Updated: Jan 31, 2019
Answering the many questions surrounding the Philadelphia Flyers
*All current stats relative from January 30, 2019
The Philadelphia Flyers have been one of the most unpredictable teams in the league over the past five years. This is not to say that they are necessarily bad, but it certainly does not mean they are very good either. After a strong, hard fought battle in a dominant division last season, finishing 13th overall with 98 points, good for third in the Metro, they now sit at the bottom of the league with a measly 48 points in 50 games played. Over the last half decade, the Flyers have appeared in the playoffs only twice; last year where they were bounced out of the first round in The Battle of Pennsylvania, while their second appearance came in 2015-16, finishing 13th overall with 96 points, snagging the second and final wild card spot, where they had the pleasure of playing the president trophy winning Washington Capitals. Needless to say, it was another quick exit. So what makes this Flyers team so inconsistent?
There are many reasons that make this team such a giant question mark before the start of every season, the most obvious factor being their constant lack of quality goaltending. Their last real number one goalie is probably the same man who ran this team for the last 5 years, Mr. Ron Hextall (who was just recently let go, along with their chances of competing this year). During his tenure as general manager, one of the most common pieces of criticism directed towards management was their inability to acquire a league average goaltender. Let me repeat that once again - LEAGUE AVERAGE - not a superstar, just someone who can stop the puck on a regular basis. Since the start of the 2014 season, the Flyers have had only one season where their team save percentage was above league average and go figure, it was the same year they made the playoffs, in 2015-16. However, something that is often overlooked is their goals per game average in comparison to league average, as they have successfully produced enough offence to jump above league average once in the same number of seasons. So, the question that arises is what are the Philadelphia Flyers? What should their trade deadline plans look like? Lastly, and arguably most importantly, what is the right course of direction moving forward?
Who are the Flyers?
The Flyers are a team that for decades was labeled as the Broad Street Bullies, that was their identity: if they failed to beat you on the scoreboard they sure as hell would beat you up physically. However, times are a changing, the game is getting younger, faster and far less physical as the Flyers only have eight fights this season (for context the Ottawa Senators lead the league with 17). They no longer hold that fear factor that made them such an intimidating team since their inaugural season. Of course, they still have grittiness (thus the name of their mascot) in the likes of Radko Gudas, Wayne Simmonds, Claude Giroux and many others who still like to muck it up. They have however done an excellent job of adapting and moving in the direction that the league is currently going in by drafting extremely well. Currently, the team has one of the youngest and most promising back ends in all of hockey, with the likes of Robert Hägg (age 23), Travis Sanhiem (22) and Ivan Provorov (22) (not to mention Shayne Gostisbehere who is only 25) who are all poised to be tremendous players. They also have Phillippe Myers, a 21-year-old undrafted signing who currently has 28 points in 45 games for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.
Behind these young talented defencemen lies the future number one goalie for the Flyers, a prospect that could not develop fast enough in the hopes of finally solving their biggest hole. Carter Hart, a second-round pick by the Flyers in 2016 has certainly made a name for himself at such a young age. He had a tremendous year in the WHL last season for the Everett Silvertips, posting a remarkable 1.60 GAA and .947 SV% in 41 GP. That same year he led Team Canada to gold at the World Juniors where he had an outstanding 1.81 GAA and a .930 SV%. Flyers fans have been lucky enough to see glimpses of what this young goaltender will become in the 13 games he has played for them owning a solid 2.53 GAA alongside a .922 SV%, which is better than league average. Although it may be a small sample size, his past track record only adds to the hype that has surrounded him since draft day.
Up top the Flyers have some key pieces that have helped contribute to their success no matter how inconsistent it may be. Outside of the obvious big names such as Giroux, Jakob Voracek, Simmonds (who will likely become a trade asset at the deadline) and recently signed James Van Riemsdyk, they have some intriguing prospects lined up in the Flyers organization. Nolan Patrick was a second overall pick (initially scouting reports had him at number one for majority of the season prior to their draft day) that has yet to really solidify any real consistency due to injuries. Entering just his second year in the league he has accumulated 47 points in 116 games in his young, but promising, career. Although he may not be a Jack Eichel or a Patrik Laine, he is still a highly skilled all-around centre, making him that much more valuable to the Flyers. Along with Patrick, Oskar Lindblom and Travis Konecny are some of the many young talented forwards that have already cracked the lineup on a regular basis, providing some excellent depth, speed, and skill, and are poised to become players who will play pivotal roles as some of the older veteran players begin to fall off. Not to mention there is plenty of talent in the minors as the lowly Flyers struggle to catch any real ground in the playoff race. With the likes of German Rubstov having a strong start to his AHL career with 10 points in 14 games, Isaac Ratcliffe and Team Canada stand out, and tournament scoring leader (4 goals and 4 assists), Morgan Frost are all players that will make an immediate impact once they are ready to make the jump.
