By Lewis Gould
The opening of Flyers training camp is right around the corner, so let’s take a look at the Orange and Black and how they will fare in the 2016-17 season:
How they did last season: 41-27-14 (96 points); 5th in the Metropolitan Division; 7th in the Eastern Conference. Lost in the first round to the Capitals, 4-2.
Notable acquisitions: RW Dale Weise; C Boyd Gordon; D T.J. Brennan (two-way contract); and LW Roman Lyubimov (two-way).
Notable departures: C Sam Gagne; C Ryan White; C RJ Umberger; and D Evgeny Medvedev.
Analysis: The Flyers surged into the playoffs last spring, riding a 15-6-2 hot streak ignited, in part, by no-nonsense first-year head coach Dave Hakstol, the emergence of rookie defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere (46 points), a career-year from Wayne Simmonds (32 goals) and a breakout campaign from Brayden Schenn (59 points).
After pushing the Presidents’ Trophy winning Capitals to six games in April, the Flyers had the look of a team that was a tweak or two away from being really good.
Then the offseason came and went without a whole lot happening. It shouldn’t have come as too much of a surprise given the Flyers’ proximity to the salary cap ceiling. But it was still underwhelming.
GM Ron Hextall’s biggest moves, in fact, were the signing Weise and Gordon, a pair of bottom-six forwards. Weise had one goal in 19 regular season and playoff games for Chicago after the Blackhawks acquired the big winger at the deadline from Montreal. Gordon, on the other hand, is a 32-year-old fourth-line faceoff specialist who broke into the NHL with the Capitals.
Are the Flyers any better off? Marginally. Maybe.
The grand plan, it seems, is for the improvement to come from within the organization in the form of a bounce back seasons from a few key vets and the emergence of a prospect or two.
Topping the list of bounce back candidates is Jakub Voracek (above), who missed nine games and saw his point total side from 81 to 55. It could be argued that Claude Giroux belongs in this category, too. His point totals have gone 86-73-67 the past three years. The 28-year-old team captain possesses top 10-scoring talent; the Flyers need him to get there again.
As for the prospects, the Flyers have one that many believe is ready to contribute: defenseman Ivan Provorov, the No. 7 overall pick in 2015. If the 19-year-old proves he belongs, there’s a chance Provorov (21 goals and 52 assists in 62 games for Brandon of the WHL) could give the Flyers’ blue line an offensive jolt similar to the one it got from Gostispehere last year.
Season prediction: If goalies Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth—both in the final year of their contracts—push one another, thew Flyers could squeak into the playoffs again. Philly finished tied for fifth in team save percentage last season (.917).
If they just miss out, it’ll be due to one reason: After finishing 22nd in goals (2.57 per) last season, they needed to add some proven scoring talent and they did not. Hextall wanted in on the Jimmy Vesey sweepstakes, but the Hobey Baker winner ended up signing with the Rangers.
In a league where goals are increasingly difficult to come by, the Flyers need more of them. And, after poring over the projected lineup for the 2016-17, it’s hard to see where those goals are going to come from.