Team Additions: Forwards Sam Gagner (Coyotes), Chris Connor (Washington), Chris Porter (Blues), Colin McDonald (Islanders), Defenseman Drew Drewiskie (Canadiens), Goaltenders Michal Neuvirth (Islanders), Jason LaBarbera (Ducks)
Team Departures: Forwards Zac Rinaldo (Bruins), Jason Akeson (Sabres), Defensemen Chris Pronger (Coyotes), Nicklas Grossman (Coyotes), Carlo Colaiacovo (Sabres)
2015 NHL Draft Picks: Defenseman Ivan Provorov (7th overall), Forward Travis Konecny (24th overall), Goaltender Felix Sandstrom (70th overall), Goaltender Matej Tomek (90th overall), Forward Samuel Dove-McFalls (98th overall), Forward Mikhail Vorobyov (104th overall), Forward David Kase (128th overall), Forward Cooper Marody (158th overall), Goaltender Ivan Fedotov (188th overall)
The Flyers hired Dave Hakstol as head coach.
Cap Situation: $583,334 in cap space with 23 NHL contracts on the roster. Acceptable cap situation.
Caps Play The Philadelphia Flyers Four Times
Matt Larkin of The Hockey News reported that Wayne Simmonds doesn't believe the Flyers are in rebuild mode, and that they are a playoff-bound team.
Simmonds is part right and part wrong. The Flyers aren't really in rebuild mode anymore, but they kind of had been for the last couple of months. Philadelphia is going to have a vastly different defensemen unit after shipping out half of their blue liners at the deadline. They kind of stockpiled draft picks by trading for seven picks within the first 99 selections in this year's draft. And they kind of made a rebuild mode move by hiring Dave Hakstol from the University of North Dakota.
So, sure Simmonds, you're kind of right. The Flyers aren't in rebuild mode anymore. They aren't going to blow up the team any further, they aren't going to stockpile more draft picks and they aren't going to be gunning for the right to draft Auston Matthews.
Where you're really wrong, Wayne, is saying the Flyers are a playoff-bound team. They aren't. They might if they were in the Atlantic Division, but the Metropolitan Division grew into the most deadly division in the league overnight. And the Flyers stood pat.
This is not the year Simmonds and the Flyers raise the Cup. This isn't the year Simmonds and the Flyers even fight for the Cup. But Simmonds and the Flyers are getting closer and closer by the year.
Did you know the Flyers have never had a player win the Art Ross trophy? Did you know Jakub Voracek was just six points away from becoming the first Flyer to win the Art Ross trophy? Voracek shattered his personal-best assist and point totals this past season, with 59 and 81, respectively. That was good for second and fourth in the league. You remember way back in the Summer of 2011 when the Flyers sent Jeff Carter to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Voracek, the eighth overall pick in the 2011 draft and a third-round draft pick? Did anyone at the time think that the Flyers absolutely slaughtered the Blue Jackets in that trade?
They did, and Voracek has become a household name across the NHL-sphere. He's among the league's best passers. His 32 assists at even-strength five on five were tied for second in the league with the Dallas Stars' Jamie Benn. And his Corsi-percentage at even strength five on five of 53.56 percent was the second-highest on the team among Flyers with at least 40 games played. Voracek more than earned his eight-year, $66 million contract extension he signed earlier this offseason, set to kick in after the 2015-16 season.
