In the Flyers' first preseason scrimmage captain Keith Primeau
and defenseman Chris McAllister got tangled up and fought.
Primeau broke McAllister's nose, but both players laughed it off,
with the combative Primeau joking that McAllister had "called me
a goon." That lighthearted interaction between Philadelphia
teammates was a sea change from last spring, when players carped
behind coach Bill Barber's back, feuded with goaltender Roman
Cechmanek and scored just two goals in a five-game, first-round
playoff loss to seventh-seeded Ottawa.
Disciplinarian Ken Hitchcock replaces the fired Barber, and
Hitchcock's no-nonsense approach (which includes setting clocks
at the practice facility five minutes ahead) has put the Flyers'
star-studded house back in order. "This is very similar to when I
came to Dallas," says Hitchcock, who won the Stanley Cup with the
Stars in 1999, his fourth season with the club. "I feel the
veterans on this team are ready for very firm and strong
Fifty-point scorers Simon Gagne, John LeClair, Mark Recchi and
Jeremy Roenick anchor the forward lines, and burly centers
Primeau (6'5", 220 pounds) and Michal Handzus (6'5", 217) beef up
the middle; Handzus, acquired along with goaltender Robert Esche
from Phoenix for netminder Brian Boucher, was slotted for a
checking line role, but his offensive contributions during camp
so impressed Hitchcock that Handzus may center LeClair and Recchi
on a supersized second unit.
Hitchcock also hired assistant coach Craig Hartsburg to revamp
the power play, which converted only 13.0% last season, 28th in
the league. By emphasizing puck movement and cycling down low,
Hartsburg seems to have the power play clicking.
Philadelphia's biggest gamble is in net, where the trade of
Boucher leaves the moody and unpopular Cechmanek the full-time
starter. Despite a 2.05 goals-against average and a .921 save
percentage in 46 games last season, both among the league's best,
Cechmanek's career playoff mark is 3-7 with a 2.61 GAA in 10
"If this team can't win under Ken Hitchcock," Flyers chairman Ed
Snider says, "then I am convinced it can't win under
Jeremy Roenick's 67 points (21 goals, 46 assists) last season
were the fewest to lead the Flyers since Bobby Clarke had 63
points (27 goals, 36 assists) in 1970-71.
CATEGORY SI RANKING SKINNY
OFFENSE 6 Outstanding down middle with Roenick, Primeau
DEFENSE 4 Good size and strength; will excel because of
GOALTENDING 9 No controversy this year--Cechmanek's the man
SPECIAL TEAMS 7 Addition of Handzus improves penalty-killing
MANAGEMENT 5 Hitchcock among top coaches in the game