The Philadelphia Flyers relied almost entirely on Steve Mason’s superb goaltending and the offensive contributions of Jakub Voracek and Claude Giroux in 2014-15, but that’s no way to build a winner. The Flyers have questions on the back end and issues in their bottom-six that could cost them a shot at the post-season in 2015-16.
2014-15 Record: 33-31-18 (84 Pts.)
THN’s Prediction: 6th, Metropolitan Division
What To Expect: Beyond his top offensive duo and starting goalie, GM Ron Hextall didn’t get many stellar performances from his club last year. Still, he mostly left the roster alone, replacing coach Craig Berube with NCAA stalwart Dave Hakstol. Hextall believes his young players have more to give, and Hakstol has molded college talents for the past decade. Hextall traded for center
Sam Gagner and gave a one-year, $3-million pact to longtime KHL D-man
Evgeni Medvedev, 33. A salary cap cruch precluded bigger changes, so largely the same characters are tasked with bettering last year’s 12th-place Eastern Conference finish. Hakstol could mesh with the group, but the Metro Division looks fierce in 2015-16.
Gagner may move to the wing to help boost an offense that was carried by
Claude Giroux and
Jakub Voracek, and relied heavily on its power play. The keys to improving 5-on-5 scoring are
Brayden Schenn and
Sean Couturier. Neither has reached his offensive ceiling. Dependable Wayne Simmonds should again flirt with 30 goals. Five of Philadelphia’s six best prospects are D-men, including 2015 seventh overall pick
Ivan Provorov. With
Braydon Coburn and
Nicklas Grossman gone, the door opens for the blue-chippers to nab spots. The Flyers don’t expect it will be long before Provorov,
Travis Sanheim and
Shayne Gostisbehere are full-time NHLers. Until they win spots,
Mark Streit and
Michael Del Zotto anchor the blueline. Medvedev is a wild card who scouts say could provide offense. The back end remains a short-term weakness. Last year’s goals-against and penalty kill were below average despite strong goaltending.
Steve Mason was star-caliber in net, a rare occurence in Philadelphia. He posted a .928 save percentage in 51 appearances, but backups were sub-.900. Hextall brought in
Michal Neuvirth as a No. 2. Flyers chairman Ed Snider, historically of the win-now mindset, appears to be on board with the club’s new build-from-within approach.
Best-Case Scenario: Hakstol is untested at the NHL level but he could surprise and be just what this Flyers club needs. The change in mentality — and steadier backup goaltending — may be enough for the Flyers to pick up a few more victories and maybe even eke into the post-season. They finished fourteen points out of the playoffs in 2014-15, but they left a lot of points on the table by dropping 18 games in overtime or the shootout.
Worst-Case Scenario: This offense does have some weapons, but it’s going to be tough sledding for the Flyers should either Giroux or Voracek go down . The lineup’s depth really takes a hit after the top-six and, outside of
Matt Read, it’s hard to imagine any of the bottom-six have a breakout season in them. If Giroux or Voracek is forced to miss a significant number of games, the Flyers could be thinking about a top-five pick rather than a shot at the post-season.
Who To Watch: Mason wasn’t good in 2014-15. He was great. After a number of shaky seasons in Columbus which were cause for some to wonder whether or not his rookie campaign was simply a flash in the pan, Mason went on to have arguably the best season of his career. That he wasn’t in the top-five in Vezina Trophy voting is unjust especially considering not a single goaltender in the NHL — not even Vezina, Lindsay and Hart Trophy-winning goaltender Carey Price — posted a better 5-on-5 save percentage than Mason. If Mason is that good again in 2015-16 and stays healthy, which is always a concern, he might be able to single-handedly put the Flyers into playoff contention.
What The Numbers Say (by Dom Luszczyszyn):
Click here for more detail on these predictions. The Flyers aren’t the playoff long-shot many think they’ll be – in fact they should be right in the mix thanks to their top-end talent – but there’s a lot of things that could go wrong for this team that should take that playoff bubble optimism down a peg. The bulk of the problems start on the back-end where their second-best d-man appears to be Luke Schenn. That’s never a good sign. Their top guy is 38-year-old Streit. Also not a good sign. Then there’s
Andrew MacDonald, who is being paid $5 million per season to cost his team almost one win versus a replacement player. Basically, it’s an unmitigated disaster that’s hardly playoff caliber. That means that the Flyers will rely heavily on goaltending again this season. Mason has been surprisingly good as a Flyer and the team will need him to stay at the level if they have any hope of competing this season. If he falls back to anywhere near his Columbus level, the team will be in huge trouble. Neuvrith is great insurance if that happens though.
The Flyers’ biggest strength is their offense led by an elite duo of Giroux and Voracek. They have a decent forward group as a whole, but it’s extremely top heavy. Their top six forwards account for 94 percent of the team’s total forward contribution. That could be problematic as the team will be constantly digging themselves out of holes started by playing any of the bottom two lines, especially combined with that defense. So while the Flyers have the top guys to stay competitive, they’ll need everything to go right to make the playoffs. With their Metro competition and the way the team is currently constructed, it seems more likely that a lot of things go wrong.
THN is rolling out its 2015-16 Team Previews daily, in reverse alphabetical order, until the start of the season. Check out our ‘Previews’ section to see other team breakdowns.