Grading the 2010-11 Flyers’ forwards and looking ahead

By David Strehle
NHL H
ot Stove Creative Editor

After a trip to the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals and falling just two wins shy of winning it all, the Philadelphia Flyers’ 2010-11 season fell well short of high expectations.

Subsequent to getting past the Buffalo Sabres in a tough seven-game first round series, Philadelphia’s season came to an abrupt and disappointing finish in a quick four-game sweep at the hands of the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

The result is likely to bring about a very active off-season for GM Paul Holmgren in retooling his squad in preparation for the 2011-12 campaign.

Without further adieu, it’s report card time for the 2010-11 version of the Flyers; complete with comments as to the performance over the course of the season, as well as each player’s role moving ahead to next season.

In this issue, the forwards are examined.

FORWARDS

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Blair Betts:  C-

Copyright David Strehle 2010

2010-11: Betts was the Flyers’ leading faceoff man at 50.3% and was a decent penalty killer, also occasionally chipping in with some timely offense.  But as the season reached its late stages and on into the playoffs, Betts lost his effectiveness.  Despite playing in 12 more games than in 2009-10, Betts saw his shots on goal total decrease by 12.  Surgery required to repair a finger as soon as the postseason concluded was the likely culprit.  2011-12: The team floundered in the second round against the Boston Bruins, mostly because of poor defensive zone coverage and breakdowns.   Betts and the rest of the fourth line were terrible in round two.  The Flyers will need more from Betts in what will be the final season of his three-year pact ($700,000) in 2011-12, or it will be his last in Philadelphia.

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Danny Briere:  B+

Copyright David Strehle 2010

2010-11: Carrying his excellent play over from the previous postseason in which he led all NHL scorers, Briere played a large role in what success the Flyers attained this season.  The 33-year-old had his best all-around regular season with the club, posting career-highs in goals (34), shots on goal (246), and plus / minus rating (+20).  He finished second in team scoring, and tied for the lead in power play goals (8).  Briere did finish with the second-highest PIM total of his career, as he played a chippy game.  But far too many of his penalties were either retaliatory in nature or lazy stick fouls, and often came at the worst-possible stages of a game.  This is the only reason #48 is not receiving an “A” on his report card.  In the playoffs, Briere was one of the few bright spots, tying for the league-lead in postseason goals with teammate James van Riemsdyk (7) at the time of the club’s elimination.  He also finished second in Flyers’ playoff scoring.  2011-12: There are some question marks as to which players will be flank the productive center on the wings next season, but expect another big year out of Briere.  With four seasons remaining on his eight-year deal ($6.5 million), the native of Gatineau, Quebec continues to develop his leadership role with the Orange-and-Black – one which will increase exponentially if he can cut the bad penalties out of his game.

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Dan Carcillo:  D

Copyright David Strehle 2010

2010-11: After signing a one-year contract as a restricted free agent last summer ($1.075 million), Carcillo had an awful season.  His offensive numbers all dropped and ill-timed penalties cost the team, and he recorded a team-worst -14 in the plus / minus ratings.  Carcillo was more-effective in the playoffs, finishing as one of the few Flyer players with a plus rating (+2).  2011-12: Once again a restricted free agent, it is doubtful that GM Paul Holmgren will re-sign Carcillo.  The 26-year-old on-ice pest’s antics have proven both harmful and costly to the club, as evidenced by a two-game suspension doled out for inappropriate conduct towards an official in Boston during the postseason.  Chances are, that suspension will be served somewhere other than Philadelphia.  Zac Rinaldo ($544,444) could be his replacement.

