The Capitals will be playing in the new East Division in 2021. We are looking at each division opponent leading up to the season.
D Erik Gustafsson
F Derek Grant, D Matt Niskanen, F Tyler Pitlick, F Nate Thompson
The Flyers looked like the team to beat last season until the pause, then ultimately fell in the second round of the playoffs to the New York Islanders. But that wasn't just the product of the loss of momentum, this is a team built for regular-season success, but one I don't see as a major championship contender.
Carter Hart is the best thing this team has going for it. That's not to disparage the other players or to say he's all they have, he's just the focal point even at only 22 years old.
Defensively, the team will have to make up for the loss of Niskanen who unexpectedly retired. It's easy to dismiss his loss and say he was 34 years old anyway, but Niskanen is a right defenseman who played on the top pair last season, provides leadership and who played power play, penalty kill and was trusted in important defensive moments. Even if he wasn't expected to take on quite so large a role this season, you don't lose a player who provided all that to your team and simply say next man up.
They are still decent on defense, but losing Niskanen is a blow.
Offensively, this team is very deep with players like Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, Jakub Voracek, Kevin Hayes, Travis Konecny, James van Riemsdyk, plus they get back Oskar Lindblom and maybe even Nolan Patrick.
When I look at the Flyers, I see a very good team and one that can withstand the grind of an 82 (or 56) game season as well as anyone. What I don't see is that star power that becomes so crucial in the playoffs.
In the playoffs, you need that player who can just take over a series. Look at previous champions and it's easy to pick those players out. Victor Hedman, Nikita Kucherov, Ryan O'Reilly, Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, etc. Giroux is just not that guy and I don't think any of the other skaters on this team are either.
I expect the Flyers will carry their momentum over that they gained from last year into this one and win the division. For me, however, I just don't trust them as a playoff team. They never should have struggled against Montreal or the Islanders over the summer. I see another early exit either in the first or second round unless Hart stands on his head. Otherwise, I don't see a Giroux-led team going deep.
Philadelphia has a lot of great players, but I'm not sure that have that difference-maker who can take a great team and make them champions unless Hart can be that player.