I was planning on starting this post saying that the 2017-18 season has the Philadelphia Flyers fan base the most excited it’s been since the 2009-10 season. I’m not so sure that’s true after the roster moves that were made Sunday.
Originally, it looked like four or five rookies would be on the Flyers’ opening night roster. Then Oskar Lindblom was sent to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms in favor of Dale Weise, defenseman Travis Sanheim would probably be following him also if it weren’t for an injury to Shayne Gostisbehere and Sam Morin could sit out the first game — and more — in favor of Brandon Manning.
Excitement gone — or at least hidden for the time being.
Whether you agree with the moves or not, general manager Ron Hextall and coach Dave Hakstol believe they’ve put together the best roster they could in an effort to return to the postseason.
After a surprise playoff berth in 2015-16, the Flyers fell hard in the second half of last season and stopped playing hockey in early April for the third time in five years. The Philadelphia management wants to stop that inconsistency and find some success in May and maybe even June.
So will the Flyers make the playoffs this year?
First off, the weaknesses should be assessed before any strengths — and unfortunately for Philly there’s plenty of questions and possible holes.
A majority of the veterans among the offense had disappointing seasons last year. That includes Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek, the two supposed offensive leaders. On top of that, Brayden Schenn, the third-leading scorer last year is gone and his thought-of replacement, Lindblom, won’t start the year in Philadelphia.
Hakstol insisted on offense coming from the point last year and it looks like it could be the same system this year. It failed mightily last season and there shouldn’t be much confidence success would change a year later.
On defense, the middle act of the young defense is supposed to unfold this year, ushering in Morin, Sanheim and Robert Hagg. With any young player, there are sure to be concerns with mistakes and confidence — and that only grows with defensemen.
However, it looks like only Hagg is a shoe-in to start the year on the ice, but even if veterans Manning and Andrew MacDonald are the ones playing, there’s plenty of things to worry about on the blueline.
Goaltending was a huge issue last year with Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth. Mason was the better of the two, but he’s in Winnipeg now. He’s been replaced by Brian Elliott, who struggled with the Calgary Flames at the beginning of last year before finding his footing a couple months in.
If that happens again to Elliott, will Neuvirth be a serviceable answer in net, while the longtime St. Louis Blue works out issues? It wasn’t last year as Neuvirth had one of his worst seasons in the NHL. The Flyers are banking on a comeback for both.
So to go over, there are concerns at forward, defense and goalie….That’s not offering a lot of confidence.
But now for the good news. Giroux has looked much better in the preseason than he did at a lot of points last season. He’s determined and should be fully healthy from abdominal surgery operated on in the summer of 2016.
Then there’s also the added depth. Nolan Patrick may just be a rookie, but he’s so good at the little things, that he likely won’t have a hard time adjusting. The Flyers will have Jordan Weal and Valtteri Filppula from the beginning of the season and there’s definitely a possibility Lindblom is recalled.
The fourth line is also the best the Flyers have seen in a long time. Scott Laughton, Michael Raffl and Taylor Leier wouldn’t look out of place on a third line. They’ll certainly bring more offense than Pierre-Edouard Bellemare or Chris VandeVelde ever did.
Despite not ensuring a young defense, the defense will still be better than last season. Hagg and one of Morin/Sanheim are better than Michael Del Zotto, Mark Streit and Nick Schultz. There’s always a chance that they also beat out Manning, a sixth defenseman at best, even if they’ve already proven they’re better than Manning.
Neuvirth has looked better in net this preseason, but Elliott had a rough game in the final exhibition game on Sunday against the New York Islanders. That may be the biggest area of concern as the season begins.
On top of all that, the Metropolitan Division is deeper than it was last season.
The Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals may have lost some pieces, but they’re still playoff locks. The Columbus Blue Jackets are primed for another run. The New York Rangers and New York Islanders are still in it and the Carolina Hurricanes improved the most in the division, and maybe conference.
The Flyers probably aren’t aiming for one of the top three spots in the division, which would guarantee a spot in the postseason. They’re best bet is trying to take one of the two Wild Card spots.
Hextall and Hakstol decided to keep the veterans around in Philly. That didn’t work last season and I still don’t believe it will this year, but I will say that I’m more of a believer now than before preseason.
The improved play of Giroux, strong showings from rookies and improved depth could push the Flyers to a playoff spot….but I wouldn’t bet on it.