The Philadelphia Flyers had a slow start to the 2014-2015 season and never really recovered. They went 33-31-18, winning just 10 games on the road. They finished 12th in the Eastern Conference and that was enough to fuel some change at the head coach position. Craig Berube was fired and Dave Hakstol was hired. He’ll coach his first NHL game when the new season begins for Philly on October 8.
The Flyers managed to score 212 goals in the regular season, but they allowed 223. They were 14 points back on the Pittsburgh Penguins for the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference and will enter 2015-2016 facing some upgraded teams in the Metropolitan Division. That won’t make life any easier, especially when you consider that the Flyers only won 12 of 30 against divisional opponents last season.
Philadelphia will start 2015-2016 with a roster that looks very similar to the roster that started 2014-2015. They’re hoping they have the right mix of players and they might be right. The bet seems to be that Hakstol can make enough stylistic changes to capitalize on the talent that’s already on the slate, with new talent like Sam Gagner expected to find a place in the mix.
Claude Giroux is still expected to power this attack. He had 73 points in 82 games last season, including 25 goals. He averages 20:33 of ice time a game and had 14 power play markers, which speaks to his dominance on special teams. Giroux has 159 points over the last two seasons and continues to make his teammates better.
Jakub Voracek is one such teammate. He managed 81 points in 82 games last season, including 22 goals. Half of those goals came on the man advantage. The Flyers inked Voracek to an eight year contract extension in July and are hoping that he’ll be a big part of Philly’s success this season. Wayne Simmonds is another factor. He had 28 goals last season and will be back for more.
Vincent Lecavalier is a question mark. It’s hard to believe, but the 35-year-old has seen better days. The Flyers signed him to a five year deal in 2013 in hopes that he would have more to offer, but that hasn’t exactly panned out. Lecavalier had just eight goals last season and is definitely in decline. He has three years left on his contract to the tune of $4.5 million.
Defensively, this is an interesting group. 37-year-old Mark Streit is asked to do a lot, with an average of over 22 minutes of ice time a game. He had 52 points in 81 games last season and is still a reliable, intelligent player. But he’s also part of the problem, with the Flyers having an expensive and aging defensive core.
33-year-old Nick Schultz plays nearly a little over 19 minutes a game and sticks to a defensive style, while Andrew MacDonald can move the puck out of trouble and come up with some offence from time to time. MacDonald is somewhat injury prone, however, and that could be a problem down the stretch. He struggled last season, producing just a dozen points in 58 games.
Michael Del Zotto is probably the most exciting of the Flyers’ defensive possibilities. He had 10 goals and a total of 32 points in 64 games last season. He’s a smooth skater and has the ability to quarterback the power play, plus he’s just 25 years of age. Radko Gudas and Evgeni Medvedev are also options, with the latter 33-years-old without an ounce of NHL experience.
The Flyers may finally have some goaltending stability. Steve Mason had a solid year between the pipes, with a 2.25 goals against average and a .928 save percentage. He recorded three shutouts and finished in the top eight in the NHL. Mason isn’t the most focused goalie in the league, but he’s quick and has good reflexes.
Mason will be backed up by Michal Neuvirth, who was picked up as a free agent on July 1 and signed to a two year deal. He spent last season between the Buffalo Sabres and New York Islanders, finishing with a 2.98 goals against average and a .914 save percentage. Neuvirth saw 11 minutes of playoff action for Long Island, too, so that’s something. Right?
Ivan Provorov was selected seventh overall in the 2015 NHL Entry and he hopes to make the team for the 2015-2016 season. The youngest member of Russia’s squad at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship, Provorov is a terrific skater capable of leading the rush and putting up big offensive numbers. Most scouts have him about two years away from making the big leagues, but he hopes to change that.
Shayne Gostisbehere is a Union College prospect and he seemed ready to go last season, but he tore his ACL in November and never returned. He has an offensive upside the Flyers are very interested in, plus he can quarterback the power play. At 5’11, 170 pounds, he may need to put more bulk on the frame before he skates at the NHL level.
The Path Ahead
The Flyers can put the puck in the net and have a nice balance of forwards, but their defence could use an overhaul. That won’t come in the immediate future, but at least they have some stability in goal for the time being. The Mason and Neuvirth tandem isn’t exactly a show-stopper, however, and that could make it hard for the goalies to steal games.
It’s hard to see the Flyers as a playoff team this season. They’re in a tough division and they lack too many pieces to challenge, but there’s a lot to like about the future if Philly can transition well. With players like Provorov and Gostisbehere in the system, that necessary defensive makeover could happen sooner rather than later.