As the Philadelphia Flyers enter the 2015-16 season, it is hard not to see the summer of 2015 as a turning point. The organization finally has some fresh blood and the decisions of the management/coaching staff are taking the team in a new direction.
A basic rundown of the Flyers’ spring/summer should show that the Flyers are committed to building a long-term contender:
The Flyers traded two of their longest-tenured defensemen at the 2015 trade deadline, Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Coburn, to add significant draft picks in the 2015 NHL Draft. Although it was a difficult blow to lose both Coburn and Timonen in the same week, and then watch them compete against each other for the Stanley Cup, it served the long-term goal of the team.
Then, shortly after the season ended, Flyers general manager Ron Hextall relieved Craig Berube of his head coaching duties. This move was the first that showed a clear change in direction from the organization.
At the end of May, Hextall brought in two people without any former ties to the Flyers organization, Dave Hakstol and Evgeni Medvedev. Hakstol was hired as head coach on May 18, coming from the University of North Dakota. He is known as an intense man who clearly values an aggressive forecheck and smart play in the neutral zone. Medvedev, a 33-year-old Russian defenseman, is a solid all-around defenseman who is ready to handle tough NHL minutes.
In June at the NHL Draft, the Flyers were able to add Ivan Provorov to their fantastic stable of defense prospects. Later in the first round, Hextall used the draft picks that he acquired at the trade deadline to trade up and draft Travis Konecny.
Konecny, who may not have been the “biggest” or the “meanest” player available, has the highest skill level of any Flyers forward prospect and was a steal at 24th overall.
Before the weekend of the Draft was over, Hextall made what many consider to be his best move of the summer. The Flyers traded Nicklas Grossmann and the contract of Chris Pronger to the Arizona Coyotes for Sam Gagner and a conditional draft pick. This trade opened up cap space and rid the Flyers of their slowest defenseman.
Time does not permit me to go into detail concerning Hextall’s other brilliant moves, so they are listed below:
- Trading Zac Rinaldo to the Boston Bruins
- Long-term contracts to Jakub Voracek and Sean Couturier
- Under-the-radar signing of Michal Neuvirth
- Signing Michael Del Zotto to a short-term contract
- Remaining patient with young prospects
- Waiving Andrew MacDonald
However, despite these moves and decisions by the Flyers organization, the club still faces an uphill battle to make it into the playoffs and are still a couple of years away from being Stanley Cup contenders. Here are three reasons why:
The Flyers roster will likely feature 2-4 new faces (Radko Gudas, Evgeni Medvedev, Sam Gagner and Michal Neuvirth) on opening night. Scott Laughton and Brandon Manning have been with the organization for a few years now and they both dressed in the NHL at some point last year, so they are not considered “new faces.”
Therefore, the roster is almost identical to the team that took the ice last season. It is possible that when the Flyers take the ice on Thursday evening, Neuvirth will be on the bench as the backup goalie while both Gudas and Gagner are in the press box. This means that 17 of the 18 skaters in the game will be players who were on the Flyers last season.
Obviously, the Flyers did not make the playoffs last year. Sure, the fact that Grossmann and MacDonald will not be on the ice can be seen as “addition by subtraction,” but the losses of Coburn and Timonen will both hurt the team on the ice. Unless a few players take significant steps forward, the Flyers will be almost the same team as the 2014-15 club that missed the postseason.
Even if the Flyers do improve in 2015-16, and I believe they will, they may not be able to keep up with their division. Brandon Saad, Phil Kessel, Justin Williams and TJ Oshie have all joined the Metropolitan Division this summer as almost every team is expected to make a big step forward.
The Flyers were sixth in the division last season, ahead of the New Jersey Devils and the Carolina Hurricanes. Among the five teams that sat in front of them, which team will the Flyers pass next season? Looking at the roster of each other Metropolitan team may be a sobering exercise for Flyers fans. But that is ok, because…
The Cavalry is Coming
Where the Flyers have made huge strides over the past few years, and especially the summer of 2015, is in their prospect pool. The Flyers now boast one of the top farm systems in the league, and arguably the best group of defense prospects in the NHL.
A few of the defense prospects looked NHL-ready out of training camp but were eventually sent down. A case could be made for one of Ivan Provorov, Shayne Gostisbehere or Robert Hagg to be on the Flyers right now. Both Travis Sanheim and Samuel Morin have shown steady improvement over the past year, while a few lesser known prospects like Reece Willcox, Mark Friedman and Phillipe Myers continue to progress.
The Flyers are not too shabby in terms of forward and goalie prospects, as well. Travis Konecny, Oskar Lindblom and Nicolas Aube-Kubel are all projected as top-nine wingers who have the potential to be serious NHL contributors. Other prospects like Mikhail Vorobyov, Taylor Leier, David Kase and Radel Fazleev could each end up being quality NHL players.
In terms of goaltending, all three of Anthony Stolarz, Felix Sandstrom and Matej Tomek have high-end potential. Because it is so difficult to project goaltenders, it is possible that none of them will pan-out. However, even if only one guy does, that will bode well for the organization. Both Merrick Madsen and Ivan Fedotov are huge, but very raw, goaltenders who are still incredibly young.
The future is bright for the Flyers. As exciting as that is, the future may not quite begin in 2015-16. Patience is a virtue. And if Flyers fans (and management) can cultivate that virtue, they may find themselves with a perennial Stanley Cup contender by the end of this decade.