His line mate Claude Giroux furthered solidified himself as a top player within the NHL. His 73 points was his lowest total since his first full season in the NHL (excluding the lockout-shortened season in which Giroux still had 48 points in 48 games). Both Giroux and Voracek are more pass-first-type players. What they need is a bonafide scorer to join them on that top line. According to Hockey Analysis, Giroux and Voracek's had two primary line mates last year: Michael Raffl and Brayden Schenn. Between the two, Raffl is a better line mate for Giroux and Voracek than B. Schenn. Raffl led the team in even-strength five on five goals with 14, and he played well with Giroux and Voracek. Raffl was on the ice for seven of Giroux's 11 even strength goals, and he was on the ice for six of Voracek's nine even strength goals. And B. Schenn? He wasn't on the ice for any of Giroux or Voracek's even strength goals. Raffl also improved the scoring chances for both Giroux and Voracek. When Giroux played with Raffl, he had a 55.7 Corsi-For percentage. When Giroux played without Raffl, he had just a 50.7 Corsi-For Percentage. The same trend happened with Voracek (57.9 Corsi-For percentage with Raffl versus just 50.9 without). Raffl finished with 21 goals in 67 games in just his second full season in the NHL. If the 26-year-old plays a full season with Giroux and Voracek, his goal totals should rise. They should rise a lot.
It's really easy to forget Sean Couturier won't be 23 until this December. He's already entering his fifth full season in the NHL this upcoming year. In my opinion, Couturier is going to develop into one of the top two-way forwards in the league relatively soon. He finished just 30th in the Selke trophy vote, after finishing ninth in voting in the year prior. He finished with 15 goals and 22 assists last year. He's also the top penalty killing forward on the team. Couturier is a guy every team would like to have on their team.
The Flyers can build an entire line of guys that just simply need to step up next year.
Matt Read scored 22 goals in the 2013-14 season. Last year? He had eight. He's capable of cracking the top-six, but he simply needs to produce more goals.
For some reason, the Flyers traded Scott Hartnell for R.J. Umberger so they could get "faster." Last year, Umberger had nine goals. Hartnell had 28.
There may not be a more disappointing player in the NHL that currently has three years left on his contract than Vincent Lecavalier. There was literally five teams that were dying to add him in the 2013 offseason. Now, they are all just laughing. The 35-year-old, 1998 first-overall pick has nothing left in the tank. He is an absolute shell of his former self. He went from a dominant player to a healthy scratch almost in an instant. The Flyers just need to find spots to hide him on the ice. They only have three more years of him (at a laughable $4.5 million cap hit per year).
The lone forward addition of Sam Gagner should provide a bit of stability for the bottom-six forwards, but he is in no way a game changer. Scott Laughton should find a little bit more playing time this year. Chris VandeVelde was a bit of a bright spot for the Flyers last year. He finished with a career high of nine goals in his first full season.
The Flyers got rid of a lot of defensemen that saw some time with the Flyers just last season. Kimmo Timonen was shipped to the Chicago Blackhawks at the trade deadline. Braydon Coburn was sent to the Tampa Bay Lightning at the trade deadline. Carlo Colaiacovo signed with the Buffalo Sabres. Nicklas Grossman was sent to the Arizona Coyotes just this offseason. So was Chris Pronger. That's five defensemen that were with the team last season that aren't with the Flyers this year.
Okay, fine, the only actual losses to the blue line was Coburn, Grossman and maybe Colaiacovo. But nonetheless, the Flyers blue line will look a little different than year's past.
Mark Streit is the best defenseman the Flyers have. He's the only true offensive player they have among the unit. He finished his year with nine goals and 43 assists for 52 points. That's the most points he's had since the 2008-09 season. He's 37, but didn't appear to slow down in any sort of way last year. Streit may not be the prototypical top pairing defenseman every team needs, but he's the best option the Flyers have at this point.
Michael Del Zotto managed to resurrect his career this past season. According to War on Ice, Del Zotto played against the most difficult competition in his career this past season, starting his shifts in the defensive zone for the highest percentage in his career. That being said, he gave up 18.7 high danger scoring chances for every 60 minutes of even strength five on five play. That's the highest amount of high danger scoring chances he's ever given up in his career. That also ranks him 221st in the league among defensemen with at least 200 minutes of even strength five on five play. That's awful. Del Zotto also gave up the most scoring chances per 60 minutes of even strength five on five play in his career, surrendering 28.9. That's also very bad. That ranks him 191st among defensemen with at least 200 minutes of even strength five on five play. But, with that being said, Del Zotto's 22 points at even strength five on five set a career high, and his -0.5 Corsi-For relative to his team was the third highest of his career. So can you use him offensively? Sure, he can hold his own. But close your eyes and hope for the best when the puck is in the Flyers defensive zone and Del Zotto is on the ice.