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Jeff Carter:  B

Copyright David Strehle 2010

2010-11: It was yet another season in which Carter led the team in both goals (36) and shots on goal (335), and also led the way in game-winning tallies (7).  The center-turned-winger’s offensive output was vital to a Flyers team that increasingly shot blanks for a larger portion of the final 20 regular season games.  Another similarity to last season was Carter’s injury in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.  Last year it was breaking a bone in his foot when struck by a Chris Pronger slap shot, and this postseason it was a knee-on-knee collision with Tyler Myers of the Buffalo Sabres.  Carter’s mobility was extremely limited when he returned for the final two games in Boston, and consequently so was his effectiveness.  He finished with 11 shots on goal and without a point in the two contests, and was a -4 in the season-ending 5-1 loss to the Bruins.  2011-12: Having signed an 11-year contract extension earlier this year that will pay him $5.272 million annually, Carter enters a most interesting off-season.  Amid rumblings of what Holmgren has to do to correct the club’s shaky starting goaltending situation, coupled with the team being at the upper reaches of the salary cap limit, talk is that at least one forward with a hefty contract will have to be moved to make room.  The 26-year-old has been mentioned in rumors as one of the primary suspects that could be on his way out of Philly this summer.  With the Flyers’ lack of scoring down the stretch and playoffs, Carter’s would be a huge hole to have to fill.

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Claude Giroux:  A

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Photo used with permission of www.jbehindtheglass.com

2010-11: In what can only be described as his breakout year, quite simply put Giroux was the best player on the 2010-11 Flyers squad.  In just his second full NHL season, the 23-year-old led the club in scoring in both the regular season (76 points) and playoffs (12).  Not only was his five-on-five play stellar (+20), the versatility he exhibited on special teams was invaluable.  He tied for the team lead with eight power play goals and three shorthanded tallies, and was third with five GWG.  Giroux displayed offensive-wizardry throughout the year on the way to leading the club with 51 assists, and at certain times during the season resembled a young Steve Yzerman.  The native of Hearst, Ontario also finished second on the club in faceoff percentage (50%).  He can do it all.  Holmgren saw his importance to the team, and wisely inked Giroux to a three-year extension at $3.75 million per season.  2011-12: Watching Giroux’s game develop over the past two seasons, there is no limit to just how good Philadelphia’s 2006 first-round pick can become.  He can play any style of game that an opponent attempts to dictate, and he can dominate either with finesse, strength, or an amazing combination of the two.  As Giroux continues his march towards becoming one of the elite players in the world, he increasingly places his stamp on being anointed as the face of the franchise.

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Scott Hartnell:  C-

Al Bello / Getty Images North America

2010-11: Hartnell began the season the way he had ended the playoffs in June, as a staunch contributor and valuable piece on a line with Briere and Ville Leino.  He was creating havoc in front of the opposition goaltender, and playing a controlled, physical-aggressive game.  But as the campaign wore into its latter stages, bad habits crept back into his play.  Awful penalties at the worst-possible time once again became a hallmark of Hartnell’s game.  He only managed to score points in five of the last 20 regular season contests, and just one goal and four points in 11 playoff games.  The Briere Line, which had been the team’s most-consistent throughout the 2010 postseason and much of 2010-11, was ineffective.  The trio was split up, and each was made a part of another line.  2011-12: Hartnell continues to exhibit one of the worst balances on skates in the league, spending as much of his time on ice actually down on the ice.  With two years remaining on his contract at $4.2 million annually, Holmgren may do well to “ask” Hartnell to waive his no-trade clause - similar to the way the team handled Simon Gagne’s NTC the previous summer.  While ”Bird Dogg” is a good teammate, his bad habits and lack of production make him a more-appropriate candidate to act as a salary dump instead of Carter.  Finding a market for the winger, especially at that price, may be an entirely different issue for the club.

