The season is almost upon us. The Flyers will open their 50th anniversary season on the road this year against the LA Kings on October 14th. Even through the pre-season, compelling story lines have developed. How will rookies Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny succeed in their first foray in NHL action? Will Steve Mason or Michal Neuvirth emerge and firmly grasp the No 1. goalie slot? Will Jakub Voracek rebound from an off year? Will I ever stop criticizing Matt Read?
All of these will be fun to watch throughout the season, but today we’re taking a look into the crystal ball. The best part about the start of a new season is the sheer unpredictably of it all. The predictions are out, and everyone is waiting to see what happens. Here are some of the things that could happen this year for the Flyers.
#1 Dave Hakstol is nominated for the Jack Adams Award
This might be the least bold of all the predictions. Hak put the Metro division and the NHL on notice last year by helping lead the Flyers into a playoff spot last season. The first year bench boss got everyone to buy in to his system and his experience with young players should prove even more valuable with the Flyers keeping their two young guns in the lineup for the season.
Now that the Flyers are a playoff threat, Hakstol could be in line for the nomination if the Flyers improve on last season’s finish. With the Penguins already scrambling due to the annual Crosby injury, and the Islanders being a question mark after a shaky off season, the orange and black have an outside shot at sneaking up to #2 in the division. If that happens expect Hakstol to garner serious attention come award season.
#2 Anthony Stolarz Wins 10 Games for the Flyers
We only know one thing about our goaltending situation. Both Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth are going to get hurt at some point this season, and Stolarz is going to get a call up, possibly more than one. He’s been called up 8 times in his career, but hasn’t seen regular season ice. On the final year of his entry level deal, the AHL All Star is an interesting guy to look at as the Flyers now have a log jam of goaltending prospects. Mason and Neuvirth are both in the final years of their deals, and it is unlikely that both will resign. As they battle for the starting job, an injury to either will open the way for Stolarz to make one of them expendable, hopefully in time for the trade deadline.
#3 Ron Hextall Makes A Deadline Deal
Ron Hextall holds all the cards when it comes to Flyers roster moves. So far he’s made just a couple small moves, lightly tinkering with the roster. Perhaps his biggest move was dealing Vincent Lecavalier and Luke Schenn for Jordan Weal and a third round pick. He’s done a great job since taking over from Paul Holmgren, but he’s been handcuffed by a few bad contracts.
This is going to be the year that we see Ron make some big moves. Mark Streit is in the last year of his deal. Both Mason and Neuvirth are in the last year of their deals and most likely expect a raise. Boyd Gordon is on a one year deal. Matt Read, Nick Schultz, Chris Vandevelde, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare are all in the final years of their contracts. Nick Cousins, Brandon Manning, and Scott Laughton are all going to be RFA’s at seasons end. If the Flyers jump out to a hot start, and Hextall decides that they are contenders, they have pieces they can move that might be coveted by other teams. Also with the expansion draft upcoming in the summer, Hextall might try to clear out some players who he might lose anyway to make room for the ridiculous number of prospects waiting in the wings.
#4 TJ Brennan Becomes a Regular Fixture in the Flyers Lineup
The Flyers depth at defense is building. The problem is, nobody else is ready. Sam Morin still needs seasoning (give him time folks, being 6’7 is harder than it looks), and Travis Sanheim needs work. Michael Del Zotto is proving to be injury prone, Shayne Gostisbehere has already suffered a serious injury in his brief career, Nick Schultz blocks enough shots that he’s eventually going to break something, Mark Steit is in his late 30’s, and Radko Gudas is on the Raffi Torres career path (unfairly, but I digress), and Ivan Provorov may be the second coming, but he’s still an unseasoned rookie who has made a few mistakes, and is going to make a few more.
Yes, all of those are very negative thoughts. I’m a Philadelphia sports fan so that should be understandable. Yet TJ Brennan makes me feel alright. Last season he lead all AHL defenseman in goals (25) and points (68). He was also tied for third in the league in scoring, and in plus minus (+34). He’s only played 53 NHL games over 5 seasons and he’s put up 5 goals and 8 assists for 13 points. The kid can score, has decent size at 6’1 216 pounds. Right now Brandon Manning is the next man up when it comes to defense, but Brennan isn’t far behind, and could provide a welcome spark if he gets a spot in the lineup.
#5 Claude Giroux has a 90 Point Season
I get it, a 33 point increase in scoring seems like a huge leap. It is a leap, but its one the Flyers captain can make. He’s going to be skating with Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn. Wayne can easily pot 30 goals, and Brayden has the potential after blossoming last year. Both guys are expected to produce this season, which means the assists should pile up for Giroux, one of the best distributors in the league. He’ll also help his own cause, as he’s proven to be a very consistent 20-25 goal scorer throughout his career.
The kicker here is going to be the power play. This well either make or break my prediction. A full season with Shayne Gostisbehere manning the point could provide a boost in his point totals. Let’s also not forget Jakub Voracek’s struggles last year impacted Giroux as they were linemates for a time. A return to form in Voracek’s case would mean an improved power play, with the potential to creep up into the Top 5. If that happens we could be well on our way to seeing captain Claude eclipse the 90 point threshold for the 2nd time in his career.
Lots of other factors will come into play here, such as Provorov driving possession and creating transition opportunities, injuries to himself or line mates, but the biggest factor is going to be the second line. If the Konecny, Couturier, Voracek line plays well and starts scoring, it can draw a tougher matchup from opposing teams which could free up the first line, typically the ones who have to face the best defensive line and pair from the other team. If the Flyers and Giroux catch some breaks he might be in line for his first Art Ross Trophy and even Hart Trophy contention, but we’ll settle for the playoffs.
Have your own predictions? Hate these or agree with them? Think I should be demoted to the minors? Leave your comments below or join the team here at Evening the Score!