October 03, 2019
On Friday afternoon in Prague, the Flyers will open their 2019-20 campaign against the Chicago Blackhawks. And change is in the air.
Not only is head coach Alain Vigneault in his first season at the helm, but it will also be the first full season for general manager Chuck Fletcher, who replaced Ron Hextall early last season. On the ice, there will be changes as well, with the additions of Kevin Hayes, Justin Braun, Matt Niskanen and others. Moreover, Carter Hart will play his first full season at the NHL level, including his first season opener after he was called up midway through the 2018-19 season. And, hopefully, his presence will mean the Flyers can make it through the season with just a few goalies, as opposed to the record eight they used a year ago.
Of course, there will be the constants, including captain Claude Giroux and fellow veteran Jakub Voracek, but gone is longtime leader Wayne Simmonds, who was dealt during last year's trade deadline.
So what will all this mean for the Flyers? Will it help them get to the playoffs for the first time in a few years — and, more importantly, help them win their first postseason series since 2012?
The expectations, at least inside the building, are high. However, the feeling among local and national hockey writers is that the Flyers will likely fail to reach the playoffs yet again. With the season opener now less than 24 hours away, let's take a look at what the experts are predicting for Vigneault and the Flyers this season in our latest edition of What They're Saying...
Before getting into the specific predictions regarding point totals and final standings, let's take a look some bigger-picture predictions for the Flyers this season, starting with Emily Kaplan over at ESPN.
Her big question revolves around the Flyers goaltending situation — and there's no question Carter Hart will play a big role in how successful this team can be — while her bold prediction is one that should make Flyers fans happy (and could directly lead to some wins this season). Unfortunately, there's no way of telling if that will lead to a Flyers playoff berth.
The big question: Have the Flyers finally figured out the goaltending?
The Flyers were one of the league's biggest disappointments in 2018-19, and a lot of the blame fell on the cast of rotating goaltenders (rightfully so). No team should have to cycle through eight netminders in a season. Of course that masked other issues, like slumping seasons for several players and an overall leaky defense. The blue line did play with more structure and confidence when Hart finally got in net.
GM Chuck Fletcher says he expects a 70-30 split between Hart and Brian Elliott; it's unclear who gets the larger load just yet. But Hart, the vaunted prospect, finally gets his chance to show he can be the true No. 1. Does that mean a decades-long problem is finally solved?
The Flyers have a top-10 power play. Yeah, it's a little hot-takey considering Philadelphia had the ninth-worst man advantage unit last season. With their personnel, it shouldn't be nearly as bad this season, and a rebound campaign from Shayne Gostisbehere could be the catalyst to get things going. Plus, let's remember that the Flyers had the third-worst shooting percentage of any team at 5-on-4 last season; these things tend to even out. [espn.com]
Over at The Athletic, Charlie O'Connor offered up 10 predictions for the Flyers season, and there were certainly some interesting ones — like a notable player being traded away or the fact that he was one of the few people picking the Flyers to make the playoffs (although there was much more of that locally than there was nationally).
This one, however, will be worth keeping an eye on as the first half of the season unfolds. The last few seasons, the Flyers have been relatively quiet at the deadline (unless you count trading Wayne Simmonds). But with the team hoping to be in the thick of the playoff race this season in a Metropolitan Division that should be pretty open after the Capitals, Fletcher and Co. might find themselves buying this time around...
6. Fletcher will be a buyer at the deadline
Fletcher has a history of aggressive moves at the trade deadline and trying to improve his teams for the stretch run. (I broke this down last November, before Fletcher was hired.) His approach to the deadline was the clearest example of Fletcher meeting the “bias for action” prerequisite for the general manager job that Comcast Spectacor chief executive officer Dave Scott articulated after Ron Hextall’s firing.
I expect Fletcher to maintain that trend with the Flyers, and I believe they’ll be close enough to the playoff picture to justify some additions.
The Flyers’ prospect depth remains enviable, and with the exception of the 2020 third-rounder they relinquished in the Braun trade, they still have their full complement of draft picks in the coming years. That gives Fletcher an impressive arsenal of assets entering the trade deadline (and the knowledge that not all of the prospects will find spaces on the NHL roster). If the Flyers are still in the race in February — and they have the talent to be in the mix — my guess is that the general manager goes shopping.