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Ville Leino:  C+

Flickr / insidehockey

2010-11: Coming into his first full NHL season with a great deal of momentum, Leino responded with a rather inconsistent year.  He looked great at times, but seemed to frustrate head coach Peter Laviolette beyond words at others.  While Leino was able to finish in the team’s top-five scorers, he too often tried to hold onto the puck for too long instead of shooting.  A reluctant shooter, Leino registered just 117 shots in 81 regular season games, and just 12 in 11 playoff contests.  He became too predictable, and opponents were able to knock the steady winger off the puck and take possession.  Like Hartnell, Leino struggled down the stretch, posting points in only two of the club’s final 10 games (two goals, four points).  The high-point of Leino’s season came in Game 6 of the first round series with Buffalo, when he scored the GWG in overtime to help stave off elimination for the Flyers.  He wasn’t much of a factor in the Boston series, picking up just one assist in the four contests.  2011-12: Leino enters a summer of uncertainty, as he becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1st.  A top-of-the-list priority for Holmgren to get re-signed during the season, it appears that Leino’s asking price – believed to be in the neighborhood of $4 per year after being one of the NHL’s best bargains at $800,000 for this season - may perhaps instead make him an ex-Flyer.  With Curtis Glencross signing a pact for $2.55 annually with the Calgary Flames earlier in the week, a market price may have been established for Leino – and well-below $4 million.  Both were late-developing wingers that see similar amounts of overall ice time.  But Glencross is much more versatile, playing on the Flames’ penalty killing unit – and even scored more goals than Leino this past season (24-19).  With the Flyers looking to reduce the payroll amount tied up at the forward position, Holmgren may be hard-pressed to fit Leino into the mix in Philly.

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Andreas Nodl:  C-

Jim McIsaac / Getty Images

2010-11: Nodl looked like two different players between the beginning and end of the season.  Having scored just one goal and five points in 48 NHL contests entering this season, the native of Vienna, Austria burst out of the gates like a house on fire.  The defensive-minded Nodl scored six goals and posted 10 points in his first 14 games, and it looked like he would add his name to a long list of offensive threats in the Philadelphia forward ranks.  But it was not meant to be, as Nodl would pick up just five goals and seven assists in his final 53 games.  It was revealed after the club’s playoff elimination that Nodl had missed the final nine regular season games and most of the postseason with a concussion.  He did attempt to play in the first two games of the Buffalo series, but saw less than 15 minutes of combined ice time in the pair of games, including just 3:43 in Game 2.  2011-12: Nodl earned $850,000 last year and becomes a restricted free agent on July 1st.  The team loves the 24-year-old’s game and would love to keep him in the organization – if the price is right.

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Darroll Powe:  C

Copyright David Strehle 2010

2010-11: Powe is another versatile, defense-first oriented forward that Philadelphia loves to have in its employ.  Playing on the second PK unit with Betts, Powe scored the first two shorthanded goals of his career this year.  At five-foot, 10-inches and 212-pounds, the stocky winger can be a devastating hitter.  Powe did take a step backwards offensively, as did the entire fourth line.  Powe, who turns 26 next month, played in 18 more games than 2009-10, but posted just two more points.  His shot total actually decreased by 16 despite playing nearly an extra quarter of a season.  2011-12: Powe’s $725,000 deal expires July 1st, and like Nodl, will also become a restricted free agent.  Depending upon his contract demands, Powe may have played his last game as a Flyer.

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Mike Richards:  B

Jim McIsaac / Getty Images

2010-11: Richards saw the number of goals he scored drop to just 23, his lowest total since the club’s disastrous 2006-07 campaign.  His one goal and seven points in the postseason was also disappointing, but it was revealed that he was playing with a hand injury for most of the season that required surgery once the Flyers were eliminated from the playoffs.  While he did press offensively at times, Richards’ defensive skills were still very evident.  The captain paired with Giroux to form one of the most feared forward PK tandems in the NHL, and both shared the club lead with three SH tallies.  Down the stretch and in the postseason, the five-foot, 11-inch, 195 pound center looked tired and sluggish.  The 26-year-old has had his leadership abilities called into question by several prominent members of the Philadelphia media since the season-ending sweep at the hands of the Bruins.   It would seem that Richards’ sometimes strained relationship with local media may have been the fuel behind some of the speculation after Ed Snider, Holmgren and Laviolette all had given less-than ringing endorsements in support of the captain.   2011-12: Richards is entering the fourth year of a 12-year deal that sees an annual cap hit of $5.75 million.  It will be a crucial year for the native of Kenora, Ontario, as he not only attempts to lead his club back to the Cup Finals, but also quiet his critics and prove – once and for all – that the “C” belongs on his jersey.

