The 2020-21 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to preview all 31 teams. Over the next few weeks we’ll be looking at how the offseason affected each team, the most interesting people in the organization, and the best- and worst-case scenarios. Today, we look at the Philadelphia Flyers.
Philadelphia Flyers 2019-20 Rewind
Record: 41-21-7 (89 pts.); second in Metropolitan Division; fourth in Eastern Conference
Leading scorer: Travis Konecny (24 goals, 61 points)
Year one with Alain Vigneault saw a big improvement on the ice. Despite playing 13 fewer games, the Flyers saw a seven point increase from 2018-19. That success saw them contenders for the Metro crown but they would ultimately fall a point short when the NHL season paused in March. At the time games were halted, Philadelphia was in the middle of a stretch that saw nine wins in 10 games. Their strong regular season put them in the Stanley Cup Playoffs Round-Robin club, giving them three games before the First Round got under way.
After going 3-0-0 during Round Robin play, the Flyers earned the top seed in the East and dispatched the Canadiens in six games. Their season came to an end in the Second Round in a seven-game defeat to the Islanders. After falling behind 3-1 in the series, they needed two overtime wins to force a Game 7, but ultimately came up short.
Erik Gustafsson (signed as free agent), Derrick Pouliot (signed as free agent)
3 Most Interesting Philadelphia Flyers
• Carter Hart: In his first full season as a starter, the 22-year-old netminder posted a .920 even strength save percentage and helped the Flyers to 24 wins in his 40 appearances. He would shine in the postseason with a .940 ESSV% and now enters a contract year. The team will control his rights as a restricted free agent, but another strong showing will result in a nice pay bump. Hart’s play over two seasons has calmed nerves about the franchise’s crease curse. He’s proven to be a dependable No. 1 and a key piece in a team that is trending upward.
• Shayne Gostisbehere: His puck-moving abilities and offensive touch had him pegged as a top-pairing defenseman when he joined the Flyers in 2015. But it’s a tough past two seasons for the blue liner, who has posted 14 goals and 49 points over his last 120 games after a 13-goal, 65-point campaign in 2017-18. Gostisbehere, who owns a $4.5M cap hit that expires in 2023, was a healthy scratch multiple times in 2019-20. There’s no reason for GM Chuck Fletcher to sell low on him. It’ll be up to Vigneault to find the right fit on their blue line and if a role increase — after two straight years of diminishing ice time — will help him regain his form.
• Nolan Patrick: The No. 2 overall pick from 2017 did not play at all last season due to a migraine disorder. According to Vigneault, Patrick has been skating in Philadelphia during the offseason and feeling better. There may be a further update once players enter camp and undergo physicals, but the team will take their time with the young center. If he’s able to return and doesn’t experience any set backs, he’ll be a big addition down the middle as Philadelphia competes in a difficult new-look East Division.
Since 2006, Vigneault coached teams have only missed the playoffs twice in 13 seasons. The new realignment and playoff format, where only the top four teams qualify, will make it a 56-game grind to play into late May. There is no fallback of the Wild Card and Boston’s addition to the division will only make it tougher. But there were a lot of positive signs in 2019-20: Hart’s ascension; Kevin Hayes‘ production in his first season; Travis Konecny’s consistency; Sean Couturier‘s Selke Trophy; and Ivan Provorov‘s bounce-back year. Getting out of the division will be a task, but there is no overwhelming favorite among the bunch. If the good from 2019-20 can carry over, the Flyers will be players in the East.
Patrick remains out, Hart regresses, captain Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek see further dips in offensive production, Gustafsson flops on the blue line and the old Gostisbehere can’t be found. It’s already a difficult division with the Capitals, Penguins, Rangers, Islanders, and now Bruins vying for one of four playoff places. With 56 games to play, points will be at a premium and another long winning streak — like the ones they’ve strung together in each of the last four seasons — is something that can’t be relied on happening again.
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