The 2016-17 season will absolutely play out as one of the most interesting seasons to strike Philadelphia in the last 10 years, and it has nothing to do with being a favorite for the Stanley Cup.
The Flyers endured a wild ride last season, one that was rife with inconsistency. Through the first stanza of the season, the team could barely find the back of the net, and low scoring games were the norm. It was almost like watching the Devils of the early 2000’s, just without the winning aspect of things.
Shayne Gostisbehere came onto the scene in November of last season, and immediately changed the whole dynamic of the Flyer blue line. That change echoed through the whole team, and despite early season struggles, the Flyers became one of the highest scoring teams from February through April.
Despite being in playoff mode for the latter half of the season, the Flyers proceeded to come up flat in the first three games of the post-season. The offense couldn’t beat Braden Holtby, Steve Mason looked lost, and the team didn’t find themselves until game four. Too little, too late.
A new season is now right upon us and the Flyers didn’t make any big free agent splashes or any blockbuster trades. However, it’s not so much about who they signed as opposed to who is waiting in the wings for a shot at the big leagues.
Team 2015-16 Record: 41-27-14 (5th in Metropolitan)
Key Roster Additions:
- Dale Weise
- Boyd Gordon
Key Roster Losses:
- Sam Gagner
- R.J. Umberger
Brayden Schenn: If there was ever an opportunity for Brayden Schenn to make a name for himself in this league, this is the year. The Flyers are not a deep team up front and need all the scoring help they can get their hands on. Schenn finally fell into a role last year on the wing after a long history of struggling at the position. Couple that with the fact that Schenn went on a tear in the latter half of the season last year, averaging almost a point a game, and he could easily find himself as one of the teams top scorers.
Aside from Schenn’s scoring abilities, he also started to show some grit in last year’s playoff series against the Capitals. That’s something that Flyer fans had been longing to see out of the former first-round pick. Look for Schenn to be one of the key players for the Flyers this season.
Claude Giroux: Time in and time out, Giroux has proven to be the heartbeat of the Philadelphia Flyers. Whether you notice it or not, when Giroux finds himself on the scoresheet, the Flyers are usually winning games, when he is slumping, the team is slumping. Giroux’s numbers have dropped off substantially since his 93-point season in 2011-12, but his presence is still felt. Last season he finished with just 67 points, but also appeared to be struggling through injury at times. He also still managed to score one of the biggest goals of the season for the Flyers. If Giroux can up his point total again, the Flyers could be better than last year.
Jakub Voracek: If there’s one player that needs a rebound year, it’s Voracek. In fact, his struggles extend past just last season. Voracek started the 2014-15 season as one of the highest scoring players in the NHL. But by late that season, he found himself struggling mightily. Those struggles transferred into this past season, and it hasn’t looked good. He even admitted to struggling with his confidence this past season. That isn’t something you want to hear out of one of your highest paid players. Voracek is crucial to the success of Claude Giroux. Two seasons ago, they were one of the top scoring duos in the NHL. That chemistry needs to come back, because the Flyers will be relying heavily on their two main men, especially with the lack of scoring on the third and fourth lines.
- Manning-Del Zotto
It’s extremely hard to single out one player when talking about the Flyers defense, and for good reason. Any of these guys (with the exception of Streit or Gostisbehere) could be a healthy scratch at any time this year.
The team sits in a very interesting situation. They have a defenseman who carries a $5 million cap hit who sat as a healthy scratch or found himself in the AHL last season. They just signed another defenseman to a relatively expensive deal, and finally, there are three young studs just waiting for their crack at the NHL.MacDonald will most likely be the odd one out for most of the year, especially if Del Zotto stays healthy, but what is really puzzling is the Gudas contract. He had a good season with the Flyers last year, but the team really didn’t need to resign him. He is a big, physical presence, but is easily replaceable. The Flyers most likely could have filled his void for a cap hit of around $1-million, but instead, they’re now shelling out $3.35-million per year just to keep him. That’s a steep price for a team that is already cash strapped and will have to pay up on Shayne Gostisbehere next summer.
The Flyers most likely could have filled his void for a cap hit of around $1-million, but instead, they’re now shelling out $3.35-million per year just to keep him. That’s a steep price for a team that is already cash strapped and will have to pay up on Shayne Gostisbehere next summer.
Lastly, there’s Ivan Provorov and Travis Sanheim. These two are very close to being NHL ready and if one of the earlier mentioned defensemen goes down, there’s the possibility that one of these two young players could be called up, akin to what happened to Gostisbehere just a year ago. That would cause even more of a logjam at defense. Of course, there is also Samuel Morin, who has already had significant experience in the AHL.
When push comes to shove, the Flyers defense of last year really wasn’t all that bad. The team finished 12th in the league in goals-allowed per game, which isn’t bad by any means, especially in a division with some of the most elite scorers in the NHL. They will likely only improve this year.
Things are about to get really interesting in net for the Flyers this season.
