Written by Charlie O'Connor
Following the trade of Simon Gagne, many fans have expressed fears that the offense of the Philadelphia Flyers will suffer in 2010. The loss of a two-time 40-goal scorer makes such fears understandable.
However, there is no reason to worry.
The Flyers' offense would surely be stronger if Gagne had remained with the team. But despite his departure, the Flyers will still have a stronger offense in 2010-11 than they possessed during the 2009-10 regular season.
Last season, the Flyers scored 236 goals, good enough for third-best in the Eastern Conference.
Despite that solid performance, many of Philadelphia's top forwards did not perform up to their potential in the regular season.
In fact, the only returning veteran forward receiving top-nine forward minutes who posted numbers approaching his career-best totals was Daniel Carcillo.
Captain Mike Richards posted his lowest PPG (points per game) since 2006-07, finishing with 0.76 PPG for a total of 62 points.
Top sniper Jeff Carter regressed from his monster 2008-09, dropping from 46 to 33 goals in 2009-10.
Scott Hartnell, coming off a career high 60-point season in 2008-09, scored only 44 points in 2009-10. His 14 goals were his lowest total since 2002-03.
Even Danny Briere had his lowest PPG (.71) as a Flyer forward.
However, with the exception of Carter, who dealt with a broken foot, these veterans showed marked improvement in the postseason.
Richards averaged a point per game in the playoffs.
Hartnell's 17 points in 23 games put him on a 60-point regular season pace, in line with his breakout 2008-09 season.
And Briere is coming off a postseason where he had a 1.30 PPG average, which over a full season would be the highest of his career.
An optimistic Flyers fan may predict that all three will continue at the same pace as they finished the playoffs.
But even if Richards, Hartnell, and Briere split the difference between their regular season and postseason numbers, it would likely mean about an extra 15 goals from the trio in 2010-11.
In addition, the two developing youngsters on the roster—Claude Giroux and James van Riemsdyk—can be reasonably expected to improve on their statistics in 2010-11.
Giroux's 16-goal, 47-point sophomore season was solid, but slightly disappointing for such a talented player.
But after a postseason where he averaged 0.91 PPG, Giroux should enter the new season with confidence that he excelled on the sport's biggest stage.
Combined with his continued physical development, it is not unreasonable to expect a moderate increase in his overall scoring next season.
The 21-year-old Van Riemsdyk had a fantastic start to his rookie season in 08-09, scoring 31 points in his first 50 games. However, in his final 28 games, he scored only four points, and showed serious signs of hitting the rookie wall.
Coming straight from college into the NHL, the young winger was likely not accustomed to an 82-game season and wore down.
As a former top prospect, he has tons of untapped potential. And with better conditioning, he could easily avoid another late season swoon.
Improvements by players such as Richards, Hartnell, Carter, Briere, Giroux, and Van Riemsdyk would alone replace Gagne's production.
But the Flyers have added new pieces as well.
Talented Russian Nikolai Zherdev was signed during the off-season to a one-year contract, and will likely be expected to take Gagne's place as a top line forward. While Zherdev will surely be unable to replace Gagne's defensive contributions, he could easily provide superior offensive numbers.
Gagne is still fondly remembered for his 40+ goal seasons. However, in 08-09, Gagne played merely 58 games, and scored 17 goals and 40 points.
But the Flyers did not just add Zherdev to their core of forwards.
While Ville Leino became a household name in Philadelphia for his stellar postseason play, it is easy to forget that he played almost no role during the regular season. He scored only four points in 13 regular season games.
Few expect Leino to match his 1.11 PPG postseason average in 2010-11. But even a conservative prediction of 45 points would be a drastic improvement over Arron Asham (24 points in 09-10), who Leino will essentially be replacing as a top-nine forward.
In addition, the Flyers' already potent power play will be improved by the acquisition of Andrej Meszaros, who will likely replace Braydon Coburn as point man on the second unit.
Coburn averaged a pathetic one point per 49 minutes on the power play last season, while Meszaros has averaged about one point per 17 power play minutes in his career.
Philadelphia had the third-best power play unit in the NHL during the regular season, and it very well may have just gotten even better.
The 2010-11 Philadelphia Flyers consist mostly of players either stacked with potential, or looking to rebound from disappointing regular seasons.
Some forwards may fail to make measurable improvements from last season.
But if just two or three take a sizable step forward, the Flyers should easily match their goal totals from last season.
And if most of these players take steps forward, Philadelphia will have one of the most dynamic offenses in the NHL in 2010-11.