Just about a month ago, the Philadelphia Flyers were the hottest team in the league. They had a 10-game winning streak going, had a nearly unbeatable goalie, and were tallying points like no one’s business.
But then the tide shifted, and ever since the win streak ended, the Flyers have been… well, they’ve been the Flyers we all expected. Actually, they’ve been worse.
They played two games this weekend, one in Boston on Saturday and another in Washington on Sunday. In the two games combined, they were out-scored 11-3 and looked terrible, to put it nicely.
Now, I’m not completely giving up on this season yet. The Flyers still have an overall winning record and despite tanking the past few weeks, they are still in a playoff spot. But I think maybe we all need something good to think about right now, and the future could be it.
At the end of this season the Flyers will have 12 key players who are free agents, and between losing some of them and the Vegas expansion draft, there will be a lot of room next year for some of the top prospects to find their way to the City of Brotherly Love.
Anthony Stolarz, Nick Cousins, Roman Lyubimov, and Shayne Gostisbehere will all be restricted free agents, and Steve Mason, Michal Neuvirth, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Boyd Gordon, Chris VandeVelde, Michael Del Zotto, Nick Schultz, and Mark Streit will all be unrestricted free agents. The question is, who will stay and who will go?
I think the Flyers will extend offers to Mason, Stolarz, Bellemare, Del Zotto, Cousins and Gostisbehere. Stolie will take over Neuvirth’s current role as Mason’s backup, which will leave five open roster spots on next year’s team.
Well what’s so exciting about that? Five spots, that’s not going to do much, right? Actually, it very well could be all the difference this team needs to genuinely begin the transformation from perpetually being on the playoff bubble to being true playoff contenders.
In losing Lyubimov, Gordon, VandeVelde, Schultz and Streit, the Flyers will finally have room to start looking to their future.
Schultz and Streit will likely (hopefully) be replaced by Lehigh Valley’s “twin towers,” Sam Morin and Travis Sanheim. The pair has started to find their groove, and are playing some truly tremendous hockey together in the AHL. Morin’s defensive mindset coupled with Sanheim’s offensive power creates a duo that could take the NHL by storm, if they can make the transition smoothly.
There may be bumps in the road, but they’ll still be a step up from Schultz and Streit.
And if for some reason the Flyers need an additional defenseman, Robert Hagg, Mark Alt and Philippe Myers all seem like they could perform at the NHL level.
With recent call-ups Gostisbehere and Provorov, along with veterans Gudas, Del Zotto, and Manning as mentors, they’ll be in fairly good hands. (I’ll ignore that MacDonald guy for now. It’s less irritating than actually thinking about him.) And that defensive corps is much more appealing than the current one.
Lyubimov, Gordon and VandeVelde will be a little harder to replace, since the Flyers’ prospect pool of forwards who could be NHL-ready this October is a lot more shallow than the defense. But there are still plenty of viable options that will improve the overall effectiveness of the Flyers forwards. Taylor Leier has already proven he’s capable of playing at the NHL level, as have Scott Laughton and Jordan Weal. The Phantoms also have Nicolas Aube-Kubel and Danick Martel, who could provide a boost to the offense in the near future.
All of this is, of course, before the NHL expansion draft, where the Flyers will lose one player to Vegas and before any trading happens. But regardless of who else they may lose, the Flyers will have multiple options at both defense and forward without having to sign or trade for anyone new.
Today is the first of five days off for the Flyers, so hopefully they take the time to rest their bodies and minds and gear up for the second half of the season. If they make a run through the end of the season the way they did last year, there’s no doubt they should be able to make the playoffs. That’s a tall order, though. A huge “if.”
But fear not, Flyers fans. Even if they can’t make it happen this season, there are good things on the horizon.