June 23, 2011. It is a day that will forever live in the annals of the storied history of the Philadelphia Flyers, and also one that brought a tremendous amount of criticism to the organization.
When general manager Paul Holmgren traded away forward Jeff Carter and captain Mike Richards within the span of an hour, the collective voice of the hockey world rose as one with the question of the moment;
How in the world would this Philadelphia team be able to replace all of the goals lost in dealing away two of their consistently most productive forwards?
Sure, the Flyers had gotten two young wingers in return for the exiled pair. Wayne Simmonds came from the Los Angeles Kings in the Richards deal, and Jakub Voracek from the Columbus Blue Jackets in the Carter trade. Both possess size and have had the 'potential' label attached to them, but the impact they would have on the club was a relative unknown.
But then again, there would be a whole lot of unknowns on the 2011-12 edition of the Flyers. And with just five contests remaining in the regular season schedule and Philly in the top three in the NHL in team goal scoring, it appears the question has been answered with an emphatic exclamation point.
Four goals were provided by Flyers' rookies last night in the 7-1 thrashing of the Toronto Maple Leafs in Ontario. Led by Matt Read's 23 goals, the night increased the impressive number of goals by first-year Philadelphia skaters to 59 for the season -- a total that leads the entire League.
There were also two assists added by Philly freshmen -- upping that total to 57 -- and the 116 points from rookies is also an NHL-high.
Rookies have accounted for 23.7% of the Flyers' 248 goals this year, showing an incredible reliance upon the club's youth.
The numbers are staggering. In addition to Read's 23 -- which leads all NHL rookies, one more than Read's toughest challenger for the Calder Trophy as the League's Rookie-of-the-Year, Gabriel Landeskog of the Colorado Avalanche -- the Flyers have gotten big contributions from most of the 11 rookies that have suited up for the team this year:
- 12 from 19-year-old Sean Couturier, acquired with the eighth-overall draft pick Holmgren got from Columbus as part of the Carter trade;
- 11 from 20-year-old Brayden Schenn, acquired along with Simmonds from the Kings for Richards;
- 5 in just 19 games from speed burner, Eric Wellwood, who has seen duty as a call-up from the Adirondack Phantoms of the AHL. His play may make it difficult to send him back down once all of Philadelphia's injured forwards return healthy;
- 3 from Harry Zolnierczyk. the speedy winger who filled in earlier in the season during injury-plagued times for the club;
- 2 each from Zac Rinaldo and defenseman Marc-Andre Bourdon, two hard-nosed players who make it tough to play against the Flyers;
- And one from defenseman Erik Gustafsson.
In addition to the rookies, there is another group that has picked up a considerable amount of the team's goal-scoring slack, and they are players Holmgren acquired through trades and signed through free agency.
The afore-mentioned dealings with L.A. and the Blue Jackets brought in four crucial pieces of the puzzle -- Simmonds, Voracek, Couturier, and Schenn -- as well as the free agent signings of Jaromir Jagr (from the KHL), Maxime Talbot (from the cross-State rival Pittsburgh Penguins), and Read (out of Bimidji State University).
Of the non-rookies that were not on the roster last season, consider:
- Simmonds had never scored more than 16 goals in one year in LaLa Land, but potted two more last night against Toronto to up his career-high number to 25. That's a significant amount, especially with the rugged style the 23-year-old employs. Sometimes when you see the big body with the number 17 on the back of the jersey crashing the crease in an attempt at a deflection or possible rebound, visions of a young Holmgren come flooding back to those who saw him play. The 'potential' tag has been lifted as Simmonds has proven himself, although it will be interesting to see how his game progresses and if he can become a steady 25-35 goal per year player;
- Voracek scored his 15th goal of the season last night against the Leafs, pulling to within one goal of his career-hgih amount (16 in 2009-10). Even though he was piling up assists, the 22-year-old had only netted five goals in 37 games as of the passing of the Winter Classic on January 2nd. He has been utilizing his speed and considerable 6' 2", 214-pound frame to his advantage as of late, scoring 10 goals in his last 36 games, much more on par with what was expected of the big, young winger. To show what kind of teammate he is, Voracek passed up an opportunity to net his first multi-goal game as a Flyer when he bypassed a shot at an empty net with the opposing goaltender pulled for an extra attacker, instead feeding Danny Briere to help the struggling veteran break a 23-game goal-scoring drought;
- Jagr has anchored the right side of the Flyers' top line for much fo the season with left winger Scott Hartnell and center Claude Giroux, posting 18 goals and 52 points in 68 games. The 40-year-old has battled groin issues off-and-on as the season has progressed, but he has been very good when healthy;
- In addition to providing that 'glue guy' element to a team badly in need, Talbot has surprisingly also notched 18 goals of his own, a new career-high total -- 'surprisingly' because 'Mad Max' had never scored more than 13 in any of his previous five and a half NHL season with the Pens. Only a small portion of Flyers' Nation realized the value of the hard-working 28-year-old native of Lemoyne, Quebec when he signed a five-year, $9 million pact this summer, but the goal total -- in addition to the hard-working defensive play and excellent work on the penalty-killing unit -- has helped the pundits of the signing see the light.
It just goes to show Holmgren knows what he's doing when he set out to revamp the Flyers' forward position. The wings are much bigger and tougher, and younger.
If you add the totals of the newcomers that are not rookies, that's an additional 76 goals. Combining that with the 59 goals notched by first-year Flyers, the team has received an almost-incomprehensible 135 goals from players not on the Philly roster when their 2010-11 season ended.
135 of the 248 goals Philadelphia has scored this season have come via newcomers, for an incredible 54.4% of the club's entire offensive production. Eleven different scorers with double-digit goal-scoring totals -- the only team in the Eastern Conference to be able to boast those numbers, and one of just three in the League (with the Detroit Red Wings and Nashville Predators). And with five games remaining, the 248 goals is just 11 short of what Philly scored all of last year.
That puts quite the dramatic exclamation point in answering the question as to where the team's additional goal scoring would come with Carter's 36 and Richards' 23 from last season.
Everywhere, and everyone, taking a tremendous amount of pressure off the usual producers in Hartnell (career-high 36 goals) and Giroux (career-high 27). A balanced group of scorers, with which can at times be impossible to defend against each of the threats presented on any of the four lines on any given night.
That makes this team so much more dangerous than last year's version heading into the home stretch and postseason, and that's the true test of just how well this blend of veterans and newcomers will mesh in the pursuit of Lord Stanley.