Remember how I said there may not be a more disappointing player in the league with three years left on his contract than Lecavalier? That's only because Andrew MacDonald has five years left on his contract. MacDonald is another guy who was a healthy scratch. He carries a cap hit of $5 million. And he is so, so bad. He is not particularly good offensively, and he is definitely not good defensively. His -1.24 Corsi-For relative to his team mates was the third worst among Flyers defensemen with at least 200 minutes of even strength five on five play. Here's a visual at just how bad MacDonald is. And, keep in mind, he's carrying a $5 million cap hit until 2020. He is a prime buyout candidate for the Flyers.
|Via Own The Puck|
One of the more intriguing players for the Flyers this year is Evgeny Medvedev. Medvedev is 33, and he's entering his first NHL season. He signed a free agent contract this offseason with the Flyers. He's been playing in the KHL with Ak Bars Kazan for the last seven seasons. He's got good size at 6-foot-3, and he's a puck mover. Medvedev could provide the Flyers with another offensive option on the backend. He's signed to a one-year deal, so it's really just a low-risk, potentially high-reward move. The Flyers don't have a particularly flashy defensive group, so Medvedev could quickly find himself within the top-four if he fits in quickly.
Radko Gudas and Luke Schenn are probably the bottom pair for the team. Gudas played respectively for the Tampa Bay Lightning before getting shipped to Philadelphia at the trade deadline for Coburn. L. Schenn is not the player the Flyers thought he was when they traded James Van Riemsdyk to the Toronto Maple Leafs, and he likely never will be.
Nick Schultz should be a serviceable 7th defenseman. If the injury bug bites the Flyers' blue line, rookie Shayne Gostisbehere should be the first man up to fill in a roster spot.
If I told you a Flyers goaltender had the third-highest save percentage and the seventh-highest goals against average, would you believe it?
Believe it. Steve Mason may have been the most under-rated goaltender across the league last season. His .928 save percentage was good for third in the league, and his 2.25 goals against average was good for seventh. Both marks set career highs for the goaltender.
Mason was phenomenal. At even strength five on five, Mason's .944 save percentage was higher than every goalie across the league with at least 20 games played, besting Carey Price, Devan Dubnyk, Pekka Rinne and Braden Holtby. His .941 adjusted save percentage also led the league. His .988 save percentage for shots taken from a low percentage shooting area was first among goalies at even strength five on five with at least 32 games. Mason was quite possibly one of the better goaltenders in the league.
So why didn't he get any sort of Vezina honors? And why did the Flyers give up 234 goals last year, the seventh-highest in the league?
Well, for starters, Mason didn't play as much as he would have liked. He appeared in just 51 games, missing time due to illness and arthroscopic surgery to his right knee. He sees himself as a top goaltender, and would like to see more time this upcoming season.
"I don't want to put a specific number on it," Mason told the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News. "But you look at the top-tier of games played for goalies last year, they're in their 60s, and Braden Holtby had (73), which is a lot of hockey, but if I'm healthy and playing well, then obviously you want to be playing a lot."
And while Mason was great, he still let in goals. Why? Because he was facing 30.62 shots per 60 minutes of even strength five on five play. That's the sixth most in the league among goaltenders with at least 40 games played.
It also doesn't help that Mason's save percentage against high-percentage shots wasn't particularly good. He had just a .848 save percentage against high-danger shots at even strength five on five. That's comparable to Ondrej Pavelec, Jonas Hiller and Ryan Miller. Not the particular company you'd like to be compared to.
