Guerin Released, Roster Finalized
On Monday, the Flyers formalized their opening night roster. In a twist that was always possible, yet seemingly inconceivable, the team released Bill Guerin. Although I can see the reason behind the move, I don’t fully agree with it. However, as I have preached throughout the offseason, Paul Holmgren and Peter Laviolette have earned my trust through the team’s run to the Stanley Cup finals. However, by no means does that mean that their moves aren’t to be questioned. Be that as it may, I feel that the team has one of the better lineups top to bottom in the Eastern Conference and should still be among the list of Stanley Cup contenders.
The pros with Guerin were obvious; a veteran presence is something that every team that’s built for a Stanley Cup run would welcome. Chip in twenty goals, help the team out in the locker room, be to Mike Richards what he was to Sidney Crosby, etc. On a team full of offensive talent, it would seem that he would produce and furthermore, help to make the top three lines more potent. However, he had a dreadful preseason, and while preseason is what it is, his position was determined by another player that played like he needed the money to feed his starving grandmother.
Andreas Nodl, who for all intents and purposes was the difference between Guerin wearing Orange and Black instead of a jogging suit on his couch, was a man on a mission in the preseason. Nodl has played on the team before, including in the playoffs last year when the team faced some untimely injuries. He brings speed, intensity, and a defensive presence that can be will be invaluable to the PK unit. With Blair Betts coming back from injury, Nodl should provide an extra man to the PK unit, which is a nice luxury to have. In my opinion, his inclusion on the roster spoke to his quickness on the forecheck in Laviolette’s system as well as his versatility. Since the poor kid can’t seem to find the back of the net, it would seem unlikely that he would be able to produce like Guerin could have. However, he did show that he may be capable of contributing to the score sheet when he shared a line with Jeff Carter in the preseason. Nodl made some great offensive plays, and brought an enormous amount of energy to his line. Regardless of his lack of scoring, Nodl’s presence will help the team in a variety of ways. Who knows? Maybe with a little bit of luck he’ll actually be able to find the back of the net eventually.
The Flyers will carry thirteen forwards to begin the season and eight defensemen. I don’t know that I like the idea of carrying eight defensemen, but there seems to be very little separating Matt Walker and Oskars Bartulius in the competition for the seventh defenseman position. Personally, I haven’t been impressed with Walker at all and would rather see seven defensemen with Bartulius getting the nod, but with Chris Pronger only returning to practice Tuesday, I can see why the team is carrying eight on defense. In case Pronger can’t go on Thursday, I would expect Bartulius and Sean O’Donnell to be the Flyers’ third defensive pairing.
Sergei Bobrovsky will be the second goalie on the roster behind Brian Boucher when the season starts on Thursday. It’s no surprise that Bobrovsky is the backup, although extra time in the AHL would certainly be beneficial to the young man. With Johan Backlund’s horrific performance in his first game action since his hip injury, it became quite clear that Bobrovsky would probably get the call. Backlund was put on waivers by the organization today, and I expect that he will clear waivers and be sent to Glen Falls with the Phantoms. Bobrovsky will most likely join him when Michael Leighton returns from his bulging disk injury.
I have no clue how Laviolette will create the lines for the season’s opener but I’ll throw my two cents in as to what I would like to see on the offensive side:
First Line: Carcillo-Richards-Carter. I know, I know, Carcillo on the first line seems crazy, but Richards has made it clear in the past that he loves having him on his line. Carcillo brings physicality, albeit sometimes uncontrollable, that Richards seems to feed off. On the other side, Carter can create as well as get pucks to the net which will only help Richards find his groove. It should be interesting to see how Richards plays in the beginning of the season, as I felt he was invisible for long stretches in the preseason.
Second Line: Hartnell-Briere-Leino. This line was marvelous during the playoffs last season, and I would expect to see them together if for no other reason than to see if the chemistry still exists. Leino missed some of the preseason because of his offseason hip surgery, and Briere missed the end of the preseason fighting an illness. Because of the ailments, the two didn’t have an opportunity to play together, but Leino did see some time with Hartnell and the two hadn’t missed a beat.
Third Line: van Riemsdyk-Giroux-Zherdev. In my opinion, this is the line that could do some serious damage for the Flyers. JVR has looked absolutely great this preseason and the combination of Giroux and Zherdev was far and away the most productive. If Giroux and Zherdev aren’t on the same line to begin the season, I will be inconsolable. They’ve played together for a few weeks and it seems like they grew up playing together. The more and more experience they have with one another, the more impressive they will become. Having a potent third line will be pivotal for the Flyers to reach the ultimate goal this year. With Giroux and Zherdev playing together along with a determined and physical van Riemsdyk, the team will possess just that.
Fourth Line: The fourth line is a tricky proposition because it’s not clear how the team intends to use Jody Shelley. For all intents and purposes, let’s assume that Shelley will normally be the healthy scratch on the team. If this is so, the line will probably be Betts-Powe-Nodl. As I said before, Nodl is lightning in a bottle on the forecheck and a good defensive forward. Betts plays the role of ‘Old Faithful’, a wily veteran who seemingly makes all the right decisions with the puck. Powe centers the line, and he too gives a ton of energy night in, night out. All three will see time on the PK units, which always get more than a healthy amount of work for the Flyers.
The bottom line with the team as the season approaches is still the same bottom line that existed as they fought and clawed their way through the playoffs last season. Anything less than a Stanley Cup hoist will be underachievement in the minds of Flyers fans everywhere. When I look at the roster from top to bottom, it’s clear to me that the thought of winning the Cup is much more along the lines of reality than fantasy. That reality will begin Thursday, finally.
As I count the seconds until the opening game AND The Checking Line’s live chat (which I hope you all will join!), feel free to shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on twitter at www.twitter.com/mtrible