With just days remaining before the NHL gets back to playing meaningful games, Pro Hockey Rumors is starting to wrap up their Season Preview series. This evening we move on to the Philadelphia Flyers.
Last Season: 41 – 27 – 14, 96 points, fifth in the Metro. Lost to Washington in round one of the playoffs.
Cap Space: $40.834K (According to Cap Friendly)
[Related: Flyers Depth Chart]
Players to Watch: Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth. Philadelphia should be just fine up front with Claude Giroux (67 points), Jakub Voracek (55 points), Brayden Schenn (26 goals, 59 points) and Wayne Simmonds (32 goals, 60 points) leading the way offensively. The Flyers boast a tremendous crop of young blue liners led by Shayne Gostisbehere, who is set to be joined this season by 19-year-old Ivan Provorov. Not far behind is Robert Hagg and Samuel Morin. The key for the Flyers will be to once again get quality goaltending out of Mason and Neuvirth.
Last season when the Flyers surprised some by making the postseason, Mason and Neuvirth combined to stop 91.7% of shots against which was good enough to tie them with two other teams for fifth best in the NHL. The Flyers also allowed 2.56 goals-per-game, a rate bested by 11 clubs in the league. The goaltending was indeed good last season and it was a big reason why the Flyers made it to the playoffs.
The questions is: can they again be that good or better? Since joining Philadelphia, Mason, a former Calder Trophy winner, has stopped 92.2% of the shots he has faced. But that rate is inflated by a 92.8 save percentage in 2014-15. If we remove that season, Mason has a 91.9% save percentage with the Flyers, which is still a solid number.
The bigger question is Neuvirth, who prior to 2015-16 had never recorded a save percentage better than 91.4% in any season in which he appeared in more than 13 games. Over the last three seasons, Mason has started 161 games for the Flyers, which means in all probability Neuvirth will get close to 30 starts. The Flyers need Neuvirth to be at least league-average in those starts to give them a good chance to contend in the highly competitive Metro Division.
Key Storylines: Can the Flyers take the next step? They improved by 12 points over their 2014-15 season total and while it’s not likely they’ll experience another double-figure leap in points, the next step in their progression is passing some of the teams that finished above them . This past season the Flyers finished 8th in the conference, grabbing the second wild card spot and a guaranteed reservation with the regular season’s best team, the Washington Capitals, in the playoffs. Earning a higher playoff seed and a playoff series win would constitute a successful campaign.
It wouldn’t necessarily be the end of the world if the Flyers took a marginal step back. They still have a ton of young talent getting closer to the NHL and with Mark Streit ($5.25MM AAV) and Michael Del Zotto ($3.875MM AAV) both set for free agency, the Flyers might have a little bit of money to spend next summer, assuming they rely on prospects to fill those openings. Then again, Gostisbehere is likely going to eat up much of that available cash on his next deal, presuming he has another productive campaign in 2016-17.
GM Ron Hextall and head coach Dave Hakstol have the Flyers on the right track. Hextall has extricated the club from some, not all, but some of their onerous contractual obligations. At the same time the franchise has added a lot of young talent to the organization that will begin to bear fruit as soon as this season.