Well hockey fans, we’ve made it through another long offseason. The Flyers regular season begins on Thursday in a matcup against the defending Eastern conference champions the Tampa Bay Lightning.
If we’ve learned anything from preseason, we’ve learned to take absolutely nothing away from it. We don’t always see final rosters, and we don’t always face final rosters. We don’t really have a concrete idea of what our lineup is capable of. It’s hard to form chemistry with line mates because coaches and GMs are trying to see who will make the final 23.
So, let’s break this down this team, eh?
The Flyers top line, which seems like a sure bet will be Michael Raffl, Claude Giroux, and Jakub Voracek should be productive. I wouldn’t be surprised if Raffl has a 25-30 goal season this year assuming he doesn’t sustain any injuries that will keep him out for a long stretch of time. Giroux and Voracek should be among league leaders in points again (Last season Voracek finished 5th in points with 81 and Giroux finished 12th with 73). I think Voracek hits the 40 goal mark this season, leading the team in goals.
The second line looks to be Read, Couturier, and Simmonds. Couturier is finally in a system where he will thrive and it’s expected that his line will be put into an offensive role while Scott Laughton takes some of the defensive burden. I know I’ve said that before, and it’s becoming redundant, but it’s true. He can and will be an offensive threat when given the offensive zone starts. Read had an off year, but was dealing with an injury it’s safe to say that Read will be producing at the same level he has been. There’s no reason to think that Read has had such a dramatic drop off in skill. Simmonds will have another big year. He lead the team in goals last season with 28. It’s expected that this will finally be the year that Simmonds breaks the 30 goal mark. Even if he doesn’t, Simmonds has been and should continue to be the most consistent source of secondary scoring for the Flyers.
I have three main concerns on the offensive side of things with this team: Lecavalier, Umberger, and Brayden Schenn. Lecavalier and Umberger for obvious reasons; they’re just too damn slow. After hip surgery this offseason, Umberger looks to have gained a bit of speed. He may even be able to keep up with his linemates this season; provided he’s not stuck on a two-minute shift. Lecavalier will start the season as a healthy scratch. Who knows if he’ll see consistent time in the lineup. The problem with Brayden Schenn is not that I think he’s bad, but that he’s the odd man out. He’s better than a third line winger, but there’s more deserving people on the second line.It puts Head Coach Dave Hakstol in a tough spot. He does play better on the right wing, which is probably the only thing keeping him here for now. Don’t be surprised if he’s moved by the trade deadline.
Even though the defense has gotten a bit faster, it hasn’t improved too much. The Flyers are still missing that true number one defenseman. They have a couple of 2 and 3 guys who are being forced to fill a role they’re not built for. The one positive difference of the defense this year is they’ll be joining the rush. We’ve seen positive change in how the defense protects the neutral zone, forcing opponents to chip the puck in. This will mean opponents will have a harder time establishing themselves on our zone…hopefully.
Waiving MacDonald does get rid of some of the slow dead weight, but the team will still have to carry 4 million in cap space, which actually limits who the Flyers can bring up if there is an injury.
It looks like Luke Schenn will get the start over Radko Gudas. Gudas is, understandably, rusty after spending the last half of the season injured, but he’s also looked less than great handling the puck. While a lot of fans will miss Grossmann’s physicality (which they would like replaced by Gudas) what we need is skill, not grit.
Last season we talked about how the backup goaltending situation may have cost us a playoff run. Last season after steve Mason suffered an injury, the Flyers experimented with three different goalies and the best performer was Rob Zepp. The need to improve in net behind Steve Mason was obvious. The Flyers responded by dropping Ray Emery and signing Michal Neuvirth.
Neuvirth will need to be good enough to support Mason as more than just a typical backup goaltender. Hextall has stated that Neuvirth will be playing a bigger role than just a backup, suggesting another season of trying to have a goaltending tandem. Mason is fired up and wants to play at least 60 games, but Hextall will be trying to keep the starter from over exerting himself and possibly getting injured.
The Flyers are still a work in progress, and this season is still going to be hard to watch at times. The Flyers have improved in small areas but haven’t really been able to keep up with the improvements that other teams in the Metro have made.
Don’t expect the Flyers to make the playoffs, but expect them to be better than last year. I think they’ll finish 6th in the Metro. But, we all know this team, and they could pull off some miracle run. Either way, like I keep preaching, patience, my fellow fans.