By Mary Cunningham

The Flyers open the 2015-16 season in two nights down in Tampa, and the final roster spots are now set.

But is the team sufficiently better than last season’s sleep-walking group that sputtered all season and failed to make the NHL playoffs?

Let’s take a look.

2014-15 results: 33-31-18, sixth in the Metropolitan

Arrivals: Coach Dave Hakstol, C Sam Gagner (trade from Arizona Coyotes), D Evgeny Medvedev (free agent from Kontinental Hockey League), G Michal Neuvirth (free agent)

Departures: Coach Craig Berube (fired), D Niklas Grossman and Chris Pronger (trade to Arizona Coyotes), D Carlo Colaiacovo (signed with Buffalo Sabres, C Zac Rinaldo (traded to Boston Bruins).

Goaltending: It’s strange that some Flyers fans grouse about Steve Mason (18-18-11, 2.25, .928) because his 2014-15 statistically was one of the best seasons a Flyers goalie has ever enjoyed. Bernie Parent (1973-74) and Doug Favell (1967-68) are the only goalies to post a higher save percentage over a full season.

Analysis: GM Ron Hextall proved he thinks outside the box by hiring Hakstol, formerly of the University of North Dakota. He’s the first college coach to be named an NHL head coach in 28 years. Hextall has brought more patience to his job than any Flyers GM before him.

The Flyers will be competing for a playoff spot this season, but Hextall has his eye on changing up his defense and improving his forward group. It wouldn’t be shocking if the Flyers made a major trade during the season.

Thanks to the tandem of Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek, the Flyers should score enough goals. Their secondary scoring should be there again. Is it too much to ask Michael Raffl to score 21 goals again? Their chances of making the playoffs will rest on how well they play defensively.

What advanced stats say: Mason ranked second in the NHL last season with a .940 even-strength save possession. Hart Trophy winner Carey Price (.942) was the only goalie ranked ahead of him, according to

Breakthrough candidate: C Sean Couturier, 22, hasn’t explored the full depths of his talent. He netted 15 goals last season and might be ready to generate his first 20-goal season. If the Flyers play sharper this season, Couturier has a chance of scoring 22 to 25 goals.

Youngster to watch: The Flyers are overdue for a defensive makeover and Shayne Gostisbehere’s arrival might mark the beginning. The Flyers also have Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim and Samuel Morin coming, but Gostisbehere is the closest to being fully ready. He’s 22 and has intriguing offensive instincts. He is coming off anterior cruciate ligament surgery.

What the team really needs: A proven difference-maker to play in their top pairing on defense. Mark Streit posted 52 points last season, but he’s not a shutdown guy. The Flyers need a strong two-way guy in the mold of a Drew Doughty, Duncan Keith, Shea Weber, etc. They need a flag carrier on the blue line.

Key question: Can Medvedev make a difference? Yes, but not as much as he would have made if he had come to the NHL in the prime of his career. He is 33, and his best seasons are behind him. But he’s known as a poised, offensive-minded defenseman who has played many big games on the international stage. He will help the team’s transition game.

Forecast: The Flyers could perform at a more effective level this seasons and still miss the playoffs. They rank in the No. 18-21 range going into the season.


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