Season Preview: Philadelphia Flyers
Philadelphia rebounded from a bad start to the 2013/14 season to finish 3rd in the Metropolitan Division, before being eliminated by the Rangers in the first round of the play-offs.
But with their best (perhaps even best two) defenceman sidelined and question marks over the clubs goaltending (again), can the Flyers hold off their divisional rivals to remain a play-off team?
Or is this year going to be a step to far for their creaking defence?
The Flyers offence remains as strong as any in the East. Only three teams in the Conference scored more goals than Philadelphia last year, and with majority of that team still intact, there is no reason to think the organisation won’t be able to create plenty of chances again this season.
Captain Claude Giroux led the team with 86 points, and does not lack for confidence after three strong seasons in which he’s average more than a point per game. Picking himself as the player he’d build an NHL team around, it seems only a matter of time before Giroux breaks the 30 goal barrier, and the 26-year old practically carried the club at times last season.
Winger Wayne Simmons led the team with 29 goals, setting a new personal best (as was the 60 points he registered). The former Kings man has become an integral part of the Flyers line up, and his growth as a player may have partly attributed to the clubs decision to trade Scott Hartnell to Columbus this summer.
Hartnell scored 20 goals and 52 points last season, and it came as a surprise to many when he was dealt to the Blue Jackets by GM Ron Hextall for RJ Umberger and a 4th round pick.
Umberger had 18 goals for the Ohio outfit last season, and rejoins the team that gave him his first crack at the NHL in 2005. The Pennsylvania native spent three years with the Flyers before being traded to Columbus – though his first stint with the organisation is mostly defined by Brian Campbell’s devastating open ice hit as the centre crossed his own blue line…
25-year old Jakub Voracek, and youngsters Sean Couturier and Brayden Schenn, all set new personal bests; with the latter two growing in to much larger roles with the team. Matt Read and veteran Vincent Lecavalier also broke the 20 goal mark.
At The Back
With Kimmo Timonen joining Chris Pronger on the long term IR, Flyers blue line leaves a lot to be desired.
The veteran Finn was entering the final year of his present deal, but after being diagnosed with blood clots over the summer looks set to miss a minimum of three months – if not the whole season.
Behind Pronger, whose career is as good as over, Timonen was arguably the Flyers most influential D man – combining veteran leadership with strong puck skills, even if he had lost a step in terms of overall speed.
Mark Streit will now shoulder much of the responsibility for leading the teams defence. The Swiss veteran grew a reputation as a good puck moving defenceman on Long Island, after a largely unappreciated period with Montreal, and went on to finish fifth in team scoring (44 points) in his first year with the Flyers.
Streit’s former Islanders team mate Andy MacDonald signed a 6-year, $30m deal with the club following his arrival at the deadline last year. The deal split pundits, after an excessively heavy workload with the Isles exposed some of the Nova Scotia native’s frailties. Always in line for an upgrade on the league minimum salary he was pulling in, MacDonald must again assume a significant role with his new team if they are to remain a play-off contender.
Former Nashville and New York Rangers blue liner Michael Del Zotto also joins on a 1-year deal. Still only 24, Del Zotto’s career has taken a something of a nose dive over the past two seasons. With Timonen out, there is an opportunity for another offensive D man in Philadelphia, if the Stouffville native can seize it.
Some kind of resurgence from Luke Schenn would also go a long way to helping the teams fortunes. The former Maple Leafs D man came to Philadelphia in exchange for winger James Van Riemsdyk – with the deal currently looking like a steal for the Leafs. At his best, Schenn is a hard hitting, stay at home blue liner – but the Flyers faithful haven’t seen enough of Schenn’s best of late.
The addition of Nick Schultz gives the club some depth, but neither Braydon Coburn nor Nicklas Grossmann are scaring anyone these days.
Between The Pipes
Steve Mason did enough to earn himself a 3-year extension and the #1 job – but the clubs history with starting goaltenders remains dubious.
The 26-year old has gone a long way to resurrecting a career that started so brightly in Columbus. Mason won the Calder Trophy in 2009, after effectively carrying the Blue Jackets in to the play-offs, but endured something of a nightmare in Ohio there after.
Sergei Bobrovsky was brought in ahead of the truncated 2012/13 season to take the #1 job, with Mason traded to Philadelphia later that season.
Since arriving in Pennsylvania, Mason has posted some impress numbers, winning 33 games last season with a .917 save percentage – whether it is a new dawn for the former Team Canada junior remains to be seen, but at present the 26-year old is the latest in a long line of Flyers starters.
Veteran Ray Emery starts the year as #2 on paper, but health issues continue to dog the former Ottawa puck stopper and the door may be open for 33-year Rob Zepp to step in following his summer move from Eisbaren Berlin.
Behind The Bench
Craig Berube begins his first full year as Head Coach dealing with the same issue previous coaches have.
The former Flyers tough guy has no shortage of NHL experience helping him, with three time Cup winner Joe Mullen, Gord Murphy and Ian Laperriere acting as assistants – and Berube may need to draw on all of them if he is to get the best out of the team this season.
Biggest Addition – Andy MacDonald
Something of a ‘cheat’ selection, given that he actually joined the team last season – but with Timonen and Pronger out, Philadelphia need all hands on deck defensively.
Thrust into a role beyond his skill set with the Islanders, MacDonald is a serviceable top 4 D man on a team desperate for a little stability at the back.
Biggest Loss – Chris Pronger
Philly’s #1 D man helped guide them to a Stanley Cup final before a serious head/eye injury sidelined him indefinitely.
His playing career is as good as over, and the Flyers have never truly recovered from his loss.
Key Man – Steve Mason
After years of riding a proverbial rollercoaster between the pipes, Philadelphia would love Mason to claim with starting job outright – thus ending a search for a #1 which has gone on since Ron Hextall left.
With age on his side, Mason could be the Flyers goaltender for years to come – and some long overdue stability between the pipes would go along way to helping them stay in the play-off picture.
This Seasons Chances…
Assuming the back end holds up, many would favour Philadelphia to be a play-off team again.
If it doesn’t, their offence will likely keep them on the bubble – but with others around them improving it’s hard to actually seeing them make it if they can’t keep the puck out of their own net.
Posted on October 3, 2014, in Hockey, NHL, Philadelphia Flyers, Season Previews 2014 and tagged Chris Pronger, Claude Giroux, NHL, Philadelphia Flyers, Season Preview, Steve Mason. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.