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Jody Shelley:  D

Jim McIsaac / Getty Images

2010-11: One of the most surprising moves last summer saw Holmgren sign the rugged winger to a three-year contract that will pay Shelley $1.1 million each season.  The 35-year-old saw action in just 58 contests between various injuries and sitting in the press box as a healthy scratch, and was soundly pummeled in several fights.  Though sound defensively, Shelley’s presence took away much of a scoring threat for the fourth line.  2011-12: Shelley’s role with the club is still unclear, as it is apparent that his days as a premiere heavyweight fighter are behind him.  His limited offensive abilities seem to have thrown off Betts and Powe’s rhythm that they had established as an occasional threat in the prior year.  Shelley is decent defensively and, by all accounts, is a good teammate.  It just doesn’t seem like enough to justify his spot on the roster heading into next season.

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Kris Versteeg:  C

Paul Bereswill / Getty Images

2010-11: Versteeg was acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs for draft picks on Valentine’s Day, and it was thought that the Flyers had finally gotten a legitimate winger to play alongside of Richards on the top line.  Plus the 25-year-old right winger won a Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks against Philadelphia last year, so it was believed Versteeg would add a postseason boost for the club.  Things didn’t work out that way, as Versteeg and Richards only showed sporadic flashes of developing any semblance of chemistry.  Flyers’ management had to be expecting more than Versteeg’s seven goals and 11 points in 27 games in the regular season, and one goal and six points in 11 playoff contests.  2011-12: Versteeg’s contract has one more year left at in excess of $3.083 million.  With the team’s desire to dump salary in hopes of obtaining a top-flight goaltender, one has to wonder if Versteeg may be shopped this summer.  If he remains in Philly, look for Versteeg to stay on Richards’ right as Laviolette hopes for some sort of bond to form between the two.

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Nik Zherdev:  C-

Jim McIsaac / Getty Images

2010-11: Signed to a one-year, $2 million deal as an UFA last summer, Zherdev was brought back to North America from a year’s exile in the KHL.  But with the season that the 26-year-old native of the Ukraine endured, he may head back to Russia to play and never return.  It appeared that he was the club’s figurative sacrificial lamb for all that ailed the team for much of the year, and Zherdev saw action in just 56 regular season contests.  Much of that was with extremely limited ice time, sometimes playing on the fourth line with single-digit minutes.  There were times that he floated, and times when he turned the puck over when trying to be too cute with a dazzling but ill-advised pass.  Yet Zherdev added a dimension that has not been prevalent with Flyers’ clubs for many years – a goal-scoring, true natural winger.  The talented sniper was waived in February, and it was thought that he had played his last game in the Orange-and-Black.  After he cleared waivers, the team endured a rash of injuries.  Zherdev was re-inserted into the lineup, and he played inspired hockey.  He hustled on the back-check, scored timely goals, and seemed much more happy and relaxed in the locker room after games.  But he began the playoffs as a healthy scratch for the first two contests, returning in Game 3 to score the GWG in Buffalo.  At a time when not many Flyers were generating scoring chances, Zherdev was creating opportunities.  He would finish with a goal and three points in eight postseason contests, but probably most-appropriate for how the year progressed for him, ended the year in the press box.  2011-12: An UFA, it is hard to imagine that there will be an offer tendered to Zherdev, and that’s a shame.  The chemistry that he shares with Giroux is often times jaw-dropping, and it would be interesting to see what the two could accomplish together over the course of a full season.

*UPDATE:  Puck Daddy’s Dmitry Chesnokov reported today on an incident between Zherdev and his wife.*

