An up-and-down season ended in disaster in April, as the Flyers had a hard time lighting the lamp in their five-game loss to the Ottawa Senators in the first round.
Philadelphia won Game 1 in overtime 1-0, but was shut out in three consecutive games by Ottawa netminder Patrick Lalime. The Flyers went an astonishing 320 minutes, 36 seconds without a playoff regulation goal until Dan McGillis scored 3:53 into Game 5. It was an embarrassing way to end a season, especially considering their 33-15-6-3 record at the Olympic break.
Philadelphia said goodbye to Brian Boucher, Jiri Dopita, Ruslan Fedotenko, Adam Oates and Luke Richardson this offseason, and Oates' departure likely will be a franchise albatross for many years. The Flyers dealt goaltending prospect Maxime Ouellet and three draft picks to the Capitals for Oates at the trade deadline, only to have the veteran contribute just three goals and nine assists in 19 games.
Ken Hitchcock is the new man behind the bench, brought in after being fired by Dallas on Jan. 25 despite the team's 23-17-6-4 record. Hitchcock was an assistant with the Flyers from 1990-93.
A 47-33 playoff record, in addition to a no-nonsense attitude, make Hitchcock a good bet to stick around Philly longer than the recent parade of head coaches. Since letting Terry Murray go after losing in the 1997 Stanley Cup finals, general manager Bobby Clarke has hired and fired Wayne Cashman, Roger Neilson, Craig Ramsay and Bill Barber in a five-year span.
Though his scoring dipped below 70 points for the first time in four seasons, Roenick's defense and all-around game were as good as they've been since his career seasons with the Blackhawks in the mid-1990s. He finished at plus-32, second only to Chris Chelios' league-leading plus-40.
Roenick took his share of the blame for the playoff flop, after going scoreless with 14 penalty minutes and a minus-3 in the short series. The Flyers know J.R. is the guy in crunch time, as his previous playoff totals of 95 points in 105 games attest.
Inconsistent goaltending -- Roman Cechmanek can be maddening to Flyers fans. And his own teammates are occasionally frustrated by his oddball nature and inconsistent play.
After compiling a brilliant 35-15-6 record with a 2.01 goals-against average in 2000-01 as a rookie, Cechmanek "slumped" to a 24-13-6 with a 2.05 GAA last year. And like the rest of the Flyers of late, postseasons haven't exactly been his specialty. After two postseason appearances, Cechmanek's GAA is 0.59 higher in the playoffs that in the regular season. So while a 59-28-12 record and a 2.03 GAA in the regular season are impressive, a 3-7 playoff record with a 2.62 GAA is enough to drive his teammates crazy.
Cechmanek's flaky nature and temper came to a head after falling behind in Game 4 in Ottawa. Cechmanek skated to center ice, gestured wildly and yelled at his teammates. His teammates all initially assumed Cechmanek was asking out of the game, and responded by firing shots at his head the following day in practice. Luckily, Hitchcock has experience dealing with flaky goalies after babysitting Ed Belfour in Dallas.
Cechmanek will have some continued fence-mending to do with his teammates early in the season, both to overcome his own actions and to gain their trust in the wake of the team dealing his popular backup.
The Flyers contend the problems are now water under the bridge and expect to have a more harmonious locker room this season.
Is Simon Gagne the best young left wing in the NHL?
If Gagne hasn't already cracked the elite level of left wings in your mind, expect him to do so this season.
Gagne finished sixth in the voting for the NHL's postseason all-star team behind Markus Naslund, Brendan Shanahan, Todd Bertuzzi, Keith Tkachuk and Eric Daze. The difference between Gagne and that quintet is that he is 5 1/2 years younger than Daze, the next youngest of that bunch.
Gagne and Ilya Kovalchuk appear poised to be the dominant left wings for the next decade. While Kovalchuk's flashy moves and fleet feet may make him the favorite for highlight shows, Gagne's defensive responsibility and great complete game could make him a more respected all-around player.
Playing in Hitchcock's system will help Gagne continue to develop his defensive skills. After three full seasons he is already an impressive plus-66, including an oustanding plus-31 last season, tied best in the NHL.
The big worry in Philadelphia is that the restricted free-agent left winger may hold out, as he is demanding a significant raise from his $975,000 salary. With second-liners Mark Recchi and Keith Primeau offering less production for nearly $5 million a year, that would be a likely benchmark for a new long-term deal for Gagne.
Pitkänen was the bounty of Clarke's fleecing of the Tampa Bay Lightning in June. Clarke dealt underachieving young third-line winger Ruslan Fedotenko and two draft picks to the Lightning in exchange for the No. 4 pick, which was used to grab Pitkänen. The Finnish defenseman is a good skater and some were saying he was better than No. 3 pick Jay Bouwmeester.
Pitkänen compares himself to Oilers defenseman (and former Flyer) Janne Niinimaa, though with more offense. He spent some time in Philadelphia this summer but did not participate in the Flyers' rookie camp after having knee surgery. Additionally, as a precaution, Pitkänen sat out the junior tournament in Lake Placid, N.Y. in early August. Scouts have Pitkänen pegged as a top-pair NHL defenseman in the near future, though another season with Kärpät would be helpful. Expect him to make his NHL debut -- and compete for the Calder Trophy -- in 2003-04.
Jon A. Dolezar covers the NHL for CNNSI.com.