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4 Philadelphia
Team Page | 2002-2003 Schedule | Roster | 2001-2002 Player Stats | Arrivals and departures

A change behind the bench provides the jolt these underachievers need

By Daniel G. Habib

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Simon Gagne.  Lou Capozzola
SI Fast Fact
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.
SI Insider Rankings
Offense: 6
Outstanding down middle with Roenick, Primeau
Defense: 4
Good size and strength; will excel because of coaching
Goaltending: 9
No controversy this year -- Cechmanek's the man
Special Teams: 7
Addition of Handzus improves penalty-killing unit
Management: 2
Hitchcock among top coaches in the game

Sports Illustrated 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 direction."

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 games.

"If this team can't win under Ken Hitchcock," Flyers chairman Ed Snider says, "then I am convinced it can't win under anyone."

Issue date: October 14, 2002