After a disappointing season that saw the Philadelphia Flyers miss the playoffs for the first time since 2007, changes had to be made heading into the 2013-14 season.
Without disrupting its young core, changes have been made -- to both the roster and front office.
On the roster front, high-priced goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, who the team is paying $23 million over the next 14 years to not play for them anymore, and aging veteran forward Daniel Briere were erased from the salary cap using compliance buyouts this offseason.
With the salary cap space saved by the buyouts, the team signed former Tampa Bay star center Vinny Lecavalier (who became available when the Lightning used a compliance buyout on him), 35-year-old puck-moving defenseman and former New York Islander Mark Streit, and former Chicago goaltender Ray Emery, brought in to compete with Steve Mason as part of a bargain-basement goaltending duo.
"The experience we added is unbelievable, and I think it's a lot of what we needed," winger Jake Voracek told philly.com.
In the front office, legendary Flyers goalie Ron Hextall, who spent the last seven seasons with the Los Angeles Kings as vice president and assistant general manager, joins GM Paul Holmgren as the assistant GM in Philly this season. Some see it as writing on the wall that Holmgren's days are numbered. Others see it as just another sharp hockey mind being added to the front office.
Whatever the case may be, all eyes will be on the team when training camp opens Thursday.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Claude Giroux
Giroux has established himself as one of the best players in the league, but his disappointing 2013 season is one of the reasons the team struggled last season. With 13 goals and 48 points over the 48-game lockout-shortened season, he didn't do enough to justify the team blowing up the roster prior to the 2011-12 season to make him the centerpiece of a young offensive core.
To make matters worse, fresh off of signing an eight-year contract extension this offseason, Giroux was injured in August in a golfing accident when his club reportedly shattered in his hand. He suffered damage to tendons in his right hand that required surgery. He is expected to be ready for the regular season opener.
KEY ADDITIONS: Vincent Lecavalier and Marc Streit
The 6-foot-4, 215-pound Lecavalier should be a formidable presence as the No. 2 center behind Giroux, adding size, strength and an all-around game.
"Vinny is a great player," Giroux told NHL.com. "He's been an elite player for a long time. He's a great guy off the ice; I've never heard anything bad about him. ... He just looks excited to be a part of this group. The leadership he's going to bring is going to be great for us."
Streit will add much needed mobility and puck-moving ability to the back end. The Flyers defense looked slow and prodding last season, prompting the team to slightly overpay for the aging veteran at $5 million over the next four years.
"Anytime you can get a top-tier defenseman that can make that first breakout pass on the tape and get things going north offensively, you've got to snatch those guys up," winger Scott Hartnell told NHL.com.
KEY LOSSES: Ilya Bryzgalov and Daniel Briere
Say what you will about the flighty and overpaid Bryzgalov, but he was an established No. 1 NHL goalie. The Flyers are gambling on Mason and/or Emery to fill that hole.
Veteran forward Daniel Briere has been injury prone and inconsistent in recent seasons. But he was also one of the most clutch playoff performers on the team. His loss will be felt in big games unless someone else steps up.
KEY CAMP BATTLE: Ray Emery vs. Steve Mason
No battle will mean more to the success of the 2013-14 Flyers.
The team needs one or both to step up and play a consistent game for the Flyers to be successful.
Emery, who played with the Flyers prior to being diagnosed with avascular necrosis in his right hip that required surgery, went 16-11-1 in his lone season with the Flyers. Emery then signed with the Anaheim Ducks in February of 2011 before having two solid seasons in Chicago, primarily as a backup.
Mason, the Rookie of the Year in 2008-09, went 4-2 with a 1.90 goals-against-average after being acquired from Columbus this past season. Mason has struggled mightily since his rookie year, and with both him and Emery on one-year deals, the pressure is on.
REASON FOR OPTIMISM:
The team made a lot of changes, but there really is nowhere to go but up after this past season.
The team has added a significant amount of depth to both the forward and defense groups, so there will be a lot of competition in training camp.
"It'll play out, but it's not a bad thing to have that many players and that much depth," Holmgren told philly.com.
Injuries to the defense in particular derailed this past season, and if all can stay relatively healthy, the team should finish in a dramatically different position than last season.
"As we saw last year, we ran into some issues with injuries," Holmgren said. "I'm happy they're all healthy and happy we have depth, and happy we're going to have competition in training camp for ice time. We'll see how it plays out."
CAUSE FOR CONCERN:
With change comes uncertainty.
Can the new players gel to form the cohesive unit needed to be successful in the NHL?
Time will tell, but this and more will be answered starting when the puck drops for real Oct. 2 at the Wells Fargo Center in the season opener against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
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