The Philadelphia Flyers were a dark-horse to make the 2016 NHL playoffs for most of the season, but a great run down the stretch pushed them into the second Wild Card spot. This rapid turnaround was largely due to the play of outstanding young defender Shayne Gostisbehere. Prior to his arrival, the Flyers were 6-8-3 and falling in the standings, after he arrived the team finished the season 35-19-11.
It’s a gigantic turnaround but Gostisbehere was not responsible for all of it, although I would argue a considerable amount. People inside the Flyers described his attitude and desire to win as “infectious” and, given how the team played down the stretch, it seems they were correct in their assessment.
But let’s dive into why this season was a success even though the Flyers lost four games to two to the Washington Capitals.
Shayne Gostisbehere The First Of Many For Flyers
The Flyers have the luxury of a plethora of talented defensive prospects, which few teams currently have. I wrote earlier in the season about how the future of the Flyers blue line looks bright, and Gostisbehere is only the first of many.
This season with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms were prospects Samuel Morin and Robert Hagg. Both have a lot of potential, Morin has immense size at 6’7″ but needs to continue to refine his skating and positioning and Hagg has excellent vision, puck moving skills and defensive play, but he has been inconsistent in the AHL. Regardless of their flaws, both are young talented players with a lot of upside and plenty of time to develop.
And that’s not all the Flyers have in their prospect pool, they also have two very talented young defenders in Travis Sanheim and Ivan Provorov. Sanheim was Philadelphia’s 17th overall pick in the 2014 entry draft and Provorov was their 7th overall pick in the 2015 draft. Provorov has drawn rave reviews and was named a first-team All-Star and the Top Eastern Conference Defender. And Sanheim is no slouch either with many believing he might have a higher ceiling than Provorov. He produced over a point per-game in his last two years in the WHL, and also produced a goal and two assists in four games with the Phantoms this season.
The Flyers have a lot of talented defensive prospects coming down the pipeline and Gostisbehere was only the first. However, getting him to play almost all of the season accelerated the Flyers’ roster “retooling” that is quietly underway.
I wouldn’t be shocked if either Provorov or Sanheim makes the Flyers opening night roster out of training camp.
Flyers Weren’t Supposed to Make Playoffs
Midway through the season I covered the Flyers’ probability of making the playoffs according to leading mathematical algorithms and the results were surprising. As of January 20th, 2016 the Flyers had a probability of 20-35 percent, which was the lowest of any team still legitimately in the playoff hunt.
But here’s where it changed for the Flyers: after January 20th, Wayne Simmonds scored 20 goals, Brayden Schenn scored 16 and assisted on 23 more, and Claude Giroux assisted on 24 goals. All in all, the Flyers’ stars stepped up, including Jakub Voracek who had 25 points in that span.
However, no player willed Philadelphia into the playoffs as much as Gostisbehere, who scored 10 goals and assisted on 21 more in 44 games played.
If you consider the Flyers’ mathematical odds to make the playoffs, and that they actually made it, the season can easily be considered a success. I thought general manager Ron Hextall would trade assets at the deadline for future picks and prospects but he held firm and the team benefited from it. Tack on that Philadelphia was free of both Vincent Lecavalier’s and Luke Schenn’s cap hits and it’s easy to see the Flyers had a great year.
This team wasn’t supposed to make the playoffs, however Voracek believed from early in the season.
Hundred perfect, we should be in the playoffs. We weren’t there last year, but that doesn’t mean anything. It’s a new season. (September 15th, 2015)
But believing and saying your team will make the playoffs is one thing, it’s another go out and execute that vision. Over halfway through the season, this team did not look like a playoff team, but yet they still pushed and made it.
The future is bright for the Flyers and although it wasn’t their season, the best is yet to come.