The Flyers' run to the Stanley Cup finals is officially over. The next time they take the ice, they'll be 0-0-0 for the 2010-11 season.
While Philadelphia has some specific issues to address personnel-wise this summer, the more important question might be what effect the Flyers' historic playoff run has on them next season.
This is a team that was inches away from missing the playoffs. So will next year's team revert back to that level, an echelon below the Washingtons and Pittsburghs of the world? Or will the Flyers use this as a springboard to being a consistent contender over the next few years?
Curt Schilling once said he became a better pitcher once he learned to approach every game like a World Series game.
Similarly, the Flyers need to play every game at the level they did in the playoffs.
Guys like Simon Gagne, Danny Briere, Scott Hartnell and Braydon Coburn stick out. Along with emerging stars Ville Leino and Claude Giroux, those veterans were crucial to the playoff run, taking their games to another level to supplement the stellar play of the guys who had gotten the Flyers to the playoffs, such as Mike Richards and Chris Pronger. Those four also were big reasons why the Flyers underachieved in the regular season.
Gagne had nine goals in 19 playoff games after scoring just 17 in 58 regular-season games. He thrived alongside Richards and Dan Carcillo in the second and third rounds but struggled once Jeff Carter replaced Carcillo. Similarly, Gagne had his best season in 2005-06, when he scored 47 goals playing with Peter Forsberg. Gagne isn't likely to get back to that level, but putting him in the right situation to be a major contributor will be important.
Briere, meanwhile, had a playoff-high 30 points in 23 games. While it's probably unrealistic to expect him to maintain that pace, since he's averaged more than a point per game only once in his career, Briere needs to produce more than the 53 points he had in 75 regular-season games. Keeping him with Leino and Hartnell is the best bet, but the most important thing will be to keep him at center - which would mean either trading Carter or moving Carter or Giroux to wing.
Hartnell is a similar case. After scoring 30 goals last season, he had just 14 in 81 games this season. But he scored eight in 23 playoff games. Hartnell is the team's best power forward - at least until James van Riemsdyk develops more - and they badly need him to earn the $4.2 million per year he makes.
Coburn is tougher to analyze statistically since he's a defenseman, but it was no secret the Flyers weren't thrilled with the regular season he had. At 6-foot-5, 220 pounds, Coburn will never be Pronger, but the 25-year-old has the size, strength and speed to be a very good defenseman. He was developing well before this season. At times during the playoffs, he was Philadelphia's best player on the ice, double-shifting almost as much as Pronger and Kimmo Timonen. With those two turning 36 soon, Coburn needs to keep playing the way he did the past two months.
Gagne, Briere, Hartnell and Coburn are far from being the only keys to the Flyers becoming a perennial contender. Leino, Giroux and Matt Carle need to prove their postseason success was no fluke. Carter either needs to become a real franchise player or get out of town. And, obviously, the team needs a goaltender.
But it would help a lot if those four players don't have any more regular seasons like 2009-10, and if they figure out how to consistently tap into whatever it was that took them to a new level in the playoffs.