Season of positives, negatives comes to an abrupt end for Philadelphia Flyers

Photo Courtesy of AP/Yahoo Sports

By Charlie O’Connor (@THG_Charlie)

Optimist or pessimist?

Both personality types had plenty of material to work with during the 2011-12 Philadelphia Flyers regular season. And the postseason was no different.

The optimist could point to a team, chock full of rookies, that emerged from a radical roster reconstruction and finished with one more postseason victory than the previous, veteran-laden incarnation.

The pessimist would acknowledge this truth, while retorting that the two departed figures from that reconstruction sit one series away from a return trip to the Stanley Cup Finals, now members of the Los Angeles Kings.

The optimist can praise a Flyers team that eliminated the consensus Stanley Cup favorites, the Pittsburgh Penguins, in an offensive blitz of a series that can be rightfully called historic.

The pessimist, on the other hand, will struggle to forget the five-game loss to the New Jersey Devils in the second round, when Philadelphia squandered both home-ice and an apparent talent advantage as they were both outworked and outplayed.

The optimist, of course, has Claude Giroux, who developed into a bonafide superstar in the regular season, and capped off his year by outplaying both Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby in a dazzling effort in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, inspiring unofficial “greatest player in the world” and “future captain” tags.

All true, the pessimist could note. But this “captain” was not on the ice for the Flyers’ Game 5 loss to the New Jersey Devils that ended their playoff run, a victim of his own recklessness and immaturity that resulted in a one-game suspension.

So which side is correct? Or is there a middle ground – a balance between excitement regarding the future and disappointment that comes with a legitimate opportunity wasted?

“We are probably one of the youngest teams in the league this year,” Scott Hartnell said. “We gave it a good run here, but to see a bunch of these young faces and the up and coming talent they have here, even though it is one of the worst days of the year – you have to look to the future and it is going to be exciting.”

The central figure in the Flyers’ 2011-12 season, top scorer Claude Giroux, lacked the perspiration and exhaustion that defined his teammates in the aftermath of the loss, instead dressed in a suit and tie. But to his credit, Giroux not only made himself available to the media following the series loss, but also participated in the handshake line, despite his suspension.

He hinted in the locker room that the Flyers may have entered their second round series suffering from overconfidence.

“I think we were thinking we were going to walk over to New Jersey and they’ll fall a little bit. I guess we’ve got to learn from it.”

Giroux’s suspension took some of the shine away from a breakout season for the 24-year old center. But his rapid development cannot be ignored, as Giroux finished the season rightfully considered to be one of the top five forwards in the world. And his case for the title of best player in the NHL does not fall apart under close inspection, after accounting for his two-way play and penchant for succeeding despite taking on tough competition nightly.

Regardless of the nature of the small letter on his jersey, Giroux has taken up a key leadership role on Flyers. For a team filled with youth, Giroux exemplified the heights that a talented player could reach when he supplemented his skills with a relentless work ethic.

And the youth on the team stepped up accordingly.

Sean Couturier, particularly through his effort against Evgeni Malkin in the postseason, proved that he is quickly developing into a shutdown center at the incredible age of 19.

Wayne Simmonds became a force on the power play during the regular season, a garbage-goal scoring crease-crasher who was nearly unstoppable on his best nights.

Brayden Schenn battled through injuries to show flashes of a style that combines physicality and grit with world-class vision.

And while Jakub Voracek’s goal and assist totals remained stagnant, his puck possession game benefited from a season with his hometown hero, Jaromir Jagr, and he remains a talented forward with top line potential.

The future remains bright. Still, players like Kimmo Timonen provide a cautionary tale for the easy “wait ’til next year” narratives.

“I’m running out of time to be honest. I don’t have many chances left and this is a wasted opportunity for us,” he lamented.

With only one year remaining on his contract, Timonen may only have one last chance at hockey’s ultimate prize. But he acknowledged that while his NHL career may soon be over, the Flyers in their current incarnation will have plenty more chances to hoist the Stanley Cup.

“Look at this team. How many young guys here? They are going to have a really good team for years to come.”

Still, the promise of the future does not make the present any less painful.

“I can tell you that, the group that’s in that room right now is a terrific group of men,” Peter Laviolette said. “They played hard this year, they gave a lot and we came up short.  It’s a bright future and we’re looking forward to that.”

“But tonight, it’s disappointing.”

Both the optimists and pessimists can agree there.

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