Flyers’ Season Review: A Lost Campaign

Before the start of the Philadelphia Flyers’ 2018-19 season the team’s hype video boasted a new motto for the upcoming season, “Raise the Bar.” The motto sent a clear message to the fanbase, and the players, that this season was one of growth, the time to take the next step toward becoming a Stanley Cup contending team once again.

Alas, “the bar” came crashing down on the Flyers’ heads as they took a considerable step backwards in their quest to reestablish themselves amongst the NHL elite. Instead of winning a playoff round – an understandable expectation considering the infusion of talent coupled with the expected improvement of the young talent on the roster – the Flyers will miss the postseason for the fourth time in the last seven seasons. Certainly not an ideal scenario for a team looking to breakout.

Chicago Blackhawks Artem Anisimov Philadelphia Flyers Ivan Provorov and Travis Sanheim
Chicago Blackhawks center Artem Anisimov keeps the puck away from Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov and defenseman Travis Sanheim. (AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski)

With the season concluded, the Flyers will be able to put this lost season in the rear-view mirror and look ahead to an exciting, but crucial, offseason. For now, we can review the 2017-18 season, examine how the Flyers stacked up relative to the rest of the NHL, and the outlook for each of their units next season.

Offense: Middle of the Pack

The Flyers ranked 18th in the NHL in goals this season with a total of 241, a rate of 2.88 goals per game. Not great, but not horrible by any stretch of the imagination. They also finished with a respectable five 20-goal scorers. Sean Couturier, who topped the 30-goal mark, James van Riemsdyk, Claude Giroux, Travis Konecny, and Jakub Voracek all broke the 20-goal barrier.

There are some bright spots here. Giroux continues to be a star talent, scoring above a point-per-game and maintaining durability, totaling 85 points in 82 games played. Couturier proved that last season’s offensive breakout was no fluke, posting another 70-plus point season, this time without having Giroux on his wing, cementing himself as a true top-line center.

Konecny continues to grow year-after-year, increasing his point total for the third straight season, and continuing to score highlight-reel worthy goals.

It’s no surprise however that the Flyers are interested in acquiring a premier offensive talent this offseason. They are in need of another dynamic weapon up front who will allow other players to slot into more appropriate positions on the depth chart.

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Defense: Yikes

The Flyers allowed 280 goals this season, third-worst in the NHL, ahead of only the Chicago Blackhawks and the bad-on-purpose Ottawa Senators. Not good company to be around. That also equates to a minus-39 goal differential, in case you weren’t counting.

Disappointing seasons from Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere led to the downfall of this defensive corps. Not a single Flyers defenseman reached the 10-goal mark, compounding their defensive zone lapses and atrocious net-front coverage with a lack of offensive contributions. The only Flyers defenseman to finish with a positive goal differential? Radko Gudas, who finished with a plus-six, earning the Barry Ashbee trophy as the Flyers’ best defenseman in the process. An outcome that I’m sure no one in their right mind expected.

Talbot Bastian Carrick Provorov Gudas
Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Cam Talbot, New Jersey Devils right wing Nathan Bastian and defenseman Connor Carrick with Flyers’ Ivan Provorov and Radko Gudas defending. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Once again, there are bright spots here. One can reasonably expect bounce backs from both Provorov and Gostisbehere, who looked like possible Norris trophy candidates the season prior. Getting those two back to looking like elite, top-pair defensemen should be a top priority for the next coaching staff and will go a long way toward improving the defense as a whole.

Continued growth from Travis Sanheim, who took big leaps this season, as well as a full season of Philippe Myers in a potential top-four role, could round out the top of the defense. A splashy free agency signing of Erik Karlsson, or a trade for another bonafide top-four defenseman could push this group from good to great in short order.

Special Teams: In Major Need of Change

The Flyers finished the season tied for 22nd on the power play at 17.1 percent; their penalty kill finished 26th in the league at 78.5 percent efficiency. The power play, which has long been a driver of the team’s success, fell off a cliff this season; on the other hand the penalty kill, which has been bad for a number of seasons, reached a new low, and was one of the major reasons for the poor results over the first three months of the season.

Ian Laperrière has led the Flyers penalty kill since the 2013-14 season. (Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports)

Through Nov. 9, the Flyers penalty kill was clicking at 68.42 percent, they had also allowed a power-play goal in nine straight games at the time. A professional hockey team with a sub-70 percent penalty kill is downright putrid to be completely frank.

Fortunately, after Scott Gordon was given the interim head coach tag, some changes were made to the unit that boosted its efficiency to a respectable level. Not a huge jump, but enough to pull them out of the bottom three in the league.

The power play was the least successful it’s been since the 2010-11 season when they scored on 16.6 percent of their power play opportunities. On top of their inability to finish, power play coach Kris Knoblauch made some questionable personnel decisions, including flipping Giroux and Voracek’s places on the half-walls, effectively eliminating one-timer opportunities, and failing to use van Riemsdyk on the unit for a large chunk of the season.

JVR, returned to the Flyers this year on a 5-year, $35 million contract. (bridgedts@flickr)

Both units need to be drastically better next season, and it appears that coaching changes for both units would be beneficial. At least one of, or even both, of Knoblauch and penalty kill coach Ian Laperrière should be replaced by individuals chosen by the next head coach.

Goaltending: Really Bad, Until It Wasn’t

Ah yes, goaltending issues in Philadelphia, you could list that alongside death and taxes as the only constants in life. Until now. Carter Hart has breathed life into this franchise like no other player could, posting a .917 save percentage (SV%) through his first 30 NHL contests and looking like a grizzled veteran while doing it.

For a city hungry for a star goalie, their prayers seem to have been answered. For the first time in decades, the Flyers have no need to hunt for a netminder this offseason.

As awesome as he may be, Hart was not able to salvage the 2018-19 season; the goalie curse had already made its mark. Despite Hart’s brilliance, the Flyers finished the season 28th in team save percentage with an .895. The goaltending, like so many other years, was their Achilles’ Heel.

In the beginning of the season they faced a rash of injuries that led to them setting the record for goaltenders used in a season, with a total of eight different starters. The goalie carousel predictably produced poor results, as five of the eight starters produced sub-.900 SV%, the best of which was Calvin Pickard whose .863 SV% in 11 games played was uninspiring, to say the least.

Hart, Brian Elliott (.907 SV%) and Anthony Stolarz (.902 SV%) were the only goaltenders to hold their heads above a .900 SV%. With that kind of inconsistency in net, it’s easy to see how adversely the Flyers were affected by it.

Final Season Grade: C

Truthfully, the only thing keeping this grade from being a ‘D’ or even an ‘F’ was Hart’s emergence and the team’s strong stretch in the second half that brought them back close to a playoff spot.

The Flyers dug themselves such a deep hole in the first half of the season that whatever they did the rest of the way didn’t really matter as far as making the playoffs was concerned. Seeing some of the young players step up in the second half and play like we expected them to at the beginning of the season was reassuring for the future outlook of this team.

Poor goaltending, bad special teams, shoddy team defense, and a mediocre offense buried what was supposed to be an invigorating year for the team and the fans. Here’s hoping that major changes are made in the offseason that push this once great franchise back into relevancy.