The Philadelphia Flyers are about ready to hit the ice after what was somewhat of roller-coaster ride in 2014-15.
The team had players that failed to produce, a coach that was constantly throwing players under the bus, a first line that was one of the best in the league, and a goalie who is quickly emerging as a star.
The biggest casualty of last season was the coach. Craig Berube was fired following his second season (first full) behind the bench. He was replaced by former North Dakota head coach Dave Hakstol. He will bring a totally new dynamic to the Flyers, one that is completely independent of any former ties to the organization.
The Flyers come into this year with a sort of mosh-pit of players. They have quite a few young players who are still developing, a few players who are hitting their prime, and a few older players who really need to start producing a little bit more, especially when you factor in their cap hits.
With a few new acquisitions, and some key departures, the Flyers could be a better team than last season, but a lot of that is dependent on individual production. A lot of Flyers will be fighting to stay in the lineup night in and night out and guys like R.J. Umberger could become the odd-man out in this situation. With the addition of Colin McDonald and Sam Gagner, Umberger and his gigantic cap hit could be in the press box, especially if he fails to perform early on.
- Record: 33-31-18 (84 Points – 7th in Metropolitan)
- Goals For/Game: 2.59 (21st)
- Goals Against/Game: 2.72 (21st)
- Powerplay: 23.4% (3rd)
- Penalty Kill: 77.1% (27th)
- Dave Hakstol
- Sam Gagner
- Yevgeni Medvedev
- Nicklas Grossmann
- Zac Rinaldo
- Chris Pronger
- B. Schenn-Giroux-Voracek
Claude Giroux: I’ve said it so many times before, and I’ll reiterate it again, Giroux is the lifeblood of the Flyers. Countless times over the past few seasons, the Flyers have followed in Giroux’s footsteps, both good and bad. That needs to happen again. Giroux’s captaincy will become even more important this season. The Flyers are going through a transitional phase, they have new guys coming in, and young guys who are just getting their crack at the NHL. Giroux needs to lead by example. He has priceless chemistry with rising superstar Jakub Voracek, and they should only get better this season. Giroux’s production dipped a little bit last season (25-48-73), but I expect that to rise a little bit this season, especially if there’s less pressure on the first line to produce.
Jakub Voracek: Voracek enters this season looking to build on his monster campaign last season. Despite the Flyers being nowhere close to the playoffs, Voracek was a critical part of the Flyers powerplay and their leading scorer last season, putting up 81 points in 82 games. There were times last season where he looked like a man possessed on the ice. I would expect nothing less from Voracek this season. His point totals have steadily increased since he came to Philadelphia a few seasons ago, and he’s just hitting the age where most players break into their prime. As I said above, Giroux and Voracek have a type of chemistry that any team would be envious of. If the stars align and Voracek continues to impress, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be able to hit the 90 point plateau.
Vincent Lecavalier: The Flyers have themselves an interesting situation with the 35-year-old center. Lecavalier made it well-known that he was not fond of the former Flyer coach, and admittedly he had legitimate reasons. That being said, Lecavalier is nowhere near the type of player he used to be. Despite having a cap hit north of $4 million, Lecavalier has only put up 57 points in his two seasons in Philadelphia. He’s been a heathy scratch, found himself in a checking line role, and also found himself as a healthy scratch multiple times. This season, Lecavalier is very excited to have a new coach in town and hopes for a fresh start. The Flyers are stuck with him for a few more seasons, so they better hope that he can at least score 20 goals again, they could really use it.
Matt Read: Just another wild card in the mix of Flyers that have gone silent over the past few seasons. Read, who scored at least 20 goals in each of his first two full seasons in the NHL, mysteriously went silent last season. He finished with just 8 goals, and there were some nights when you wouldn’t even know he was out there. Read needs to turn that around, and he definitely can. Read found himself alongside two players he just didn’t fit in with last season. Sean Couturier is defensive minded, and RJ Umberger had a disastrous season. With the additions the Flyers made to their roster, Read could find himself on a new line, possibly with Simmonds and Gagner, or along side Couturier and someone new. That could help across the board. The Flyers could really use Matt Read’s goal scoring back, and there’s good reason to think we may see it again.
