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2 PHILADELPHIA Flyers
Michael Farber
October 08, 2001
After helping Jeremy Roenick tug on his new Flyers sweater at a July press conference announcing the signing of the free-agent center to a five-year, $37.5 million contract, owner Ed Snider was about to take his seat when the irrepressible Roenick commanded, "Hold on. Come here and give me a hug." Roenick then grabbed Snider and gave his boss a crushing bear hug, Snider's eyes widening in surprise and amusement. "You'd give him a hug, too," Roenick told reporters later, "if he gave you that kind of money?
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October 08, 2001

2 Philadelphia Flyers

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Insider

CATEGORY

SI RANKING

SKINNY

FORWARDS

4

Terrific balance, especially with a healthy LeClair

DEFENSE

5

Addition of steady Weinrich makes a big difference

GOALTENDING

11

Can Cechmanek repeat last season's success?

SPECIAL TEAMS

4

Dynamic Roenick will strengthen power play

MANAGEMENT

6

G.M. Clarke has team that should contend for years

After helping Jeremy Roenick tug on his new Flyers sweater at a July press conference announcing the signing of the free-agent center to a five-year, $37.5 million contract, owner Ed Snider was about to take his seat when the irrepressible Roenick commanded, "Hold on. Come here and give me a hug." Roenick then grabbed Snider and gave his boss a crushing bear hug, Snider's eyes widening in surprise and amusement. "You'd give him a hug, too," Roenick told reporters later, "if he gave you that kind of money?

Imagine, hugging in Philadelphia. Next: hand-holding, campfire songs and a berth in the Stanley Cup finals.

The poisoned atmosphere around the Flyers, for whom bellicosity was as prevalent off the ice as on it, has dissipated with the trade of Eric Lindros, the former franchise player whose noxious relationship with general manager Bob Clarke bedeviled the franchise. Philadelphia made several significant moves in the summer—re-signing leftwinger John LeClair to a five-year, $45 million contract, adding steady free-agent defense-man Eric Weinrich and landing the rights to elusive Czech center Jiri Dopita in a trade with the Panthers—but none had the power to heal like dealing a once-in-a-generation talent such as Lindros to the rival Rangers for defenseman Kim Johnsson, winger Jan Hlavac and forward prospect Pavel Brendl. The Roenick signing was the blockbuster. By acquiring another marquee center, Clarke sent an unmistakable message to the Lindros family and the league that any Lindros trade would be on Philadelphia's terms.

These Flyers are still disparate pieces—their goalie has never won a playoff series, their defense is skilled but not overwhelming—but the talent level is markedly superior to the 100-point team rookie coach Bill Barber pushed into the playoffs last year. "I haven't been in a locker room this talented since I was [on the 1992 Cup winner] in Pittsburgh," says 37-year-old Rick Tocchet, who will miss the first month with a knee injury. When he gets back, he'll compete with second-year pro Justin Williams for a spot next to Roenick and LeClair on a formidable second line.

Indeed, the Flyers' first line of center Keith Primeau, right wing Mark Recchi and left wing Simon Gagn� was invited en masse to Canada's Olympic orientation camp last month. The unknown is the 6'4", 220-pound Dopita, 32, whose rights have bounced around the league since the Bruins drafted him in 1992. Until now he had been content playing in Europe. He succumbed to the Flyers' blandishments, in part because Dopita is best friends with Philly goalie Roman Gechmanek. Dopita understands there will be an adjustment to NHL life. When asked by a Czech reporter how good his English was, he replied, in Czech, "Perfect. I don't speak a word."

Cechmanek had a Sesame Street vocabulary when he arrived, at 29, in the NHL last season, but his play spoke volumes. Despite starting the season in the minors, he wound up as a finalist for the Vezina Trophy with 35 wins, a 2.01 goals-against average and a .921 save percentage. Then Cechmanek, the backup on the Czech Republic's 1998 Olympic gold medal team, and the Flyers ran into Czech goaltending hero Dominik Hasek and the Sabres in the first playoff round. Cechmanek was part of the problem, not part of the solution, in a six-game meltdown in which the Flyers were drubbed 8-0 in the finale.

Cechmanek has something to prove, and look for Eric Desjardins to help out by reaffirming his place among the NHL's top defensemen, a task made easier because he doesn't have to carry young partners this season. The additions of Johnsson, a mobile puck mover, and Weinrich, who excels in any role, give Philadelphia its deepest defense in a decade.

Now that the Flyers have knocked the chip off their own shoulders, it's time to knock off the defending Eastern Conference champion Devils.

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

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