This 2014-15 NHL season preview features the Philadelphia Flyers.
What was Stanley Cup worthy in 2013-14?
Amidst all the criticism, the Flyers have quietly had a successful run since the mid-90s, making the playoffs in 17 of the last 19 seasons and reaching the Stanley Cup Final twice.
What’s more is they’ve won in a variety of ways during that span. Last season, they did it largely on the back of Claude Giroux. The Flyers’ captain started the season slowly, recording only 7 assists during his first 15 games, during which Philadelphia won just 4 times. Following that stretch, Giroux scored 28 goals and 79 points in 67 games, and the Flyers went 38-20-10. While he finished 3rd in the Hart Trophy voting, you’d be hard-pressed to argue against him being the most valuable player to his team last season.
With Giroux playing on both special teams units, its little wonder both finished in the top 10 in the NHL. The powerplay converted 19.7% of their chances while the penalty killers were successful 84.8% of the time.
Speaking of special teams success, Wayne Simmonds enjoyed a career season with 29 goals and 60 points thanks to his role on the top powerplay unit. His 15 goals with the man advantage were 3rd most in the NHL behind only Alex Ovechkin (24) and Joe Pavelski (16).
The surprise of the season for Philadelphia was definitely in goal. After 4 very tough seasons following his Calder Trophy win in 2008-09, Steve Mason seemed to find his game with the Flyers last season. He either tied or surpassed his career-highs in games played (61), wins (33), shots faced (1751), saves (1606) and save percentage (.917).
What was draft lottery worthy in 2013-14?
Following up a season in which you go 17-1 and win a Stanley Cup is certainly difficult, but Ray Emery had a very tough first season in Philadelphia. He posted a 9-12-2 record with a .903 save percentage and a 2.96 goals-against-average, the worst of his career.
Vincent Lecavalier was another veteran who had a tough debut with the Flyers. His 37 points in 69 games represented his lowest point-per-game average since 2001-02, and the 3rd lowest of his 14-year career. He was also a team-worst -16. Signed for 4 more years at 4.5 million dollars per season, the Flyers hope Lecavalier can bounce back and, more importantly, stay healthy.
After being the crown jewel of the return the Flyers got for Mike Richards, Brayden Schenn has struggled to translate his AHL success (52 points in 47 career games) to the NHL. Last season was a very inconsistent one for Schenn; he scored just 2 goals in his first 11 games, followed that up with 25 points in his next 44 games, then finished with just 10 points in his final 27 games.
So what did they do to get better?
With Chris Pronger semi-retired and the future of 38 year-old Kimmo Timonen very much in doubt, the Flyers paid very, very handsomely to re-sign defenseman Andrew MacDonald, who they traded for during the season. While he’s never been very productive offensively, MacDonald is consistently among the league’s top shot-blockers, finishing 1st and 5th in the NHL the last two seasons.
Late in the summer, the Flyers also took a chance and signed Michael Del Zotto to a one-year deal, hoping he can rediscover some of what made him a valuable offensive defenseman early in his career. He scored 37 and 41 points in two of his first 3 years in the league. Since then, he’s managed just 37 points in 113 games over his last two seasons.
In a bit of a surprise move, the Flyers also traded fan-favorite Scott Hartnell to Columbus for former Flyer RJ Umberger. While he’s never scored 30 goals and is smaller than the player Philadelphia gave up to get him, Umberger can play all three forward positions and is signed for two fewer seasons at a slightly lower cap hit than Hartnell.
Player to watch
Sean Couturier had an excellent rookie season in 2011-12 as an 19 year-old, where he put up a +18 and was the Flyers’ shutdown centre by season’s end.
Still, after scoring 192 points in 126 games his last two years in junior and 28 points in 31 AHL games during the lockout, you just know there’s more there in terms of offense.
He scored 39 points in 82 games last season in just over 19 minutes per game. With those kinds of minutes and his skill set, don’t be surprised to see him make a jump similar to the one we saw Claude Giroux make early in his career.
They will make the playoffs if…
Steve Mason doesn’t melt down again like he did after his rookie season in Columbus.
They will miss the playoffs if…
Andrew MacDonald can’t provide the kind of stability defensively that Kimmo Timonen did.
What should we expect this season?
The Flyers are in a bit of a strange spot. They’ve got lots of good, young players up front in Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Simmonds, Schenn and Couturier.
The problem is really behind them, literally. While Mark Streit, MacDonald, Luke Schenn, Braydon Coburn and Nicklas Grossmann are all capable defensemen, none are true top-pairing players. That’s a problem when you face the likes of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Alex Ovechkin, Eric Staal and John Tavares on a nightly basis.
Still, they have a decent enough group that they can get by assuming the goaltending holds.
The Flyers will battle all season for those final playoff spots in the East, but ultimately I think their lack of top quality on defense and in goal will do them in.
38-32-12 88 points, 6th in the Metropolitan Division, 10th in the Eastern Conference