Wayne Simmonds: If you want to take a closer look at why the Flyers powerplay was unstoppable last season, look no further than Wayne Simmonds. Simmonds scored half of his goals on the powerplay last season, and is a netfront presence that is very hard to defend against. Simmonds’ point total decreased by 10 this seaso, however he did miss the Flyers last few games due to injury. I would expect more out of him this season. With Sam Gagner possibly joining him on the opposite wing, there is no reason Simmonds shouldn’t find himself with more scoring opportunities on the powerplay, and at even strength.
- Mark Streit-Yevgeni Medvedev
- Luke Schenn-Michael Del Zotto
- Andrew MacDonald-Ivan Provorov
Ivan Provorov: At just 18, I can see the youngster cracking the Flyers roster at some point this season, if not on opening night. The Flyers have a lot of options available for that third pairing. Radko Gudas is there, along with Shayne Gostisbehere, who already has played in the NHL. But Provorov stands out, as he already proved at Flyers rookie camp earlier in the month. Forget Provorov’s age for a second and look at his skill set. Here’s an excerpt from E.J. Hradek of NHL Network:
“The scouts that I talked to didn’t just love this kid, they rave about him. They see him as a guy who’s going to play in this league for a long time and play in all situations, certainly be a top-pair defender and maybe be a No. 1 defender. And if you think about the Philadelphia Flyers, in their system now (are) Shayne Gostisbehere, Robert Hagg, Travis Sanheim, Sam Morin. All of a sudden, they’ve got a good group of young defensemen there, and (Provorov) might end up being the best of that group.”
Provorov’s skill set fits right in with what Hakstol is going to be trying to hammer home in Philadelphia. A quick transition game and a hard-hitting, fast offense. Provorov can provide both of them. He looked like a man among boys last season in the very good WHL, posting 61 points in 60 games, and scoring some dazzling goals in the process. The NHL is a different ballgame, but there’s no reason to think Provorov shouldn’t see action this season. I wouldn’t even be surprised if he ends up really making a difference for the Flyers in the end.
Yevgeni Medvedev: The Flyers signed the Russian defenseman this offseason with the hope that he can bolster up the blue-line. Fans may not know that much about Medvedev, who has spent his whole career playing overseas in Russia, but he should be a welcomed addition to the blue line and may fit in very well with a guy like Mark Streit. Medvedev won two championships in Russia and is a three-time all-star. Here’s his scouting report from Elite Prospects:
“A large, yet very mobile and smooth skating defenseman. Medvedev sees the ice well and has good hockey sense. He can pass really well, but also possesses a hard shot. Could play a more physical and aggressive game given his size.”
Having a mobile defenseman that possesses size is a huge addition for the Flyers. Also keep in mind that his hard shot and on-ice vision could be very beneficial to the Flyers powerplay unit, especially the second unit, which needs to be revamped. He’s making the jump from the KHL to NHL sort of late in his career, but that shouldn’t stop him from improving the Flyers defense.
Andrew MacDonald: Something has to give with Andrew MacDonald. After signing a huge contract with the Flyers after being acquired from the Islanders, he has been less than great. Despite a corsi rating that wasn’t all that bad last season (48.2%), MacDonald finished as a minus-5 with just 12 points and was a healthy scratch at multiple points throughout the season. He has decent skating ability, but turns the puck over a lot. That needs to change and will be a big focus when talking about the transition game that Hakstol wants to use. I can see MacDonald improving over last year, especially with his playing time in jeopardy due to the upcoming prospects.
