By Michael Donovan
The formerly formidable Flyers have been in playoffs hell for the past six years, ever since make the Stanley Cup Finals in 2010.
In 2016-17, the second year under the watch of coach Dave Hakstol, Wayne Simmonds posted his second straight 30-goal season and they had some hot stretches at home, including a 10-1-1 mark from December and March, but the Flyers were doomed by inconsistencies, especially on defense, finishing 39-33-10 and out of the wild-card race.
General manager Ron Hextall got relatively busy to tweak the team in advance of a hopeful return to the playoffs, and history says Philly will be right back in the mix, even if plenty of questions remain.
Key additions: G Brian Elliott (Calgary Flames ), F Jori Lehtera (trade with St. Louis Blues )
Key losses: F Brayden Schenn (trade with Blues), G Steve Mason ( Winnipeg Jets ), D Michael Del Zotto (Vancouver Canucks), F Nick Cousins (trade with Arizona Coyotes )
The biggest addition for the Flyers, by far, came through the draft, where Nolan Patrick (above), once the consensus No. 1 prospect of 2017, landed in orange. Morgan Frost was another offensive prospect nabbed in June thanks to Hextall’s .
And while Patrick’s emergence could eventually prove to be the only thing that truly matters about this offseason, it’s nearly impossible to look at what the Flyers did this summer and say that they are better positioned for a playoff run after the ups and downs of 2016-17.
Elliott is an underrated addition at goalie, and the Flyers got him for a bargain after he flamed out in Calgary (pun intended). The haul of draft capital Hextall managed to get from St. Louis in exchange for Schenn should look even better in the long haul, too. But as a whole, who’s to say Elliott will be that much better, if any better, than Mason? Where are the reinforcements to make up for Del Zotto’s loss, or did Hextall think signing Shayne Gostisbehere to a new deal will suffice? And by moving on from Schenn, didn’t the Flyers essentially jettison the type of proven goal scorer a playoff team absolutely wants to keep around?
Maybe Hextall is getting too much flak when it comes to his moves this summer. After all, Elliott could prove to be a diamond in the rough of castoff goalies, and no one should be pouting about the monumental draft. Nolan Patrick’s addition alone infuses a new level of excitement into Wells Fargo Arena, and it’s not like the Flyers didn’t already have a couple of big pieces in the fold. There is potential, between Simmonds and the other forwards, for a lot of scoring even after Schenn’s departure.
It just seems a little premature to assume the Flyers will do as they’ve done for six years and immediately return to the postseason after being out the year before. It’s premature to project anything, but still, that’s exactly what this team’s playoff hopes, seemingly more than others, are based on — projections. Yes, they should be more consistent, but there are still unfilled holes on defense.
Best-case scenario: The offense, even with an aging Claude Giroux , lights it up and Elliott does enough to send this team squarely into the playoff mix. Worst-case scenario: Hextall’s moves do more harm than good and Philly, despite some flashes here and there, ends up on the outside looking in once again, a middle-of-the-road team in desperate need of more overhaul around Patrick.