A new season in Philadelphia has ushered in change to the Flyers organization. The franchise historically known as a pack of savages looking to pick a fight has evolved into a more modern styled team, proven by the hiring of first-year head coach Dave Hakstol. But what remains as steady as the expectation to be in the mix year-in and year-out is a confident Ed Snider.
According to recent reports, the Flyers owner expressed his thoughts on the upcoming season, which include good vibes for a playoff run. Of course, this isn’t the first time Snider has preached his personal optimism for the now, so it should come as no surprise to anyone.
Sure, there’s reason to feel good about these Flyers under the rule of GM Ron Hextall. But are playoff expectations realistically in play for this year’s squad?
The Requirement of Confidence
No matter the endeavor, no person or team achieves success at the highest level without a belief in one self, even if no one else shares it.
Confidence is what enabled the 1980 U.S. Men’s Olympic team to overcome the insurmountable odds against the heavily favored Soviets in the medal round en route to a gold medal over Finland. It even sparked the 2013-14 Flyers team to a playoff berth after captain Claude Giroux declared they’d play in the postseason after a 1-7-0 start.
The expectation to compete, if not win, is woven into the fabric of the Flyers’ organization, as their 57.7 percent all-time NHL points percentage – and more recently – their eight straight winning seasons, suggest.
Despite the historical awe, as well as the recent progress made by Hextall, the Flyers will enter the season staring down the likelihood of missing out on the playoffs for consecutive years for the first time since their five-year drought from 1989 to 1994.
You wouldn’t know that, of course, by Snider’s recent comments.
“I think that I have a lot of faith in Ron Hextall, who has a lot of faith in Hakstol,” said Snider, per CSN Philly’s Tim Panaccio. “Frankly, I’m looking for big things. I think we’re gonna turn this team around. I think we’re gonna be a playoff team this year.”
Contrary to Snider’s tone, the Hextall era has approached fixing the team’s salary cap mess in a pragmatic manner. In lieu of mortgaging the future to quench the the thirst of the “win now” mentality, the Flyers were sellers at last season’s trade deadline.
Snider felt the discomfort of the process last season as he watched his beloved team drop 10 of 13 games in March, and 13 of their final 19 games overall.
Hextall has since fired coach Craig Berube, on top of moving out the likes of Braydon Coburn, Nicklas Grossmann, and Zac Rinaldo.
With Hakstol earning Snider’s trust via Hextall’s endorsement, the players are buying in as well.
“Everybody in here believes we’re a playoff team and that we can do something good in the playoffs,” forward Michael Raffl said via Sam Carchidi of Philly.com. “We just have to be consistent from game to game.”
“This team is too good not to make the playoffs two years in a row,” added Jakub Voracek, the team’s leading scorer from a year ago.
But even with the additions of Sam Gagner and backup goalie Michal Neuvirth, last year’s team is similarly intact. That means the talent is there to win games, but with no major upgrades to the blue line, it likely won’t be enough.
That’s not to say it isn’t possible, however.
For the Flyers to make the playoffs, though, they’ll need an awful lot to go right – a perfect storm, if you will.
An Uphill Climb
Although the Flyers were graced with 154 combined points between Giroux and Voracek, along with Steve Mason’s masterful play down the stretch, there were an abundance of factors that played into the team missing out on the playoffs.
- The entire squad was ravaged with injuries throughout the marathon, which made Philadelphia’s already feeble blue line even weaker. Such injuries forced a reluctant Hextall to call up prospect Shayne Gostisbehere for a pair of games, despite his philosophy in not rushing undeveloped talent.
- Injuries to Mason, and later to backup Ray Emery, thrusted then 33-year-old rookie Rob Zepp into the crease for 10 games, and even forced Hextall to call up unfinished prospect Anthony Stolarz to the big club in the event of major catastrophe.
- Vinny Lecavalier’s “bounce back” year from his 37-point campaign in 2013-14 was the antithesis of the phrase, as the 16-year veteran collected only 20 points in 57 games, while visiting the press box as a healthy scratch (on multiple occasions) for the first time in his storied career.
- R.J. Umberger did nothing to alleviate the absence of Scott Hartnell, despite serving in a different role than the former top line winger. Umberger’s 15 points in 67 games were a career-low, three less than his 18-point year in 48 games of the 2012-13 season.
- Matt Read played much of the season with an ankle injury that undoubtedly played a role in the fourth-year veteran’s career-low eight goals.
- The Flyers won only 10 of their 41 road games, which left them 14th in the Eastern Conference. It took Berube’s squad up until Apr. 1 to win their 10th road game.
- Philadelphia was 3-11 in shootouts, yielding 21 goals, while scoring only 12 goals for. Their 11 shootout losses were the most in the entire league.
- The Flyers’ 77.1 percent penalty kill percentage was the fourth lowest in the league, despite killing off 81.7 percent of their penalties at home.
- Philly’s 49.28 percent five-on-five SAT percentage was 21st in the NHL, and their 48.38 percent SAT Close percentage was 23rd.
Those numbers will be difficult to both duplicate, and improve on. On one hand, it can’t get worse, not with the talent present on the roster. On the other, personnel is relatively the same, making it difficult to make enough of a significant difference.
If guys like Cousins & Straka cant beat out Umberger & Lecavalier for roster spots, its time to flush them too.
— Mikey D, O&BP ?? (@MikeyD_OandBP) August 27, 2015
Hakstol’s impact should shake things up, if not in the points department, then in statistics. But as Puck Daddy’s Josh Cooper points out, the glaring holes on defense make the Flyers a long shot to reach the postseason:
Giroux and Voracek will get their points. Philadelphia’s secondary scoring will improve with Schenn and Sean Couturier becoming more valuable contributors. Hakstol will have some growing pains, but ultimately will find the right message by the end of the season. Philly’s D will again be its downfall. It’s just not very good. The Flyers will finish about five points outside the Wild Card.
Should Hakstol be an immediate success, this forecast – along with others – will be proven wrong. After all, Neuvirth is much more likely to steal a game here and there than Emery.
The absence of Rinaldo on the fourth line will open playing time for those who can register more than six points for an entire season, while reducing penalty minutes significantly.
Even Brayden Schenn, who notched a career-high 47 points, is expected to improve upon his 18 goals and 29 assists from last season.
It’ll also be intriguing to see how newcomer Evgeny Medvedev adjusts to the North American style of the NHL after spending the past seven seasons in the KHL. Along with a potential NHL ready prospect from the farm, it’s not out of the realm of possibility to see the defense take a big step forward this year.
But then again, that’ll require the Flyers to stay healthy, a difficult task to ask of any NHL team.
Philadelphia’s 329 man games lost season were the sixth most in the entire league, making them one of only seven teams to lose 300 man games or more.
With Hextall’s ongoing renovations taking place, making the playoffs this season is a lot to expect, or even ask. Snider may disagree through his previous words, but he and the players whose checks he signs are in the minority.
You have to love their confidence, though.