New faces expected to lead Flyers

Only 16 months ago, Mike Richards hoisted the Eastern Conference championship trophy to a roaring Flyers crowd.

His chance at winning a Stanley Cup in Philadelphia is over.

Same with Jeff Carter. And Brian Boucher. Throw in Ville Leino and Dan Carcillo. All of them gone.

Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren stripped the roster of so many key cogs in that unforgettable run to the finals in 2010. When they grossly underachieved and failed to match that feat a year later, Holmgren decided it was time to start over.

He shocked the NHL with a stunning summer that saw Ilya Bryzgalov, Jaromir Jagr, Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn, Max Talbot, and Jakub Voracek all wearing the orange-and-black when training camp opened.

It's a whole new look — and outlook — in Philadelphia.

Winning the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1976 always remains the goal for one of the signature franchises of the NHL. But even the most optimistic members of the organization are curious about how all this new talent will mesh with returning future stars like Claude Giroux and James van Riemsdyk. One immediate plus is a lighter locker room. Richards and Carter had a strong distaste for the media, but Bryzgalov is as much a class clown as he is one of the top goalies in the league.

Can the locker room that laughs together dominate together?

"I think the guys are enjoying themselves and you can kind of see the pieces coming together," new captain Chris Pronger said. "I think guys are enjoying themselves and having some fun."

There was no fun at the end of last season when the Flyers fell into a miserable stretch after the All-Star break. A year after losing to Chicago in the Stanley Cup finals, the Flyers positioned themselves as early contenders to play in June. Philadelphia spent a portion of the season atop the Eastern Conference standings, were 40-15-6 in late February.

The season unraveled down the stretch and imploded in the postseason. They were swept in the second round by the Boston Bruins — just the sixth time in franchise history they were swept in a seven-game series and the first time since the 1997 Stanley Cup finals vs. Detroit.

Holmgren had seen enough. It was time for a change.

There was no bigger move than the one in net. The Flyers were openly mocked for using a trio of goaltenders in the playoffs, none any better than the last. The Flyers did not have a shutout all season.

The carousel stopped when Holmgren acquired the rights for Bryzgalov and signed him to fat contract.

The departure of Richards and Carter may have weakened the offense, but there's no doubt they went from suspect to stout in the net.

"He can be a difference maker," van Riemsdyk said. "We're not going to put it all on his shoulders. It'll take all of us. But we know we can go out there and have him keep us up on nights when maybe the offense isn't there."

The Flyers lost a combined 314 goals and 692 points when the traded Richards to Los Angeles and Carter to Columbus.

Holmgren made the moves because he firmly believed van Riemsdyk and Giroux are the future for the Atlantic Division champions.

On the 76ers, Allen Iverson was known simply as A.I. On the Eagles, Terrell Owens was T.O.

Meet perhaps the next great initials-only please Philadelphia star: JVR.

The Flyers loved JVR so much that they signed him to a six-year extension in the offsesaon after he scored 21 goals and 40 points last year. He scored seven goals in 11 playoff games.

He's ready for the expectations that await this season.

"It's going to be a big challenge. We lost some key guys," he said. "It's something you look forward to as a competitor is those opportunities to be in those key situations and make those key plays."

JVR can pick up some big-game tips from Jagr, who made a surprising comeback to the league after a three-year stint in Russia. The 1999 league MVP has 646 NHL goals and is the league's active scoring leader with 1,599 points.

If Jagr can return anywhere close to the form when he was one of the best around, then the Flyers really will be a threat for the championship.

The most immediate concern for the Flyers is the health of forward Scott Hartnell. He was diagnosed last week with an elevated heartbeat and will visit a cardiologist on Tuesday.

"When it comes to your heart or your vital organs, you've got to be cautious about it," he said Monday. "Tomorrow's a big day. I feel great."

While hype has surrounded the Flyers, some tough situations have already stuck.

Holmgren was hospitalized following a bike crash at the New Jersey shore. And the sports world was shocked when a banana was thrown from the stands at Simmonds, who is black, during a preseason game in London, Ontario.

All of it has made the Flyers ready for one thing: To find out how it all play out this season.

"We can't wait," van Riemsdyk said.


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