Philadelphia Flyers Season Preview
*Sigh* Well its that time of year again ladies and gents, Hockey season is right around the corner as the Philadelphia Flyers open their season Friday, October 4th in Prague against the Chicago Blackhawks. If you know anything about me you know that there's nothing I love more than the hockey and the Philadelphia Flyers, and while im excited to have the boys back and hockey in general back im not as excited as I usually am. Is the constant struggle of being a fan of the Flyers and them constantly being mediocre finally getting to me? Is it the lack of exciting offseason moves? Or is it that im just not getting my hopes up? Honestly, I'm not really sure what it is and maybe once it gets closer to puck drop ill be just as excited as I usually am. But for now, lets take a look at a preview for the Flyers upcoming 2019-2020 season.
After another disappointing year lots of changes were made to the Flyers front office. New General Manager Chuck Fletcher started putting his fingerprints on the roster early on in the offseason. He brought in new head coach Alain Vigneault to replace interim coach Scott Gordon who did a hell of a job coming in mid way through the year replacing the god awful Dave Hakstol. Vigneault has coached 16 years in the NHL with three different teams (Montreal, Vancouver, New York Rangers) the rangers were his last team before being fired. He has made it to the Stanley Cup Final twice in his career one with the Canucks and one with the Rangers. He has the experience for sure but is he the one to finally lead this Flyers team to the promise land? We will just have to wait and see as he will have a solid young team in front of him. With the young talent and some new veteran additions on paper this team should be good enough to make the playoffs and possibly make a nice little run.
Heres a look at the the roster additions from the offseason
Kevin Hayes- Hayes signed a 7 year 7M contract after the Flyers traded a 5th round pick to the Winnipeg Jets to get his rights before he became a free agent on July 1st. Hayes is a big winger at 6'5 217lbs who can also slot in as a center as well. He definitely fills a hole that the Flyers had but he isn't the elite goal scorer that they have lacked for years. Will that change now that he is in the orange and black? I doubt it, the most goals he has ever scored has been 25 and that was back in 17-18 that was also the only time he scored more than 20 goals in his career. It is always possible for a player to have a surge in goals and points when he comes to a new team but that usually doesn't happen when it comes to the Flyers. It may not sound like it but I actually really do like the addition of Hayes, I think it creates more balance throughout our lineup. My only problem is he's getting paid a lot of money and I don't think he's the answer to our goal scoring problems.
Justin Braun- The right handed defenseman was acquired via trade back in June for a couple of draft picks. Braun had played his entire career in San Jose and had always been a solid defenseman on their back end. He isn't much of a point producer but he will help the Flyers in their own end by being a very reliable defenseman. One of the biggest issues the Flyers have had in recent years is getting the puck out of their own end and starting a breakout. Braun should step in and really help the team out in this aspect, don't expect him to wow you with his point total but he will get the puck out of our end and also loves to fire it from the point.
Matt Niskanen-We got rid of one old and slow defenseman and added another. The Flyers finally and I mean FINALLY bought out the contract of Andrew MacDonald. Just when we thought the days of having a traffic cone back on the blue line were over in comes Matt Niskanen. We traded Radio Gudas to get him which I don't mind getting Gudas out of here because last year was the best year of his career and he won't ever have a season like that again. However, Niskanen is not the answer and if he ends up being anything more than a 7th or 8th defenseman we're going to have problems. He isn't as bad as MacDonald but he is trending downward. Im all for having a veteran presence on defense but I have a feeling he is going to hurt us more than help us. Now, I could be completely wrong and Niskanen could go out and have the best season of his career. It's unlikely but hey, you never know but I'm prepared for the worst which means he will probably suit up for about 75 games and drive us fans crazy all year long.
Tyler Pitlick-This was one of the more interesting moves made in the offseason as the Flyers traded Ryan Hartman to Dallas for Pitlick straight up. Hartman was acquired at the trade deadline in the Wayne Simmonds deal and the Flyers were unable to come to terms on an extension with him so they found a trade partner. Pitlick has been in the NHL for 5 seasons and most of them have been cut short due to injury. In fact, he is going to miss the start of training camp as he was injured training during the offseason. So he's not off to a great start to say the least. Pitlick plays a similar style to the way Hartman did as he is going to be more of a bottom six grinder type player. He's not going to score a lot but he should provide energy when he is in the lineup. The addition of Pitlick is very eh, honestly him being injured opens up the door for one of our prospects to make an impact but we will get into that more later one.
For the first time in forever, goaltending is something that Flyers fans should not be concerned about. We will be blessed to have a full season of Carter "MotherF***ing" Hart! The 21 year old burst onto the NHL scene last year when he got called up and nearly led the Flyers to a playoff berth. He appeared in 31 games and had a record of 16-13-1 with a GAA of 2.83 and a Save % of .917. Hart was in the conversation for the Calder Trophy which goes to the Rookie of the Year. He is the clear number one goalie and will get his first full season in the NHL. There wasn't much that Hart didn't do right last year when he stepped in and proved that he is ready for the NHL spotlight. Of course there is always the chance of a sophomore slump as now that he has played NHL games there is more tape on him and teams can adjust. However, I don't see that being the case with Hart, I'm not saying he's going to be perfect but he is going to be the steady goalie that we can rely on which is something we haven't had in the past. I expect him to get around 50-55 starts in net which is not an unrealistic number and he could very well get even more than that. My only concern for Hart is keeping him healthy, the worst thing the Flyers could do would be to run him into the ground. They have to keep in mind that this will be his first full NHL season and he will have never played this many games in a season before. The nice part is the Flyers smartly brought back veteran goaltender Brian Elliot to be his backup.