Not to mention there is a very good chance that the Flyers will end with a top 10 pick in the 2019 draft.
One of the biggest questions surrounding the Flyers are whether they are going to simply retool or blow it up and rebuild under the new management. What makes this such a tricky question is the fact that they have a ton of young players and prospects already, and whether it would be smart to move some of their aging talent they have in Giroux and Voracek. The Philadelphia Flyers seem to be one of those teams that on paper, have a solid roster that can compete at the very least for a playoff spot. However, their goaltending is, and always has been, a major concern, this is nothing new. Similarly, to the Calgary Flames last year, who also had abysmal goalie stats, if the Flyers could just find someone to make a save and help mentor a young Carter Hart, then they may not be in as bad a spot as they currently are. With that being said, what should they do at the trade deadline? With seven contracts coming off the books at the end of the season, the obvious answer would be to sell as many of those guys as you can and stack up the picks for this upcoming draft. The problem with that is, only two, possibly three, of those seven players have any real value to them and if you can unload all of the expiring deals, then maybe canning Hextall less than half way through the season and hiring Fletcher was the right call.
Simmonds is on an expiring deal at $4.7 million, and despite his down year in offensive production, he is still the Flyers’ most appetizing asset and one hell of a nuisance to play against. His grit and big body presence is perfect for a contending team that wants to add a little toughness with some offensive upside. After signing JVR in the offseason, with what seemed to be Simmonds’ money, there is a good chance that he will find himself playing for a playoff team very shortly.
Michael Raffl is probably the last player on the list of soon to be UFA’s that may have any real value to contending playoff teams. A 30-year-old winger with 9 points in only 36 games played makes him a mediocre depth move for a team looking for some secondary scoring. With a cap hit of just $2.35 million, Raffl would make for a nice low risk acquisition.
The remaining players on expiring deals include Christian Folin, a right-handed shot defenceman struggling to stay in the lineup consistently making just under a million dollars ($800,000), a depth move if that. Jori Lehtera, a 31-year-old who saw a sharp decline in scoring when being shipped out of St. Louis in the Brayden Schenn deal. He also carries with him some personal package as he has been charged for, what has been reported as, buying cocaine in his native land, most teams will likely stay away from that. Philip Varone a 28-year-old fringe NHL player at best will most likely not receive many phone calls on February 25. Lastly, we have the goalie tandem that is Brian Elliot and Michal Neuvirth, both of which have been injured for majority of the season playing a combined total of 21 games. Goalies are not often targeted at the deadline, and the odd chance they are, it is usually because they have been proven in the playoffs, or have proved they deserve a shot at it, something both these goalie lack.
All things considered, the best plan of action for this struggling Flyers team is to sell off as many expiring contracts as you can at the trade deadline. Seems simple enough, however, this upcoming draft the Flyers have all 7 of their picks along with Arizona’s 6th and Montreal’s 7th. Although those may be low end draft picks, there is always the slim chance of selecting someone who may end up being a Joe Pavelski, Henrik Zetterberg or even an Andreas Johnsson type player, they all count for something. Accumulate as many picks as you possibly can, from there the organization has a decision to make, and quite frankly, their best bet is to do what the Toronto Maple Leafs did in 2016. Although the circumstances may be different, as the Leafs were in full rebuild mode while the Flyers may be ok with a simple retool, Toronto traded away one of their best players in Phil Kessel for a high-end prospect, Kasperi Kapanen and the 30th overall pick (yes there were several other pieces involved in the deal but those were the key components). The Leafs, like the Flyers, were struggling to find a number one goalie so they flipped that 30th overall pick along with a 2017 second round pick to the Anaheim Ducks for Frederik Andersen. The Flyers are in dire need of a goalie and with the possibility of having a top 5 pick, and most likely receiving another late round first pick in exchange for Simmonds, the best course of action would be to package that pick for a proven number one goalie. By doing so, you allow Hart to play more games and develop in the AHL before taking the reins. Goalies often come into their own later than players do, so give Hart as much playing time as he can get to help him develop as best as possible. One would hope that with a number one goalie, a top 5 pick, young and upcoming prospects, with Captain Giroux and company, the Flyers could soon see themselves becoming the intimidating team they once were.
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