Looking into the future, age disparity is a major cause of concern for the Philadelphia Flyers. The gap between the key forwards and defensemen feels almost as large as the years since the Flyers last won the Stanley Cup.
Okay, that may be an exaggeration, but the age gap is still an issue that is worrying Philadelphia fans.
Forwards, who some believe peak between age 24 and 27, including Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek and Wayne Simmonds are 27 years or older. The key defensemen like Shayne Gostisbehere, Ivan Provorov and Travis Sanheim are all 23 or younger. The prospect goalies are even younger than that and farther away from their peak.
Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier and Radko Gudas all meet somewhere in the middle, but it’s clear that the Flyers’ core players are reaching their prime at completely different times. The offense, theoretically, is there now, while the defense is still a few years away.
The Flyers’ contending years then get scrambled, but if the team follows the San Jose Sharks‘ model over the next five years and beyond, a Stanley Cup could be in reach.
The Sharks’ Model
The Sharks made it to the Stanley Cup Finals last year and were two wins shy of hoisting the Cup. Their playoff points leaders included a 26-year-old Logan Couture and Joe Thornton, a decade older than Couture at 36.
The rest of the offense fit that mold. Tomas Hertl and Chris Tierney were both 21. Joel Ward and Patrick Marleau were 34 and 35-years-old, respectively. On defense, Paul Martin was a tested 34, but the rest of the defensemen were in their prime years, ranging from 24 to 30-years-old for the regulars.
Thornton and Marleau were the two main offensive pieces for a long time in San Jose but never won the ultimate prize. The closest they got came after the lineup was insulated with younger, impact players like Couture, Hertl and Joe Pavelski.
On defense, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Brent Burns led the corps at 28 and 30-years-old, respectively. Martin was brought in through free agency to add depth and experience, while Brendan Dillon was the youngest blueliner at 24-years-old.
In net, Martin Jones developed patiently with the Los Angeles Kings before he was given the starter’s crease for the first time at 25-years-old. The long development paid off, though. He recorded 37 wins in his first year in a teal jersey and a .918 save percentage.
But to build a lineup like that, the Sharks needed some luck and strong development. The team has finished outside of the playoffs once in the last 12 seasons, earning the team plenty of success, but few high draft picks.
Instead, they developed Pavelski, a seventh-rounder into a first-liner, and Hertl, the 17th overall pick in the 2012 draft, into a strong complimentary piece. The Sharks also nabbed Joonas Donskoi as a free agent after playing in Finland for numerous years.
The Flyers’ Model on Offense
The traits of Thornton and Giroux are similar.The former Bruin may be bigger and has a bushier beard, but the playing traits are there. They’re both pass-first leaders that have developed into strong two-way centers.
Voracek is Giroux’s sidekick, just as Marleau is Thornton’s. Voracek may be more dynamic, but Marleau has quietly put up a 500-goal career. Simmonds career arc models Pavelski’s in that both seem to be getting better with age.
The hard part for any team after that is finding the young pieces that will help the veteran core, like Couture and Hertl did in San Jose. For the Flyers, Travis Konecny is one hope. He’s small, but skilled and helped the top six a lot before suffering an injury earlier this week.
Outside of the lineup, there are other hopefuls like 2016 second-round picks Pascal Laberge and Wade Allison, along with Nicolas Aube-Kubel, a 2014 second-rounder, who has 12 points for the Phantoms this year.
But one of the best prospects may be Oskar Lindblom, a fifth-round pick in 2014, who has 37 points in 41 games, good for third in the Swedish Elite League. Analysts rave about his game, which should translate well to the NHL as early as next year.
One of the advantages that the Flyers have over the Sharks is that their prospect pool is stronger than what the Sharks had over the last decade. Even when a player or two doesn’t work out (it will happen), there should be one or two who can step up.
The Flyers’ Model on Defense and Goaltending
Gostisbehere is one of the best young offensive defensemen in the game. Having said that, he’s nowhere near the level of play Burns provides. The Sharks’ defenseman’s electric play is incomparable.
Despite playing the blue line, Burns is third in the league in scoring and leads the next best defenseman by 13 points. But as a corps led offensively by Gostisbehere, the Flyers’ defense could provide scoring similar to Burns.
Sanheim is an offensive expert and with the Phantoms this year, he has 22 points in 46 games. Junior prospect Phillipe Myers is on track to becoming a solid two-way d-man, maybe even on the top pairing.
No one in the Flyers’ organization is better to play the Vlasic role as an underappreciated, do-it-all defenseman than Provorov. His ceiling is as a number one defenseman and he’s on that road just over halfway through his rookie year.
Gudas figures to be the veteran of the group, while Sam Morin and Robert Hagg hope to fill in somewhere as dependable shutdown defensemen.
In net, the Sharks had to acquire Jones. The Flyers shouldn’t need to go that route. The 23-year-old Stolarz is the closest to the NHL and should be the back-up next season.
However, Carter Hart and Felix Sandstrom may have higher potential than the New Jersey native. They’re still at least two years away from the NHL, but it’s great to see the Flyers have promising goalie prospects after so many years of a revolving door in net.
Prospects and veterans across the board give the Flyers a perfect opportunity to follow the Sharks’ model, even if it isn’t a common one. The Chicago Blackhawks won three Stanley Cups with a core of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Corey Crawford, who were/are all in their primes at the same time. For the Flyers, that option isn’t there. A mix of veterans and young players will have to end the Flyers’ Stanley Cup drought.
Wes Herrmann graduated from Penn State with a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2014. He used to write hockey for Cardiac Cane and Broad Street Buzz and has loved the game since birth. Follow him on Twitter at @Wes_Herrm or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org