Steve Mason: There’s really only good things to say about Steve Mason since he has come to Philadelphia. After the Ilya Bryzgalov disaster unfolded, and the Flyers traded away a Vezina winner, all hope looked lost. Then along came Mason. In his two seasons in Philadelphia he has a .923 save percentage and a 2.36 GAA. He also had an NHL best .939 save percentage and 1.97 GAA in the 2014 playoffs, and was probably the main reason the Flyers went on to force a game 7 in New York. He was one of the best goalies in the NHL last season, with his save percentage and GAA in the top 10 in the league, despite having a sub-par defense infront of him, and a coach who constantly threw him under the bus. For the first time in a long time, the Flyers don’t have a huge question mark in net going into the season, and that should be a huge sigh of relief.
Sam Gagner: Gagner comes into this season with a clean slate. He spent last season with the abysmal Arizona Coyotes. That was a team that saw three players eclipse 40 points. Two were defensemen and the other was Sam Gagner. Gagner is also huge addition for the Flyers because despite being listed as a center, he has actually proven to be effective on the wing as well. That’s an added bonus for a team with a logjam at the center position. Keep in mind, Gagner was a 6th overall pick and is still just 26 years old. Yes, this is the same guy that once scored 8 points in a single game and has displayed some sick hands on the ice. If Brayden Schenn doesn’t produce on the wing, Gagner could quickly find himself on the first line, and you can’t help but to think that a line with Gagner-Giroux-Voracek would be pretty tough to play against. Gagner has everything to prove and nothing to lose, he may be a little ways along in his career, but he has a great opportunity infront of him, and could be very beneficial to the Flyers.
Player With The Most to Prove
Brayden Schenn: Schenn is entering the final year of his contract before he becomes a restricted free-agent, and a lot hangs on how much Schenn produces this season. Schenn just turned 24, and in his four seasons on the Flyers, his point production has steadily increased, the problem is that Schenn is notoriously inconsistent. The good news? Schenn ended last season on a great note, with 6 points in 5 games, including a 3 point performance against the Penguins. The bad news? Those last 5 games capped off an awful second half for Schenn. Before those 6 games, Schenn had just 12 points in his previous 34, however, he had 17 in his first 23 games of the season. Inconsistency is his biggest enemy, and of course, the line juggling that went on last season didn’t help that. Schenn has the ability to score and be an offensive force, we just have yet to see it on a nightly basis.
The Flyers have a lot of variables up in the air this season. As I mentioned above, Schenn is just one of a few who need to find consistency again. Having these guys score 20 or even 30 goals would be invaluable to the Flyers, who rely very heavily on Giroux and Voracek. Another huge variable is Hakstol. He has never coached an NHL team before, but had a good track record with North Dakota, especially with developing NHL players.His system is also one that the Flyers youth could definitely benefit from, but all of that remains to be seen.
Of course, we can’t forget about the defense, which may be the biggest variable of them all. The Flyers have three defensemen in their farm system who could possibly play this year (Provorov, Sanheim, and Gostisbehere). That’s an issue considering the Flyers have some veterans signed to huge contracts on defense. If it comes down to it, some of those veterans may be benched in favor of the younger, speedier defenseman.
This is an exciting time in Philadelphia. Those defensive prospects you’ve been hearing about for a while now may start to come into view. On top of that, the Flyers have a good core with Giroux, Voracek, Simmonds, Schenn, and Couturier. They also have a good fourth line, and a third line who has the ability to produce, but needs to find their stride.
The last variable in all of this is the Metropolitan division, and if you were to ask me, it’s pretty wide open. There isn’t one team that stands out as a clear-cut lock to run away with it. The Penguins and Capitals have a few superstars, but are lacking in depth and defense. The Rangers have a great defense, but really struggle to score at times.
As I said the Metropolitan is wide open, but the Flyers still have a good bit of work to do and a lot to prove. They won’t be as bad as last season, and they could very well snag a wild card spot, but don’t be surprised if they fall just a little bit short. But don’t mistake yourself, this team has a very bright future ahead of them.
Matt is a contributor for the Philadelphia Flyers at The Hockey Writers. He has previously covered the Flyers for GrandstandU. He enjoys playing hockey and making music in his spare time.