7. They’ll have either the longest winning streak or losing streak in the NHL this year
Come on, this is still the Flyers we’re talking about here. They’ll find a way to grab the attention of the hockey world with some ridiculously implausible run of games. It’s in their nature. [theathletic.com]
Now, let's get into some final standings talk. First up is Sam Carchidi of The Inquirer, who believes the Flyers will make the postseason ... barely.
Record: 42-29-11, 95 points. Their defense is much improved, center Kevin Hayes is a valuable addition at both ends of the ice, Carter Hart is with the team from the start, and proven winner Alain Vigneault gives the Flyers a presence behind the bench. Put it all together and you have a team that will make a 13-point improvement over last year’s turbulent season.
Where they will finish in the East: eighth.
Where they will finish in the Metropolitan Division: fourth, behind Washington, Pittsburgh, and the Islanders.
Playoffs: They barely will sneak in, but will make a first-round exit, leaving them without a playoff series win since 2012. But if Hart gets on a roll… [inquirer.com]
Wayne Fish of The Morning Call is a little more confident in the Flyers chances, as he has them finishing sixth in the Eastern Conference. That presumably means they finish third in the Metropolitan and avoid one of the two wild card spots.
1. Tampa Bay
6. FLYERS: A full season out of Carter Hart, two defensemen who have been to the Stanley Cup Final and a coach with instant credibility.
7. New York Islanders
Larry Fisher of The Hockey Writers is even more confident in the Flyers, with them finishing second in the division. Unfortunately, their streak of failing to win a playoff series continues as he has them losing to the Penguins in the first round.
1) Washington Capitals
2) Philadelphia Flyers
3) Pittsburgh Penguins
4) New Jersey Devils
5) Carolina Hurricanes
6) New York Rangers
7) New York Islanders
8) Columbus Blue Jackets [thehockeywriters.com]
After a few positive predictions, this one will likely feel like a bucket of cold water in Flyers' fans faces. Over at USA TODAY, Kevin Allen has the Flyers finishing sixth in the Metropolitan Division. That being said, he makes it sounds like the division is wide open and adds that a big year from Carter Hart could be the difference maker for the Flyers.
Every team in this division could make the playoffs and every team could miss it. That's how evenly matched this division is. Two seasons removed from winning the Stanley Cup, the Capitals are still the best. Defenseman Radko Gudas makes them harder to play against, but they might miss Matt Niskanen's all-around game. ... Some Penguins are worried the team has gone stale. But with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin leading the way, this is still a formidable group. ... Give Hurricanes GM Don Waddell credit for being aggressive, shaking up his defense with the addition of Jake Gardner and Joel Edmundson. The defense will still be strong, and the offense will be improved. ... The Rangers could be better than we think. They are emerging from their short-term rebuild mode with some hope of trying to make the playoffs this season. Jacob Trouba will solidify their defense and Artemi Panarin puts a charge into the offense. Kaapo Kakko might score 25-plus goals as a rookie. ... Don't overlook the Blue Jackets. They suffered offseason losses (Panarin, Bobrovsky and Matt Duchene), but still have a competitive team. ... The Flyers have some impressive young players. An exceptional season from young goalie Carter Hart is all that it would take to get them into the playoff hunt. ... The Islanders are the division's wild card. If goalie Robin Lehner hadn't left for the Blackhawks, we might have them projected second or third. Semyon Varlamov will have to prove his value. But with Barry Trotz behind the bench, the Islanders will always have a shot at having a playoff season. ...The Devils had one of the most impressive offseasons. They will be exciting and their offense could be dangerous. They traded for P.K. Subban, drafted No. 1 overall pick Jack Hughes and signed KHL star Nikita Gusev and veteran Wayne Simmonds. [usatoday.com]
Over at The Athletic, Dom Luszczyszyn used his predictive model to forecast the final standings, and while the Flyers are projected to finish with 91.5 points, that was only good for 18th overall and most likely won't be enough to get them into the playoffs.
18. Philadelphia Flyers
Projected points: 91.5 points
Playoff chances: 46 percent
Stanley Cup chances: 1 percent [theathletic.com]
This might also hurt Flyers fans to read. Just one of Sporting News' 12 writers, Brandon Schlager, picked the Flyers to make the playoffs. And even then, he has them barely making it as the eighth seed. Here's a look at his predictions.
|1. Lightning||1. Capitals||1. Panthers|
|2. Bruins||2. Hurricanes||2. Flyers|
|3. Maple Leafs||3. Penguins|
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