Mason was also pretty poor on the penalty kill. His .846 save percentage on the penalty kill was 39th in the league among goaltenders with at least 20 games. And if we adjust the save percentage to take into account where the puck is being shot from, Mason's save percentage actually falls to .844.
So while Mason appeared to be excellent, and he technically was, it's important for his defensemen to suppress shots and not give the opposition easy scoring chances. Because Mason will get burned.
The Flyers went out and grabbed Michal Neuvirth. In 32 games as a backup with the Buffalo Sabres and New York Islanders, Neuvirth managed a a .925 save percentage at even strength five on five, a .923 adjusted save percentage, was 23rd in the league with a .914 save percentage and 37th with a 2.98 goals against average. Keep in mind, 27 of those 32 games came with the Sabres, where Neuvirth never really had a chance. He is a great improvement over the Flyers' previous backup option, Emery.
The current blue line for the Flyers doesn't look very good on paper. But that's okay, because the future looks very bright for Philadelphia.
With the seventh pick in this year's draft, the Flyers took Ivan Provorov, who some considered the best defenseman in the entire 2015 draft class, and a candidate to make the Flyers squad straight after the draft.
Provorov won't be with the Flyers this year. Philadelphia opted to send Provorov back to the WHL with the Brandon Wheat Kings. That's a wise decision. There's no need to rush Provorov into the NHL. He would certainly help, but patience is the right move here. Provorov is an offensively-gifted defenseman. He chipped in 15 goals and 46 assists for 61 points in 60 games for his first season in the WHL. That point total led WHL rookies. He and Noah Hanifin, the Boston College defenseman selected with the 5th pick by the Carolina Hurricanes were practically interchangeable. Here's what one scout told The Hockey News.
"The difference between him and Hanifin is that he'll step up and take your head off. But Hanifin has more offensive upside."
Provorov isn't a particularly physical player, but he knows when he has to be, and he plays intelligently. Provorov was the youngest member of the Russian World Junior Championship team that won the silver medal. Provorov will be back in the tournament, and he will have a much larger role than he had in his first effort.
Even without Provorov, the Flyers have a slew of high-potential defensemen that are just itching for some NHL ice time.
Two other defensemen besides Provorov that had a legitimate chance at making the Flyers this year were Samuel Morin and Travis Sanheim. Like Provorov, Morin and Sanheim were sent home from training camp (Sanheim, the 2014 17th overall pick was sent back to the Calgary Hitmen in the WHL and Morin, the 2011 11th overall pick, was sent to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms in the AHL). All could quite easily hold their own in the NHL. Why is Hextall being so patient?
"There's decisions we felt were in the best interest of three young players," Hextall told Tim Panaccio of CSN Philly. "We know these guys. Unless they showed us in their brief stay....if we thought they can help us, we would have leaned toward keeping whichever one. We felt they weren't going to help us on Oct. 8 and therefore it was best to get them back and get entrenched in their team."
And that's the right decision. There is no reason to rush these guys in if you don't think they will be immediate difference makers. One day all three will be, but save them for a more promising year.
Sanheim is a 6-foot-3 defenseman that scored 15 goals and 50 assists for 65 points in 67 games. That led all defensemen in the WHL for points. That means the Flyers had two of the top four scorers in the WHL last season. Sanheim will more than likely compete for Canada at the 2016 World Junior Championship, and it would be a wise decision to keep an eye on him.
