Looking at the talent the Philadelphia Flyers had going into the off-season last year, you would have thought that it should have been enough to make the playoffs again in 2015, despite not really doing a whole lot in that same off-season, to help some of their star players out.
The Flyers had a couple of superstars up front, who could seemingly score on a whim, they had a handful of talent, just about to blossom into strong NHL players, some decent veteran defense and a goaltender that had regained a good portion of his rookie season confidence. Where could it have possibly have gone wrong?
The Flyers walked a fine line between some very good play and some very poor play and if you looked at their season, they may have been drunk when they walked that line, as they fell over into some stretches of poor play, inconsistent offense and porous team defense. They finished 22nd overall in goals for, despite having a couple of big scorers on their team and 24th in goals against, thanks to a number of injuries on their blueline.
It was a lot of things that someone really can't predict, looking at the team roster at the beginning of the season, taking it at face value.
The final roster list of the Philadelphia Flyers was littered with hockey pool participation, as 14 players on their final roster had either an active spot on a hockey pool team or was dropped earlier in the season. Four of those 14 players were dropped, including Radko Gudas, who never actually played for the Flyers in the year, rather was dealt at the deadline from Tampa, while being injured.
There's very little at fault with Jakub Voracek's season, as he was 1 point shy of being a true point-per-game player for the Flyers in the 2015 season, picking up 22 goals and 81 points in all 82 games for the club. In the year of the goaltender, he was one of the few forwards that was truly out there making an impact on a nightly basis. Voracek finished 13th overall in pool scoring, 5th among all forwards in the league. I suppose, if you were to find one fault, relative to the Flyers season overall, it was that he was just a +1 in the plus/minus this year, especially with only 33 power play points.
Let's not forget about Claude Giroux, who had a pretty good season of his own too, finishing 24th overall in pool scoring and 12th among forwards, thanks to a 73-point season in 81 games. It wasn't close to his best year, but still pretty darn good. The Flyers also had a few more pool worthy forwards on their side, as Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier all finished in the top 184 forwards. Consistency may have been their biggest downfall, as they really didn't produce all year long.
Offense from the defense was quite limited as well, as Mark Streit was left holding the bag for the Flyers for the better part of the season. Streit finished 9th in defenseman scoring (52 points in 81 games), but Michael Del Zotto, who got off to a great start, fizzled off and was nowhere to be seen down the stretch, despite finishing 46th among blueliners in scoring with 32 points.
From the games that I had seen, Steve Mason was not the Achilles heel of the Flyers year, but when you're getting hung out to dry on a number of occasions, it should be allowed to take a few nights/afternoons off, because it is mentally draining to play behind an inconsistent team. Mason finished 30th among goalies in pool scoring with 18 wins and 45 points, just below a point per 60 minutes this year, but I wouldn't pin that on him. Let's not forget about Ray Emery, who had 10 wins and 20 points, he still finished as a pool worthy backup, counting on that you had picked up some really good skaters to supplant his lack of minutes played.
2016 Pool Outlook
Looking at the Flyers roster going forward for the off-season and into the 2016 season, you still wonder how they got to be so bad in 2015, but you resign yourself to that fact and move forward. The team has already relieved their head coach and will look to a new system, so there will be some interest in which direction the team goes. but with some of their more solid players still signed on for 2016, I think they'll still be a decent team to pick from in the hockey pool draft.
The Flyers have not been historically known as a team that excels in the freshmen department, as they have never had a player win the Calder Trophy as the league's best rookie. They have a few players that may get some long looks in the 2016 season, but no one really jumps out as a player that could help you win some extra money in next year's hockey pool, in the rookie scoring race. If you're going to tab anyone, maybe have a peek at Petr Straka, who played in three games for the Flyers, picking up a pair of assists.
Free Agency and the Salary Cap
Unrestricted free agency may play a role in the Flyers' off-season, but it won't be the role that helps them out of some salary cap binds. Ray Emery, Ryan White and Carlo Colaiacovo are the three biggest names on the list, heading to the open market, while Chris Vande Velde was the games played leader of those players unsigned. The Flyers are not opening much space up with those guys off the books, nor are they losing much identity.
Restricted free agency won't be nearly as dreadful, but it does open up one big question... what to do with Michael Del Zotto? Did he do enough to earn another deal? Probably. He gets a new deal out of necessity or a lack of depth, but it couldn't be that big of a deal.
The Flyers are the first of these non-playoff teams to have an overflowing roster of players, according to the projected $71.1 million cap ceiling. Yes, the team has 38 players signed on already for next season, two of which don't have their cap hits published, and they are $7.4 million over the projection. You can quickly pare away Chris Pronger's $4.9 million, then cut away another 14 players from the active roster and they'd be good, but there is still a lot of work that has to happen in Philadelphia, before they become a great team again.
Needs at the 2015 Entry Draft
The Flyers have been trying to address their needs on the blueline through the draft and arguably, they are building up a pretty good stable of players, but they just haven't been NHL ready yet. I think there is a good chance that they stay the course on defense, trying to find that gem that can make that jump sooner rather than later. I believe that means that Ivan Provorov, who has leapt into the eye of many in Brandon, becomes their guy. Provorov has put up some dazzling numbers in the WHL this year and he could be that kind of player that the Flyers need, especially down the road after an aging Streit leaves.
What I Said Last Year, At This Time...
With that being said, the Flyers, who finished 3rd in the Metropolitan Division in 2014, should improve on those numbers, thanks to an unlikely drop in points at the beginning of the season... like they did in 2014. I would imagine that lessons were learned, capabilities of some are now known and new management will pump some new blood into this team. I see the Flyers contending for the Division title in 2015 and then make a stronger push into the playoffs. Philadelphia is still a move or two away from being a true Cup contender in 2015, but I wouldn't say that that move or those moves are out of the question.
You can only imagine my disappointment in these Flyers from the prediction that I had offered up last year at this time. I even went so far as to pick a couple of those inconsistent Flyers forwards as players in my hockey pool team and I think with a bit more consistency in their game, I would have made it into the money. Nevertheless, they didn't push for the playoffs, they really didn't even make many moves to try and make that push, so really... falling flat on their face was actually a likely option, just one I didn't see after last season.
As for my prediction on their 2016 season, you might think that I would be a bit more hesitant with this team going forward, but I still think they have a lot of good pieces in play and maybe the coaching change would go a long way into moving some of these players further up the ranks. Vincent Lecavalier being the number one guy, who probably suffered the most, and was most vocal about it, might be looking to rebound next season, if he's still around. I think with this core group of guys: Giroux, Voracek, Simmonds, Schenn, Couturier, Streit and Mason, this team can work their way back into the playoff picture in 2016 and they would be a good team to pick from again.