have on the ice does not look capable of bringing home the grand prize.

No comments: