Puck Daddy’s 2016-17 NHL Preview: Philadelphia Flyers

Yahoo
Yahoo

Last season: 41-27-14 (95 points); 5th in the Metro; 7th in East

The Philadelphia Flyers began last season with one giant question mark among many: Behind the bench.

Dave Hakstol was hired by Ron Hextall – no relation … well, save for the fact that one totally coached the other’s son at North Dakota – as the Flyers’ new head coach despite not having a minute of NHL coaching experience.

His transition to the NHL wasn’t an easy one, as the Flyers posted a 3-10-2 stretch around November. But thanks to some stellar goaltending from Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth; the play of the team’s top line with Claude Giroux; and the electrifying performance from rookie Shayne Gostisbehere, the Flyers snagged the last wild card spot, before falling to the Washington Capitals in the opening round of the playoffs, 4-2.

The entire season was played under a somber mood, as the health of owner Ed Snider deteriorated. The founder of the Flyers died at age 83 in April. He was honored before Game 3 of the Flyers’ series against Washington, although that game is likely remembered for another reason.

2015-16 Season, In One Picture

Getty Images
Getty Images

Did They Get Better, Worse, Or Are They About The Same?

Better, although it was subtle.

The days of Snider, Bobby Clarke and Paul Holmgren throwing money at problems in the offseason are over under Hextall, who is taking a more methodical Dean Lombardi-esque approach to turning the Flyers into contenders. That means hanging onto young talent rather than trading it, and that means keeping the core locked up long term to build around it.

So the big acquisitions for the Flyers this offseason? Dale Weise for four years and Boyd Gordon for one. Good, solid bottom six workhorses.

Meanwhile, the Flyers bought out RJ Umberger and let Sam Gagner leave.

The fact is that the Flyers are patient, knowing they have several young players that are ready to really make an impact.

Five Most Fascinating Players

1 – Shayne Gostisbehere

The rookie sensation had a 0.72 points-per-game average, and was a nightly spark to the Flyers’ offense. Was he perfect defensively? Well, no, and that’s why his adjusted Corsi was at 49.68 percent despite his offensive output. But he was second in the voting for the Calder, was the spark for the Flyers’ power play and just looked like the most electrifying defenseman to hit NHL ice since Erik Karlsson. What does he do for an encore?

2 – Jakub Voracek

Voracek followed his best offensive season (81 points) with a return to earth. He had 55 points, but only 11 goals in 73 games, his lowest total since 2009. He makes $8.25 million against the cap until 2024 and doesn’t have any trade protection. His production is certainly something to monitor.

3 – Steve Mason

Mason’s been good for the last two years in Philly. Last season, he battled through injuries and personal matters off the ice to finish at 23-19-10, with a .918 save percentage. He started 17 of the team’s final 19 games to drag to them into the wild card. He and Neuvirth are in their walk years, and are the same age. Competition is fun!

4 – Brayden Schenn

Combined with Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds, Schenn helped establish a heck of a top line for the Flyers and posted by far his best offensive season: 26 goals and 33 assists, both career highs. He’s just 25; is the No. 5 pick from 2009 going to inflate those numbers even higher?

5 – Ivan Provorov

The Flyers have two 19-year-old blue-chippers in camp: Winger Travis Konecny, who is expected to be shipped back to junior, and Provorov, who appears to be a good bet to make the big club. He has all the tools to be a top pairing defenseman in the NHL, playing all three zones well. The Flyers even had him paired with Gostisbehere during camp, in case the rest of the East wanted to see what their next 12 years are going to look like.

Mascot Hijinks Video Break

(The Flyers don’t have a mascot, so here’s the closest thing we could find, which is a Radko Gudas fight.)

Can We Trust Them At Even Strength?

Barely.

The Flyers were 16th in adjusted Corsi at 5-on-5 with a 50.07 percent rating – just keeping their heads above water. They were No. 22 in 5-on-5 goals at 133, but gave up the eighth fewest goals at 130, thanks to their stellar goaltending.

Simmonds, Giroux and Schenn were the three leading point-producers at even strength. Sean Couturier scored 31 of his 39 points at EV. Gostisbehere (24 points) and Mark Streit (15 points) were the only two defensemen in the top 10 for the Flyers.

Can We Trust Them On Special Teams?

Yes.

The Flyers were No. 11 on the power play in the NHL last season at 18.9 percent, thanks in part to the chemistry of their top line crossing over to special teams. Simmonds scored 13 of his 32 goals with the man advantage.

On the penalty kill, however, the Flyers were No. 20 at 80.5 percent. Gordon and Weise should help.

Getty Images
Getty Images

Can We Trust Their Goaltending?

This is a really odd feeling: The Flyers are starting a new season and it’s possible that goaltending is the least of their concerns.

What’s amazing about both goalies is that they’re reclamation projects: Mason finding his game in Philly after flaming out in Columbus, and Neuvirth doing the same after bouncing from the Capitals to the Islanders. They’re the same age and both entering their walk year. Can Mason pop another .932 save percentage at even strength? Can Neuvirth step up with another outstanding 25-35 starts?

Flyers’ hidden MVP: Goalie coach Kim Dillabaugh.

Player Mostly Likely To Be In Vegas Next Season

Andrew MacDonald.

Next.

Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being scorching hot)

Two. The Hack really proved a lot of doubters wrong – including in his own locker room – with the Flyers making the playoffs in his first season. With basically the same team back this season, the buy-in will be instant. He’s a smart hockey guy and rewarding Hextall’s faith. (This is still a two because, hey, even after Ed Snider’s passing, it’s still Philly. Pressure’s on.)

Prediction

The Flyers and Islanders will battle for the No. 3 seed in the Metro behind the Capitals and Penguins, and there’s no reason the Flyers can’t snag it – and another playoff berth – as long as the goaltending plays up to expectations and they get a wee more contribution from their offensive depth.

In any event, their record will look better than their 50th anniversary sweaters, which were apparently designed by Goldmember.

Flyers
Flyers

“I LUFF GOOOOOOOOLLLLLD…”

2016-17 Season Preview
Anaheim Ducks
Arizona Coyotes
Boston Bruins
Buffalo Sabres
Calgary Flames
Carolina Hurricanes
Chicago Blackhawks
Colorado Avalanche
Columbus Blue Jackets
Dallas Stars
Detroit Red Wings
Edmonton Oilers
Florida Panthers
Los Angeles Kings
Minnesota Wild
New Jersey Devils
New York Islanders

New York Rangers
Ottawa Senators


Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.