Morin is gigantic. He's 6-foot-6 and 203 pounds. He's a physical force that can move the puck decently well for a guy of his stature. Morin finished his fourth year in the QMJHL with Rimouski Oceanic, where he set a career high for assists (27) and points (32). He won a gold medal with Canada at the 2015 World Junior Championships. He didn't record a point, but that's not why he made the squad. He was there to be the defensive-defenseman the team needed, and he played the role very well. Now, he joins the Phantoms in the AHL. He may not be there for long if the Flyers need a defenseman, and this physical force fits the Broad Street Bully bill perfectly.
the Flyers at training camp, and he has a legitimate shot at making the final roster. If he doesn't, he gets sent back to Lehigh Valley, but if that were the case, it more than likely wouldn't be for very long. Gostisbehere was a third-round pick in the 2012 draft, and the Flyers found a mid-round gem. He was a stud for Union College. I mean, where to begin. His first year, he made the Eastern Conference Athletic Conference (ECAC) all-rookie team and all-tournament team, and his Union College squad won the ECAC tournament. His second year, he was an ECAC second all-star team member, his Union team won another ECAC championship and he was a second-team all-American in the NCAA East. He was also a gold medal winner for the World Junior championship team in 2013. His junior year was his most lucrative year. He was the ECAC best defensive defenseman, an ECAC first-team all star, the ECAC player of the year, a member of the ECAC all-tournament team, a first team all-American for the NCAA East, his Union College won the NCAA championship, Gostisbehere was the NCAA tournament's MVP and a member of the all-tournement team, and, finally, he was a Hobey Baker finalist. He skipped out on his senior year and promptly tore his ACL as he played in just seven games last season (two with the Flyers, five with the Phantoms). He has to get back up to game speed, but Gostisbehere will eventually be a full-time NHL player, and might even be one this year.
Robert Hagg finally rounds out the Flyers promising defensemen prospects. Hagg is a two-way defenseman that has played a big role for Sweden in the last three World Junior tournaments. He won two silver medals in his first two tournaments, but didn't medal in the 2015 tournament. In his first season with the Phantoms last year, Hagg had three goals and 17 assists in 69 games. He'll enter his second year with the Phantoms, and has a bit of guys ahead of him on the depth chart, but Hagg will one day see time with the Flyers.
The only super-promising prospect the Flyers have up front is Travis Konecny. He's only 5-foot-10, but he is an incredibly skilled forward and he plays like he's 6-foot-5. He skates with a ton of confidence. Last season, Konecny had 29 goals and 39 assists in 60 games for the Ottawa 67's in the OHL. Even after a strong showing in training camp, Konecny was sent back to Ottawa, and he promptly dominated on his return, scoring two goals in his first game. The Flyers will have to be patient with Konecny and let him develop at his own pace, but the Flyers have a good one. I raved about him before the draft, and I was really, really hoping the Caps chose to select him.
Not a single player the Flyers have selected in the last four drafts has played in the NHL. That's not good, though that's bound to change soon.
I'd write a bit about some of the Flyers goaltending prospects, but the likelihood that they'd make the NHL is slim: The Flyers haven't drafted a goalie that has played in more than a single NHL game since 2000, when they selected Roman Cechmanek in the sixth round. Cechmanek played in 212 NHL games.
Player to Watch
While Medvedev might be the most intriguing player on the Flyers roster, simply because no one is quite sure what he is capable of, the player to watch is Raffl. Remember how I said a lot of Flyers scored a significant amount of their goals on the power play? Raffl didn't. Just two of his 21 goals came on the power play. If he is the primary line mate for Giroux and Voracek, he is capable of scoring 30 goals. This upcoming season is just his third full year. New head coach Dave Hakstol would be wise to put Raffl on the top line with his two best playmakers.
It's good to trust in your team like Simmonds does, but this is simply not a playoff team. They will more than likely finish with a top 10 pick once again. The forward unit has super strong top line, but the bottom six is below average, and that might be putting it nicely. The defensemen group as a whole is weak, and they simply aren't strong enough to beat out any of the New York Rangers, Washington Capitals, New York Islanders, Pittsburgh Penguins or Columbus Blue Jackets for a shot at a playoff spot. Their goaltending should be pretty solid, in fact, it might be some of the better goaltending they've seen in years. But Giroux and Voracek can only do so much. The future is bright for the Flyers, especially with all of those young defensemen waiting for their turn. But the Flyers are a few players away from being a legitimate threat in the Metropolitan Division.