The Flyers should repeat last season's magic, and could do even better if they keep getting great goaltending and a return to form from Jakub Voracek.
THN is rolling out its 2016-17 Team Previews daily, in reverse order of 2015-16 overall finish, until the start of the season.
THN's Prediction: 4th in Metro, wild-card team
Stanley Cup odds: 28-1
Key additions: Dale Weise, LW; Boyd Gordon, C
Key departures: Evgeny Medvedev, D; Ryan White, RW; R.J. Umberger, LW
-How far can Dave Hakstol take this team? The rookie coach gained traction in the second half of the season and brought out the best in players such as Brayden Schenn while also unleashing the mighty power of rookie Shayne Gostisbehere before that. The Flyers gave Washington an uncomfortable amount of pushback in the first round of the playoffs, and you can expect more of the same this time out as the coach becomes more entrenched.
-Jakub Voracek will be better, right? He has to be. Voracek had a rough 2015-16, with his typical season shooting percentage getting carved almost in half (from nine percent to five percent). Voracek’s struggles manifested most obviously on the power play, where he scored just once after tallying 11 times with the man advantage in 2014-15. A second training camp under Hakstol’s watch will help him get back to his usual scoring ways, plus Voracek will get a running start to the season thanks to his spot with the Czechs at the World Cup of Hockey.
-Who is the starting goalie? The Flyers have that problem right now where there are two options in net – Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth. Mason has been the starter for the past three seasons, with results that have bounced between OK and pretty good. Neuvirth has never played more than 48 games in an NHL season and that was back in 2010-11. But he scared the daylights out of the Capitals in the playoffs, surrendering just two goals in three games to push the series to six games after the Flyers started off 0-3. For now, we’ve got a platoon. The best man will win.
Player projections are based off a three-year version of Game Score (which you can read about here) weighted by recency and repeatability and then translated to its approximate win value (Game Score Value Added or GSVA). Team strength was derived from the combined value of every player’s GSVA on a team. The season was then simulated 10,000 times factoring in team strength, opponent strength and rest.
This team surprised a lot of people last season with their stunning late season surge into the post-season, and they might do even more damage this season.
A lot of credit should go to GM Ron Hextall who has cleaned up the past regime’s mess admirably and stocked the cupboard with a lot of blue-chip talent. The team has two of the best forwards in the league in Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek and getting value out of their remaining prime years is essential. Doing so while also building toward the future creates a delicate balance that Hextall has navigated excellently so far.
One of those future building blocks is stud 'D' prospect Ivan Provorov who is definitely talented enough to make this team, but still might not due to the amount of money ahead of him on the depth chart. If he starts the year in the top six instead of Nick Schultz, this team will be better for it. With the emergence of Shayne Gostisbehere last season, and the solid contributions from Radko Gudas, Mark Streit, and Michael Del Zotto, the Flyers actually have a surprisingly solid, albeit average, defense corps.
Up front the team’s top two lines are quite good, especially that top line of Giroux, Voracek, and Wayne Simmonds. Voracek had a tough year last season, but there’s no doubt that his shooting percentage should bounce back up to his normal rates. He’s too good to be converting on under two percent of his shots on the powerplay, and 5.2 percent in all situations.
While the top six is decent, the bottom six is a big concern, especially the bottom line. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare is a nice story representing France for Team Europe at the World Cup, but his on-ice results have been abysmal in the NHL. Along with Boyd Gordon, that line will probably be spending a lot of time trying to get out of the defensive zone.
The Flyers’ biggest strength, and the biggest reason they’ve got a high chance of making the playoffs, is in net. When they first traded for Steve Mason that seemed absurd to even consider, but his career has taken a complete 180 and he’s now legitimately one of the league’s top goalies. And if he falters, Michal Neuvirth ain’t bad either.
A lot of people were surprised when this team made the playoffs last season. Don’t be shocked if they repeat the magic this season.
Up next: Tampa Bay Lightning
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