As the Philadelphia Flyers prepare to kick off the 2016-17 NHL season, we look at four reasons that fans should be pretty excited about what’s to come.
“Wentz-mania”, the end of Ryan Howard era, the debut of Joel Embiid, and the injury to Ben Simmons have dominated the Philly sports scene this fall. As a result, the Philadelphia Flyers have been very much under the radar. Nevertheless I believe the Orange and Black could actually steal the local sports spotlight this coming season and end up accomplishing more than many people expect. Here’s four reasons why.
1. The Coach
The Flyers were 41-27-14 (96 points) last year and also earned a playoff berth. Their improved record was a clear indication that the team was on the upswing, and new head coach Dave Hakstol deserves much of the credit for that. As the season progressed last year, the team really bought into Hakstol’s system, as evidenced by a strong 15-6-2 finish. With that solid experience under their belts, the Flyers should continue to grow in terms of strong team play, and improve on their point total of last season.
2. The Defense
Philadelphia finished 12th last year in goals against – not outstanding, but not too shabby either. Both Michal Neuwirth and Steve Mason showed stretches of brilliance between the pipes, and if both can remain relatively healthy this year, they may prove to be one of the best goalie tandems in the league. Rookie defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere had a huge impact on the team last season. So much so that he was a finalist for the Calder Trophy (Rookie of the Year) and returns to lead a solid defensive core.
3. The Stars Should Shine Again
Jake Voracek scored just 11 goals last season, his lowest total since his rookie year in 2008-09. But strong World Cup and preseason performances could foreshadow a big offensive year ahead. Captain Claude Giroux has also seen his scoring totals dip over each of the past three years. He’ll probably get less shorthanded ice time this season, which could help boost his offensive game. If both players can rebound and achieve nothing more than their normal scoring potential, last year’s anemic offense should get a much-needed boost. In addition, Brayden Schenn had a career season last year, with 59 points, and there is every reason to believe that his progress will continue. Stalwart Wayne Simmonds also had a strong year, leading the team with 32 goals. So if the players who are expected to score come through, the Flyers’ mediocre offensive should improve, and may, in fact, improve significantly from last season.
4. Two 19 Year Old Rookies
As a rookie last year, Shayne Gostisbehere had an enormous impact on the team. I absolutely believe the Flyers would not have made the playoffs without his stellar play. This year there are two rookies who each could have just as big of an impact – blueliner Ivan Provorov and winger Travis Konecny. Provorov, the 7th overall pick in the 2015 draft was the best defenseman in junior hockey last year. He is strong on his skates, a poised player who handles every aspect of the game with skill and confidence. He played so well in the preseason that he was a lock to make the team even before Michael Del Zotto got hurt. Travis Konecny led the Flyers in points this preseason and really made a big impression. The 24th overall pick of the 2015 Draft, Konecny could add some much needed firepower and have a major impact as a rookie as well. GM Ron Hextall said that both players are on the team for the whole season, telling Philly.com:
“They’re here. They made our team. This isn’t a tryout. If I felt like either player wasn’t ready to be here the whole year, they wouldn’t be here right now.”
A Word or Two of Caution
Let’s be honest – due in large part to salary cap restrictions, Hextall had an offseason that could lull a chronic insomniac into REM sleep. Gone are Sam Gagne, Ryan White, R.J. Umberger, and Yevgeny Medvedev. New faces include Dale Weise and Boyd Gordon. Given those minor changes, we shouldn’t expect a huge lift from the new guys. Not to mention that the team is still very much in need of a sniper. In addition, the Flyers play in what many believe is the toughest division in hockey. If they get off to a sluggish start like they did last season, it will be even more of a challenge to make a playoff run this year. Current injuries to Del Zotto and Scott Laughton aren’t helping right now in that regard.
The Bottom Line
Although this may still be considered a transition year, the Flyers have the look of a team on this rise. Solid coaching, strong defensive play, and increased scoring could make them a squad that just might surprise some people.
My prediction – 46-27-9, 101 points. Good enough for a very solid third place in the tough Metro division, right behind Pittsburgh and Washington. I also believe they can win at least one round in the playoffs this year.
The season kicks off tonight at the Staples Center against the Los Angeles Kings.