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Beautiful Losers

The other day I noted the Pittsburgh Penguins as having a successful offseason. Now, in order to balance out the yin & yang of NHL team assesments, here comes our first loser - the Philadelphia Flyers.

*gasp* But what about the big names, you say? Forsberg, Hatcher and Rathje all make for sensational headlines and will sell a lot of jerseys, but if you look at this team compared to the one which fell just short in the conference finals against Tampa Bay, you don't see much improvement. It's like a guy in a rowboat with just one oar - there may be a lot of splashing, but not much movement in a particular direction.

Arguably their best player from last season signed with Pittsburgh during the summer of 2004, veteran scorers John LeClair and Tony Amonte were bought out, and Jeremy Roenick was unceremoniously dumped in LA in order to clear cap space. Backup goaltender Sean Burke signed on with the Lightening, putting the team's future on the young shoulders of Robert Esche, who remains unsigned as a restricted free agent.

Bottom line, the Flyers have replaced one set of All-Star caliber players with another set, but in reality the new blood has just as many questions as the old. Can the new defensemen (each 6'5" and 230 lbs.) keep up in what is expected to be a faster-paced, up-and-down type of game? Will Forsberg stay healthy and motivated? What about longtime Flyers defenseman Eric Desjardins? His offensive production has steadily declined since 2001, and at age 36, that trend should only continue.

Not all is gloom and doom in Philly, of course. Michal Handzus and Simon Gagne are two forwards in their prime that any team would like to have, and Keith Primeau can hopefully springboard off his first truly productive playoff run to lead the Flyers with confidence.

What you'll see in most other NHL coverage, however, is a focus on the fresh talent walking in the door, rather than a comparison with what has left. On balance, I don't see Philadelphia as a markedly better team. If anything, their defense will be slower, the talent at forward less deep, and unless they land a quality backup, the goaltending will be a question mark. There will plenty of excitement in Philly as the season gets started, but I suspect that by the Olympic break fans will regret these signings, because in the salary cap era, the fix won't be as easy as just loading up at the trading deadline for a Cup run.