As the fourth season of Ron Hextall’s tenure as Philadelphia Flyers GM approaches, even the most patient fans have to be wondering when the team will reemerge as a perennial playoff contender. Hakstol himself called the playoffs a “clear expectation” in a recent radio interview with Zach Gelb on 920 The Jersey. Despite their ever-improving blue line (and because of the usual mediocre goalie situation), they’ll need the offense to step up if they’re going to turn that corner in 2017-18.
The Flyers’ offense hasn’t been this weak since the disastrous 2006-07 season, when they scored 213 goals. Hextall’s Flyers have yet to score more than 212, ranking no higher than 21st in that category. That’s a far cry from the days of Paul Holmgren. During his seven full seasons as GM, from 2007-08 through 2013-14, his teams ranked at least ninth in goals scored and as high as second. (And that year, 2011-12, was the first after the Mike Richards and Jeff Carter trades.) In fact, during that span, only the Blackhawks, Penguins and Capitals totaled more goals.
Why is offense so important for this Flyers team? Last year, they lost 43 games. Not counting empty-net goals, 23 of those losses were by one goal. But they finished the season just four games out of a playoff spot. As few as four more well-timed goals in some of those losses could’ve landed the Flyers in the postseason. Given the Flyers’ promising defense and future potential in net, a more potent offense could set them up for sustained success. Whether that starts this year will depend on a few critical factors.
Leaders Need to Lead
Most importantly (and most obviously), the Flyers need bounce-back seasons from both Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek.
If Giroux stays healthy—and if his struggles last year really were the aftereffects of offseason surgery—he should look more like the guy who scored 93 points in 2011-12. The influx of puck-moving defenseman should also be a big help in that regard. And if Giroux, a playmaker, regains his old form, look for Voracek to benefit as well.
The Flyers can’t rely on just one line, though. Aside from Giroux and Voracek, Wayne Simmonds can be counted on to put up his usual 25 to 30 goals. But who will make up for the 25 goals Brayden Schenn scored last year?
It’s unlikely that any one player will fill that void next season, but second overall pick Nolan Patrick could go a long way toward replacing that lost production in 2018.
It’s far from a given, but everyone has high expectations for the rookie. He’ll have every opportunity to make the team, but it’s hard to project rookie performances. Luckily, Patrick is joining a team that won’t depend entirely on him for its success—a luxury not all second overall picks enjoy.
Another player with high expectations is Travis Konecny. With Schenn gone, those fans who were clamoring for Hakstol to give Konecny more minutes will likely get their wish this year. Hakstol mentioned him as well during his interview, calling him an obvious candidate to eat up some of the ice time that has opened up because of the Schenn trade.
Matt Read and Michael Raffl have both had 20-goal seasons in Philly, but those numbers now look like anomalies. Jordan Weal, though, showed some promise, scoring eight goals in just 23 games.
It’s too small a sample size to draw any meaningful conclusions from, but the potential is there. Hakstol said in that same interview that Weal is clearly “hungry to get better.”
Replacing Schenn’s lost production next year won’t be easy. Some guys are bound to drop off a bit statistically, but if enough of these dominoes fall the right way, the 2017-18 season could be a significant step forward for the Flyers.