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James van Riemsdyk:  B-

Photo used with permission from www.jbehindtheglass.com

2010-11: Even with a rigorous summer training regimen to add bulk, the season began much the same as the previous one had ended for van Riemsdyk.  The 22-year-old struggled mightily for much of the early-going, joining Zherdev in the press box often.  But as the year wore on, JVR got stronger.  He scored five goals and eight points in his last 10 games – including his first-ever NHL hat trick – and topping the 20-goal mark for the the first time.  The best was yet to come, as van Riemsdyk showed a glimpse of the potential power forward Philadelphia hopes he will become during the postseason.  The six-foot, three-inch, 200-pound native of Middletown, New Jersey scored seven goals in 11 postseason games, including five consecutive contests with at least one goal.  To show just how dominating van Riemsdyk was in Philly’s 11 playoff games, he is still the overall NHL leader in postseason shots on goal with 70.  Daniel Sedin is next with 65, and that is after 15 contests.  Next is Logan Couture of the San Jose Sharks with 55, also recorded in 15 games.  2011-12: With one year remaining on his entry-level pact that will pay him just over $1.654 million, signing van Riemsdyk to an extension during the upcoming season before he becomes a RFA is a top priority for Holmgren.  Playing alongside Giroux, van Riemsdyk really discovered his game.  He carried the puck to the net, got his body into the dirty areas in front of the opposition goalie, and played with a reckless physical abandon.  At times, van Riemsdyk looked like a young version of John LeClair, the consummate Flyers’ power forward.  We have yet to see the top end of JVR’s potential, but it looks like he may just be ready to show exactly why he was the second-overall choice in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft.

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CONCLUSION

OVERALL FORWARDS GRADE:  C

It was a second consecutive year of baffling inconsistencies for the Flyers, even in the the team’s deep forward ranks.

Last year, the team struggled for much of the regular season, then gained it’s equilibrium just in time down the stretch to make a long run in the postseason.

In the 2010-11 campaign, Philadelphia was one of the highest-scoring clubs in the NHL through most of the year, and that is the only reason the forwards received an overall grade as high as they did for the season.  Late in the regular season, they hit an almost-unimpenetrable wall known as any goaltender standing in the opposition crease on most given nights.

In their final 29 contests, the Flyers were held to two goals or fewer on 13 occasions.  Included in that total were three shutouts, and there were three more with being able to muster just one goal.  That doesn’t give your club much of a chance to win when your own goaltending failed to post one shutout for the entire season.

Add in the fact that in the majority of those contests Philadelphia heavily outshot their opposition, it further adds to the frustration level.

The playoffs were much the same story, as Buffalo’s Ryan Miller recorded two shutouts by 1-0 scores in the first round alone.  Philly was able to outscore the Sabres four times in the seven game series to get through to the Eastern Conference Semifinals, but Tim Thomas and the Bruins would yield only seven Flyer goals in the four-game sweep.

Philadelphia did little to obstruct Thomas’ view of shots and failed to fight through the Boston defense to deflect shots or get to any rebounds that were left.  The result was games with high shot totals, but little to show for it on the scoreboard.

After failing to hold onto a 2-0 lead and peppering Thomas with 54 shots in a Game 2 ovetime loss, the Flyers went out without a whimper in back-to-back 5-1 defeats in Boston.

In addition to the lack of effort to get through Zdeno Chara, Dennis Seidenberg, Johnny Boychuk, Andrew Ference, and company, there were other mitigating factors in the failure of the Philly forwards.

With several Flyer forwards eligible to become free agents on July 1st and likely expecting big raises, Holmgren may instead opt to pass on re-signing those players and fill their spots with young players.

Matt Read will most-likely fill one of the openings.  The 24-year-old free agent, who captained the Bemidji State University team, was signed to a one-way, three-year, $2.7 million contract in late-March.  His annual cap hit of $900,000 will be less than what Leino, Carcillo, Zherdev, Powe, and Nodl will require.

Ben Holmstrom ($750,000), Mike Testwuide ($900,000), Rinaldo ($544,444), and Eric Wellwood ($580,000) are all on entry-level contracts, and will compete for jobs in training camp.  They should all have a real chance of making the big club, given the circumstances of Holmgren’s desire to add a goalie and pare salary up front to fit the team’s collective salary under the cap.

Holmgren just has to make sure that he doesn’t further upset the delicate balance of his club’s goal-scoring by dealing away an established, high contract player.  There are players that would seem to fit this need (Hartnell), and others who would not (Carter).

And so begins what should prove to be a most-compelling summer in Philadelphia.

As the late, great voice of the Flyers Gene Hart used to say heading into the final minutes of a tight game, “Buckle your seatbelts, my friends, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.


*The next grading segment will be for the team’s defensemen, so keep an eye out for it*


*All salary numbers were obtained from www.CapGeek.com.


If you have any comments or questions, you can email the author at dstrehle@nhlhotstove.com.  You can also follow him on Twitter – @David_Strehle