At the beginning of last season, Steve Mason was cut and dry the Flyers starting goaltender. This season, that may not be the case.
Mason finished last season with average numbers and did keep the Flyers in a number of games, despite struggling early on in the season.
That all came to a screeching halt in the playoffs last season when Mason sat the last three games and finished with a line of 12 goals allowed on 81 shots, a 4.09 goals-against-average, and a .852 save percentage. Michal Neuvirth continued the dominance he showed in the regular season, allowing just two goals on 105 shots in three games.
Neuvirth finished the regular season very strong and had a .924 save-percentage and a 2.27 goals-against average. Mason finished the season with a .918 save percentage and 2.51 goals-against average.
That’s hard to ignore, and to compound things even further, the Flyers will have no NHL goalie under contract at season’s end, so both goalies have every reason to fight for a spot.
If Mason struggles early on and Neuvirth picks up right where he left off, then Mason could very well be out of a starting job. That doesn’t bode well for a goalie who has never fared well in October.
Breakout Player: Shayne Gostisbehere
You might be thinking to yourself, we already saw that last season, right? We did, but this season Gostisbehere is going to prove that he is the real deal. He came onto the scene last season and helped propel the Flyers from the offensive abyss into a playoff spot. Despite that, it’s easy to forget that he hasn’t even played a full season yet. This season will be Gostisbehere’s first full season in the league, and with experience now under his belt, he should only get even better. I fully expect him to be among the top scoring NHL defenders as well as being a centerpiece to the Flyers power play and breakout.
Player with Most to Prove: Jake Voracek
As I mentioned above, the first line of the Flyers is going to be heavily relied on for scoring this season, and that means Jake Voracek is going to have to get back to an elite level. Last season was his first drop off in point production since joining the Flyers. He had established himself as a first-liner alongside Claude Giroux, forming one of the most dynamic duos in the league.
Voracek needs to regain his confidence and start producing at the level he was at two seasons ago. The Flyers desperately need that. Voracek’s eight-year deal also kicks in this season, if he wants to avoid the critics he is going to have to get himself back to the level he was at before he inked the new deal.
First Players in the ‘Call-Up’ Line: Ivan Provorov
He’s already made it clear that he plans to suit up in the Orange and Black this season, and there’s certainly no doubt that he is going to make a strong case to be on the opening night roster.
That is just a small sample of what Provorov is capable of, and that is only the offense side of his game. Provorov is just 19-years-old, but looks extremely out of place in the WHL, and that should be interpreted in the best way possible. He could easily play in the NHL this season.
What’s standing in his way? Well for starters, Ron Hextall has preached patience with his young guns, and at just 19-years-old, Hextall may want to keep him in juniors for just another season. The other problem is that the Flyers have a logjam of defensemen. You may think that Provorov could out muster almost all of the defensemen the Flyers have on their roster, but you have to remember, these guys are NHL veterans and they have established spots. Provorov needs to earn his spot on the roster.
That being said, if he has a really impressive preseason, he could very well be on the opening night roster. If that happens, Provorov could very well do what Gostisbehere came in and did last season, and that would be a sight to see.
The Flyers find themselves in a very interesting spot. This season could be described as a transition year by many standards, however, the Flyers are still going to be in the hunt for the playoffs. That being said, there are still a few more seasons to go before this team is a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.
Another point of interest is that this will be Dave Hakstol’s second full season at the helm for the Flyers. He guided the Flyers to the playoffs in his first season as an NHL coach, and as the season progressed, the Flyers really seemed to adjust and adapt to Hakstol’s system. That should be an added bonus at the start of this season, and the Flyers will likely be a little bit quicker out of the gate this year.
What does all of this mean for the Flyers? Well for starters, one has to look at the rest of the division, and the Metropolitan might be the best in hockey. Pittsburgh is fresh off their Stanley Cup win, and could very well have a better season than they did last year. Washington, despite the playoff disappointment, is still going to be one of the NHL’s best teams. New Jersey tacked on some much-needed offense in Taylor Hall, and even Carolina could present some challenges next season.
All of that means that the Flyers are going to have to maximize production out of the talent they have right now. The biggest problem the past few years has been consistency, and once again, that is what the Flyers biggest hurdle will be. There were times last season when the Flyers played excellent hockey against some of the best teams in the NHL, and there were other times when they faltered against some of the NHL’s worst.
It’s also important to remember that several Flyers had “off” years last year, most notably Voracek and Giroux and the Flyers still made the playoffs. If those guys get back to their regular production, then the Flyers could maybe even find themselves in a division playoff spot. Aside from that, the Flyers didn’t really make too many drastic changes. This will largely be the same bunch that hit the ice last season. The way things sit now, the Flyers will likely find themselves right on the fringe of the playoffs, fighting for a wildcard spot in early April.
Team 2016-17 Record Prediction: 43-30-9 (4th in the Metropolitan Division)
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.