Over the next six weeks, we’ll be taking a quick look at each of the 30 NHL clubs — examining their major storylines, pivotal players and the most important questions they need to answer heading into the 2016-17 season.
By the time we’ve hit every team, it will be mid-September. And that, of course, means it will be time for training camps to open. Perfect timing, really.
Today, it’s the Philadelphia Flyers…
The Philadelphia Flyers haven’t won a playoff series since that bloodbath known as the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against their rivals from Pittsburgh back in 2012. Since then, the Penguins have won the Stanley Cup — which didn’t exactly sit well with Wayne Simmonds — while Philly has made the postseason just twice, bowing out in the first round both times.
Things just might be turning around in the City of Brotherly Love though. Since Ron Hextall took over as GM in May of 2014, more of an emphasis has been placed on patience and stockpiling young talent for the future. That hasn’t meant dumping away established contributors and completely hitting the “reset” button, however, so guys like Simmonds, Claude Giroux, and Jakub Voracek are still in place.
That means the Flyers have a legitimate shot at qualifying for the playoffs each season, even as the next wave of talent is maturing. Of course, it took a 22-year-old, former third round pick to burst onto the scene and jumpstart everything from the blue line just to get them past game No. 82 last season. So there are no guarantees.
Can Shayne Gostisbehere avoid a sophomore slump?
It’s not like Gostisbehere came out of nowhere. Yes, he was the 78th overall pick back in 2012, so a lot of clubs overlooked him at the time. But he was phenomenal in his years at Union College, and it was pretty clear Philadelphia had a legitimate high-end prospect working his way through the ranks by about 2013.
That said, no one could expect the performance he turned in last year. The gifted young defender didn’t play his first game of the season until November 14, but quickly made up for lost time. While maintaining his defensive responsibilities in his own zone, he erupted for 46 points in 64 games — including a 15-game point streak from mid-January through mid-February that emphatically put his name in the rookie record books.
When all was said and done, the Flyers had pushed their way back into the playoffs. But they’re essentially counting on a repeat performance from Gostisbehere in 2016-17. No pressure.
NOTABLE SUMMER ACQUISITION
Dale Weise (from CHI)
Look, it wasn’t exactly a crazy summer for Philly. The Flyers really didn’t lose anyone, and their only veteran additions of major consequence were Dale Weise and faceoff specialist Boyd Gordon.
Weise brings some playoff experience to the forward ranks, and can play a gritty game that gets under the opposition’s skin (just ask Milan Lucic). But it’s not like he alone is going to radically change Philadelphia’s fortunes.
Ivan Provorov (drafted: No. 7 overall in 2015)
For the longest time, the Flyers were thin on the back end at the NHL level — and even worse off in their prospect pool. That has changed in a big way though. After a season in which Gostisbehere nearly won the Calder Trophy, Provorov and Samuel Morin aren’t far from breaking in as well.
Provorov, in particular, is a gifted puck-mover who can trigger the offense from his own zone. And, in case you missed it, defensemen like that are some of the hottest commodities in today’s NHL. Over his last two seasons with the Brandon Wheat Kings, the talented Russian has amassed 36 goals and 98 assists. That’s not normal.
Is it fair to expect Provorov to just step right in as a 19-year old and mimic what Gostisbehere did in 2015-16? Well, no. But it’s not crazy to think he could be ready to contribute sooner, rather than later.
BIGGEST CAP HIT
Claude Giroux ($8.275 million)
There was a time when former Philadelphia coach Peter Laviolette compared Giroux’s game favorably to Sidney Crosby. Those days are long gone, but that doesn’t mean Giroux doesn’t still have plenty of value.
Giroux currently carries the 11th-biggest cap hit in the NHL. And for that much money, the Flyers would probably prefer at least one 30-goal season and some playoff wins. That said, his 367 total points since the start of the 2011-12 campaign are the best in the league over that stretch (one ahead of Crosby and seven ahead of Patrick Kane) — a testament to his durability and impressive assist totals.
2017 UFA TO KEEP AN EYE ON
Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth
Yes, both goalies are set to become free agents after the upcoming season, so Philly has some decisions to make.
Mason has been one of the bigger enigmas in hockey since winning Rookie of the Year honors for Columbus back in 2009. His career trended down dramatically after that, until he seemed to be resurrecting it with a decent 2014-15 campaign. Last year was a slight step back though, while Neuvirth really showed signs of emerging as the stronger option.
With both of them heading towards UFA status, the next eight months should go a long way towards determining the Flyers’ future between the pipes.
Two seasons ago, Voracek finished fourth in the entire league with 81 points. Last year, he managed just 11 goals. That’s a pretty big fluctuation in production and, while he pretty routinely posts solid point totals (0.86 points per game since 2012), he has still never registered more than 23 goals in a single season. Pushing up into the high 20’s would help mask the absence of forward depth that Philadelphia is dealing with beyond those top four forwards.