Brian Elliot will be entering his third season as a member of the Philadelphia Flyers and his first two season have been not great to say the least. He has dealt with injuries in both seasons and last year he only ended up playing in 26 games as he battled injuries once again. Not many people were a fan of bringing him back for another year but I for one actually don't mind it. Elliot wasn't god awful the last two seasons he just struggled to stay healthy and had bad defense in front of him. For him to come back in and be the backup for Hart will be a good thing. His workload isn't going to be as much as in years past and he isn't going to be relied on to be "the guy" now that Hart will take on the role of the starter. I think Elliot will play around 20-30 games which is a good number for him and should help his health in the long run. Obviously, if Hart gets injured then he could be called upon more but after a longer offseason to recover from his surgery I think Brian Elliot is poised for a bounce back year and should be a reliable backup for the season.
Who Rounds out The Bottom 6?
One of the more interesting developments of the offseason/training camp is what is the third line going to look like? You're top 6 is set as you have JVR,Coots,Giroux,TK, Hayes, Voracek. The bottom two lines is where things get interesting as there is a lot of players fighting for a spot in the bottom six. Nolan Patrick is more than likely going to wind up on the third line strictly because you have two top centers already. Oskar Lindblom is going to be the left wing on the third line unless they switch him and TK out. The 4th line is going to consist of Laughton and Raffl. So that leaves us with the right wing spot to fill on line 3 and 4. So who steps in and fills those two spots? Even though he is injured I think that Tyler Pitlick is going to fill that 4th line wing spot as long as he is healthy enough for the start of the year. So really we are down to one spot on the 3rd line.You have 4 guys that in my opinion have a serious chance. Morgan Frost, Issac Ratcliffe, Joel Farabee, and Mikhail Vorobyev.
Morgan Frost-Frost is one of the top young prospects in our system and has been really impressive so far in camp. He suffered a minor injury which caused him to miss the first preseason game but it's not something to worry about. Frost is a goal scorer first and foremost and he would provide a spark to the offense. Add that with the chance he ends up playing on a line with Lindblom and Patrick he could end up having a huge year. One of the reason he could not make it would be because he's a natural center who would have to switch to wing to make the team.
Issac Ratcliffe-Another top young prospect in the system with a lot of upside. He's also 6'6 and 200 pounds. The 20 year old has opened the eyes of everyone at camp as one of the biggest questions about his game was his skating which has drastically improved. At this point I think he has a better chance to make the roster than Frost due to him being a natural winger and his size and skill.
Joel Farabee-He is the long shot to make the team for me, he has looked great in camp I just don't see him beating out Frost or Ratcliffe for the spot. Farabee is a fantastic player with a lot of upside. Another natural winger which might give him an edge over Frost but I don't think its enough for him to be in the lineup on opening night.
Mikhail Vorobyev-The 22 year old was one of the surprises from last season who made the team out of camp. I think he has a shot to do it again this season as well. The good thing is that if he makes it he's going to be on a solid line and not buried with two scrubs. He only managed 2 points in the 15 NHL games he played last year but he was buzzing early in the season and was getting his fair share of chances before he was sent back down. Him already having NHL experience is going to help his cause and as long as he puts together a solid camp and plays well in the preseason games he could secure his spot.
Overall, its nice finally seeing theses young guys getting a chance to make an impact. The Flyers should have a very balanced lineup this season and all of these young guys could play an important part. The one guy I didn't mention that could make the team is Chris Stewart...he was signed to a tryout contract and has been around the league for a little while. If somehow he ends up being the one to make the team I might actually freak out. He would not be the guy to help us and we have no need for someone who is going to take dumb penalties. My pick to make it is Ratcliffe with Vorobyev being the 13th forward to start the year. As for Frost and Farabee, they will get their chance but will have to start the season with the Phantoms.
Well the NHL didn’t do the Flyers any favors with their schedule to start the season off. They kickoff the season in Prague against the Blackhawks come home for a game with the Devils and then head out west for a three game road trip. Lots of travel early in the season for the boys which has become the new norm over the last few years. The longest home stand this season is three games...that's it. The Flyers have a nice little break in the season at the end of January before the All Star Break. They play the Penguins on January 21st then don't have another game until January 31st also against the Penguins. The Flyers will have 20 Nationally televised games this year on the networks of NBC. The Metropolitan division will be tough once again this year and the Flyers will need to have a strong record against the division if they plan on making the Playoffs.
While my excitement for the season isn't as high as usual I'm still ready for the season to start. My expectations for this season aren't all that high mainly because every year I say "this is the year they make it out of the first round of the playoffs." Then they go and just miss the playoffs completely. We have a good team on paper, plenty of experience behind the bench now, and finally a legit number 1 goalie. All of this should lead to a playoff birth...buuuutttt our division got a lot better. The Penguins and Caps are still two of the top teams, the Rangers and Devils both added some great pieces which will help them compete more than before. The Hurricanes and Islanders are still possible sneaky teams that could go on a run just like last year. The Blue Jackets are probably the only team that got worse during the offseason as they pretty much lost all of their star players. That being said they still won't be all that bad. So what does all this mean for the Flyers? Well its not going to be easy to get into one of the top 3 spots in the division I see them being more of a wild card team once again. They have too much talent to where they should make the playoffs this year and honestly with all the talent they have they should be able to be one of the top 3 teams in the division. But its the Flyers and things are never that easy, I need them to prove that they can be consistent and compete with the top teams in the league and also not play down to the bad teams in the league. With a franchise goalie and consistent offensive production they will make the playoffs and have a chance to be a dangerous team once they are in. If they don't make the playoffs this season I'm ready for them to blow up the core and trade some big names. So for me this is an important year for the franchise as it will prove whether we are one of the great young and upcoming teams or if we are the same middle of the pack Flyers that we've been for the last 10 years.