Flyers

Flyers postmortem: Validating reasons for hope

BRUCE BENNETT | GETTY IMAGES

As you are well aware, the Philadelphia Flyers were eliminated in the first round from the Stanley Cup Playoffs after a six-game battle with their interstate rival, the Pittsburgh Penguins. The six-game series wasn’t quite the flashback to 2012 the fans were looking for.

The season is over after 88 games and some fans view this season as a success while others look at this season as an absolute failure. There is a lot to unpack from the Flyers’ 2017-18 campaign, but in this post, I’m going to explain why I think the season was somewhere in the middle between a success and failure with reasons to look forward to next season.

I know what you’re thinking: “Come on, Ant. They won’t go anywhere with the current coach!”, “Trade Giroux!”, “We need a goalie!” etc. I hear you, trust me, I do. Just hear me when I say, the Flyers are still in a good position.

First things first, the Flyers are not going to fire Dave Hakstol. Hak will have another season behind the bench after leading the team to the playoffs and the third seed in the Metropolitan Division.

Next season will be a make-or-break season for Hakstol. Questionable decisions, like the one above, are going to be viewed under a tighter microscope next season. Despite showing an incredibly short leash with young players like Travis Sanheim and Travis Konecny, I think next season will be the best one yet for Hakstol. Here’s why:

The place-holder veterans won’t be around to hold up young guys. Players like Dale Weise, Brandon Manning, Valterri Filppula, and Jori Lehtera could realistically be gone next season. Filppula and Manning are both free agents which would clear room for Travis Sanheim and Mike Vecchione to get more consistent playtime. This goes without saying, but Travis Sanheim will take over the spot he earned this season. Vecchione, who was signed by the Flyers late in the 2016-2017 season, played the entire season for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. In 65 games he posted 17 goals and 23 assists. In two games in the Calder Cup playoffs he has one goal and one assist. I expect Vecchione to come in and center either the third or fourth line next season.

Another young guy to keep an eye on next season is Nicolas Aube-Kubel. Aube-Kubel, a former second round pick, could make his NHL debut next season. In 72 games for the Phantoms last season, he posted 18 goals and 28 assists.

I said it before and I’ll say it again, I would much rather watch the Flyers struggle with young players than watch them play mediocre with replacement level veterans. Next season Hakstol will have some young talent to work with and I expect him to usher in the young guys and let them learn the ins and outs of the NHL.

On to the next concern from this season: Trade Claude Giroux or strip his “C”. This is a bad take. There is no way in hell the Flyers will trade Giroux or strip him of captaincy. Claude Giroux is the heart and soul of this Flyers team. He is coming off a Hart Trophy caliber season where he set a career high in points. Without him the Flyers would not have made the playoffs. You want this guy off the team?

Sure, he only scored two points over six games in the playoffs this season. Yes, that isn’t what you expect from your captain, I get that. On the surface it’s easy to point the finger and say it’s on him. Not that it’s a good excuse, but did you ever think that shutting down Giroux was the Penguins’ main focus? They knew just as well as we did that this team would go as far as Giroux would take them. Unfortunately, the rest of the team didn’t step up and help the captain when he needed it most. Guys like Wayne Simmonds and Jake Voracek were just as invisible as Giroux was in the postseason. I still maintain that Giroux is the most important player on this team, that said I think the paradigm of importance has shifted in favor of some of the youth. Let me explain:

Giroux and his “C” aren’t going anywhere any time soon, he’s the undisputed leader of this team. However, I think there is a legitimate chance that there are two new assistant captains next season. I’m not saying that the Flyers should trade Simmonds, but I am saying they would be foolish if they didn’t entertain offers for the Flyers veteran. Also with Filppula and MacDonald sharing one of the As, I think the Orange and Black find one full-time replacement. After his breakout performance this season and the gutsiest playoff game I’ve ever seen, I think Sean Couturier cemented his place as the second-most important player on the team. He should without a doubt wear an “A” next season. If there is a second “A” available I think it will go to Ivan Provorov. Despite only being in the league for two years he is the leader on the blue line and is definitely future captain material. Don’t believe me?

This speaks for itself.

Finally, the last thing that should bring the Flyers fans hope for next season is that the goalie situation should improve. The key-word there is should. To start, the goalies that the Flyers have under contract are Brian Elliott, Michal Neuvirth, Alex Lyon, Anthony Stolarz, Felix Sandstrom, and Carter Hart. The most notable name on this list, Carter Hart, will have a chance to make the roster out of training camp, but will almost positively start the season in the Lehigh Valley.

This leaves Elliott, Neuvirth, Lyon, Stolarz, and even Sandstrom as options or the two Flyers’ positions. I’ll work from back to front on this one. Sandstrom wasn’t that impressive in his time overseas. He averaged a 2.85 goals against average and a .900 save percentage. He’s still young and needs time to develop. He’s no Carter Hart (1.6 GAA and .947 SV%).

Anthony Stolarz was hurt most of last season but proved to be solid two seasons ago for the Flyers. I’m excited to see how he performs in camp. He, realistically could be one of the Flyers goalies next season.

I liked what I saw out of Alex Lyon last season. He’s not a bad backup and plays well, for what it’s worth I liked him more than Mrazek. He’s not the goaltender of the future but he’s a good piece to have.

The most interesting (and frustrating) goaltender the Flyers have is Michal Neuvirth. When he’s hot he’s a spectacular goaltender, the downfall is that he’s injury prone. The Flyers leaned on him when the season was on the line in two games against the Penguins. He played well in the playoffs and is still under contract next season. At locker clean out day Neuvirth said he would be doing his training a little different this season.

This might be too little too late for Neuvy, but it’s interesting to see that he’ll be training with Connor Hellebuyck. As you may or may not know, Hellebuyck is up for the Vezina Trophy this season after posting a 2.36 GAA and a .924 SV%.

This brings me to Brian Elliott. “Moose” was the main guy between the pipes for the Flyers this season. He was playing well until he had a lower body injury that required surgery. With a full offseason to recover I would expect he will resume his status as the Flyers number one goaltender.

The most exciting thing about the goaltender situation is how many possibilities they are. Don’t get me wrong, everything ends with Carter Hart being the goalie of the future, but in the meantime I would expect the Flyers to trade one or two of the goalies. Who knows, maybe they can get a low-risk, high-reward winger with some scoring upside.

There are plenty of reasons to be excited for the Flyers next season, just know that better days are coming. At the beginning of the 2017 season, if I told you the Flyers would finish third in the Metropolitan with 98 points, two behind the Penguins, you would have been excited. A lot of national pundits thought the Flyers would miss the playoffs last season, but they made it. Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier took huge steps forward. There is a ton to be excited about. Mark my words, the Flyers will win a playoff series next season. Book it.


You can follow Anthony Mazziotti on Twitter (@AntMazziotti) and e-mail him at anthonymazziottiwriting@gmail.com.

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