Fifty years, that’s how long the Philadelphia Flyers have been around. For 42 of those years I’ve been waiting for Lord Stanley to return to Broad Street.
Arena: Wells Fargo Centre
GM: Ron Hextall
Coach: Dave Hakstol
2015/16 Record: 41w 27l 14otl for 96pts 5th in Metropolitan Division
Playoff Results: Lost in first round 4-2 to Washington Capitals.
For the first season in a long time I feel optimism about the Flyers. After decades of big money free agent signings and dismal playoff results GM Ron Hextall has begun building his team through the draft. Returning to the playoffs last season showed marked improvement as rookie head coach Dave Hakstol instilled his program. Stretches of poor play almost doomed the Flyers to another playoffless spring but a strong late season charge pushed them into a spot to challenge for the Cup. While thoroughly outplayed by the Capitals the Flyers at least showed flashes of the future to come. I would expect Philadelphia to have a similar season as last, lulls in the season where the play drops off and streaks of impressive play. The key for the Flyers is to work their stable of young prospects into the lineup while shedding burdensome contracts.
Forwards: The Flyers will once again be led up front by captain Claude Girioux, Jacob Vorachek and Wayne Simmonds. Brayden Schenn is being counted on for additional scorimg punch and Sean Couturier looks to chip in offensively as well as continue his excellent penalty killing. Travis Konecny, Nick Cousins and Scott Laughton should push for full time roster spots but may still be a year away.Dale Weise replaces Ryan White on the roster and combined with Pierre-Edouarde Bellemare and Chris Vandevelde are in place to shut opposing forwards.
Defence: This is the part of the roster that is most intriguing. Stuck with albatros contracts for Andy McDonald, Nick Schultz and Mark Streit do the Flyers try to trade them or send them to the minors to free up space for prospects? Shane Gostisbhere finished second in rookie of the year voting after joining the Flyers partway into the season. Micheal Del Zotto adds speed, finess and scoring to the Philly blueline. WHL defenceman of the year Ivan Provorov is expected to push hard for a roster spot this season. Travis Sanheim and Samuel Morin (6’5″) may require another season in the minors but the future on the blueline looks most impressive.
Goalies: Both Steve Mason and Micheal Neuvirth are capable of brilliant stretches of play, however they are both equally capable of letting beachballs get behind them. Both are unrestricted free agents at seasons end and will need a good to great season to justify being resigned. 6’4″ Anthony Stolarz continues to hone his craft in the AHL and is still a year away from full time NHL readiness. College star Alex Lyon was signed and gives more depth at a position that has been suspect since the heyday of Ron Hextall.
Prospects: Loaded, the Flyers stable is packed full of blue chip prospects. Defencemen, Travis Sanheim, Samuel Morin, Ivan Provorov and Shane Gostisbhere are either on the roster now or ready to push incumbents out of the picture. Up front the Flyers have already had Nick Cousins and Scott Laughton playing at the NHL level with other prospects like Radel Fazleev, Petr Straka, Nicolas Aube-Kudel and Travis Konecny most likely needing another season in Lehigh Valley before cracking the Flyers roster. Anthony Stolarz and Alex Lyon are the future goalies in Philadelphia with Stolarz (6’4″) possibly on the roster next season should the Flyers allow Mason and/or Neuvirth to depart via free agency.
Prediction: This is the point where I annually declare the Flyers to be the Stanley Cup champions and playing out the season a moot point. In an endeavor to appear unbiased I will place the Flyers 4th in the Metropolitan Division with 43w 27l 12 otl for 98 points. A first round playoff win before bowing out of the playoffs. The Flyers aren’t ready to challenge or win it all, but they are close. Closer than they have been for a long time. Built the right way, built to compete for a long time into the future the road ahead looks very bright. The Flyers will win the Stanley Cup, just not this year.
At least that’s how I see it, from the bleacher seats.