That muffled roar you just heard coming out of Pennsylvania probably was Flyers fans registering their approval of The Hockey News making Philadelphia our preseason pick to win the Stanley Cup in the 2009-10 Yearbook.
Or, it was Penguins fans registering their disapproval of said selection.
Regardless, the somewhat unorthodox prediction — it would’ve been pretty easy to pick a Penguins-Red Wings Part III to complete the trilogy — bears a closer look.
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So here it is, the Three-Star case for the Flyers as Stanley Cup champions this coming June:
1. The Pronger Effect
Not only is Chris Pronger still one of the most dominant, devastating defensemen in the game today, Stanley Cup finals have a way of following him around; especially in his first season with a new team. At least, that’s been the case in the post-lockout NHL and it’s a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league, so that’s all the matters.
After nine seasons in St. Louis, Pronger showed up in Edmonton in 2005-06 and led the Oilers to the Cup final against Carolina. Edmonton lost in seven games, but the Oilers wouldn’t have come close to advancing that far without the ultra-talented, ultra-snarly defenseman.
The next season, after an auspicious exit from Edmonton (let’s just say, don’t expect Pronger to return to the Oilers a la Mike Comrie anytime soon), he showed up in Anaheim on a blueline that also featured Scott Niedermayer and the pair of future Hall of Famers that led the fighty Ducks to a Stanley Cup championship.
Now, Pronger is with his third new team since the lockout. And neither the ’06 Oilers nor the ’07 Ducks were as good as the Flyers — at least on paper — appear to be.
There might not be a Niedermayer equivalent in Philadelphia, but Pronger joins Kimmo Timonen, Braydon Coburn and Ryan Parent for a very impressive top four on the blueline and the depth combination of Matt Carle and Randy Jones offers a nice blend of offense (Carle) and grit (Jones).
2. Flyers fine up front
If you’re a Philadelphia Flyers forward these days, you’re one of two things: talented or tough. And quite possibly, you’re both. Simply put, the Flyers have a formidable cast of forwards and they can win with skill or they can muck it up.
They’ve got two-way dynamo Mike Richards, a Bobby Clarke clone, and 46-goal scorer Jeff Carter as the Nos. 1 and 2 centers. Shifty Daniel Briere can play the middle, but on this team, he’s better suited as a right winger on one of the top two lines. Plus, that allows up-and-coming center Claude Giroux, who was one of the team’s best forwards in the 2008 playoffs, to man the third line.
Simon Gagne is the Flyers’ top left winger — and one of the best in the league when he’s healthy, which was the case last season after playing just 25 games in 2007-08. Behind Gagne is Scott Hartnell, who delivered his most impressive season to date last year when he potted 30 goals and 60 points to go along with his sandpaper play.
There’s also rookie James van Riemsdyk on the left side, should he make the team, and he’s a power-forward-in-progress with the draft pedigree (second overall in 2007) to be a top-line force.
Then there’s the tough guys. Ian Laperriere, an agitator extraordinaire, is penciled in as the fourth-line center. The Western Conference warrior (mostly Los Angeles and Colorado) has made a career killing penalties, as well as the opponent’s will to compete, and he’s a perfect fit to fly over the boards after the top three lines have inflicted some damage on the scoreboard and in the trenches.
Don’t forget Daniel Carcillo and Arron Asham, both of whom can play a bit as well as scrap, and Jon Kalinski and Riley Cote, who will forcefully address any unpleasantness as it arises. For depth, there’s Andreas Nodl, a second-round draft pick in 2006, Darroll Powe and Jared Ross, a pair of free agent signings who spent time with the big club last season.
If you’re counting, that’s 15 NHL-caliber forwards. And at least six of them — plus, perhaps van Riemsdyk one day soon — are bona fide top-line players. Very few other NHL teams, if any, boast this combination of talent, depth and toughness. It’s a scary-good blend, the kind that can win in both the regular season and playoffs.
3. Ray Emery, Stanley Cup finalist
Yes, it’s true. One of the main reasons the Flyers signed Emery was because they could get the goalie with the checkered past on the cheap (one year for $1.5 million). After deciding that last year’s tandem of Martin Biron and Antero Niittymaki wasn’t going to cut it, Philadelphia’s options were very limited.
It was sign Emery or, well, go with someone such as Scott Clemmensen, Ty Conklin, Mathieu Garon or Jason LaBarbera — all of whom signed for about as much as Emery accepted. The difference is, none of those guys have backstopped a team to a Stanley Cup final, the way Emery did as a 25-year-old with Ottawa in 2007.
Emery didn’t single-handedly deliver the Senators to the final — or win them the Cup, as it turned out — but he was a valuable piece of that team. On the ice, anyway.
And whatever you think of Emery’s off-ice shenanigans, from missed practices and flights to fighting with teammates to highway incidents to Mike Tyson mask tributes, the guy does recognize he’s getting a second chance in the NHL after a year in Siberia (OK, Russia, but you know what we mean …).
He’s going to be on his best behavior, at least for a while, and he’ll be in a dressing room with a strong leadership presence (Pronger, Richards and Timonen, for starters). We should see the best Emery has to offer, and that effort has already been enough to take another club to the final.
This time, it might be enough to win a championship.
Sam McCaig is The Hockey News’ senior copy editor and a contributor to THN.com. His blog appears every weekend and his column, From The Point, appears regularly.
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