Goaltending has been a concern of the Flyers for quite sometime now, as Steve Mason has shown some flashes, as has Michal Neuvirth, but steadiness to the point of reliability has been a struggle and the Flyers continue to come up a little bit short in their playoff pushes.
The 2017 season was no exception, falling seven points short of the last wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. The Flyers were in a very difficult Metropolitan Division, where they had four divisional opponents that finished with more than 100 points in the standings, but that's no excuse for their own failures, it was that they were just not good enough to compete with those teams on a full season basis.
Thankfully, their luck had changed with the NHL draft lottery, as they were projected to have the 13th overall pick, they moved up considerably, taking the 2nd overall pick from the lottery results. Could this be the turning point that this club needs to get out of their own mediocrity?
The Philadelphia Flyers are generally a fairly popular team in the hockey pool and the draft in October was good for them, as 11 players were taken at the initial show, including three 2nd round picks in Steve Mason, Shayne Gostisbehere and Claude Giroux, in that order. Injuries forced a couple of drops, but the early success saw five picks in the first Waiver Draft, while the second Waiver Draft cleaned up a couple of mistakes and only recovered one pick. The trade deadline saw a straight-up deal, player for player, so the Flyers finished off the season with 13 active players on pool rosters.
Despite being a 4th round pick in the draft, Jakub Voracek found some new life in the regular season, finishing as the Flyers' top pool scorer for the 2017 season. The 27-year old Czech played in all 82 games for the Flyers, scoring 20 goals and 61 points, good enough for 54th among all players, a 3rd round pick in the draft, and 36th among all forwards.
In total, the Flyers had six forwards worthy of pool selections, including Voracek, and they included Claude Giroux, Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds, deadline acquisition Valtteri Filppula and Sean Couturier. They were certainly the cylinders that were firing to keep the Flyers going, but they were not all firing at the same time and that cost the team dearly. The Flyers' blueline wasn't short of representation, from sophomore Shayne Gostisbehere, rookie Ivan Provorov, Radko Gudas, Michael Del Zotto and Andrew MacDonald. Both goalies, Mason and Neuvirth, saw ample amounts of ice-time this season, even with Neuvirth's injury, and they both finished in the top 50 of netminders. With all this talent, it was kind of amazing that they couldn't make that playoff push.
What I Said Last Year, At This Time...
The coaching change in the off-season may have needed a top end defenseman to get everything moving in the right direction and it appears that the Flyers have another one now. Now, the question becomes whether or not their depth can support the top-billed cast of this team, especially if it takes a little while to get fired up. The core group of players already signed will always give this side a chance to win, but they still need a couple more pieces to really solidify their spot as a contender in the East. Right now, I see them doing much of the same next year, because their hands are tied by their cap restrictions, so until that's all taken care of, they'll continue to battle for that last wild card spot.
The Flyers were certainly in that fight for the last playoff spot in the East, but there is only one last playoff spot in the East and that wasn't to be for them. The Flyers' core was okay, but their depth only saw minimal improvements in the off-season. There is a good youth movement in Philadelphia and that will certainly help to rejuvenate the team moving forward.
2018 Pool Outlook
|Claude Giroux||8.275||Andrew MacDonald||5.000||Michal Neuvirth||2.500|
|Jakub Voracek||8.250||Radko Gudas||3.350|
|Brayden Schenn||5.125||Ivan Provorov||0.894|
|Matt Read||3.625||Brandon Manning||0.975||Carter Hart||0.793|
|Dale Weise||2.350||Travis Sanheim||0.863|
|Michael Raffl||2.350||Mark Friedman||0.749|
|Pierre-Edouard Bellemare||1.450||Reece Willcox||0.680|
|German Rubtsov||0.925||TJ Brennan||0.625|
|Travis Konecny||0.894||Philippe Myers||0.623|
As you can see, there are some key names missing from their list of players already signed on for the 2018 season, but they do have a good crop of their pool worthy players already in place. There is going to be some work to do this summer, but the Flyers are not in a bad place at all, given the players signed on, the potential for a top end draft pick to join their ranks and all they have to do is use a little elbow grease to move this team forward.
Potential Losses in the Expansion Draft
The Flyers have two no-movement clauses on their books this summer, both Giroux and Filppula will require protection at the draft, unless otherwise negotiated. I have the Flyers protecting 7F/3D/1G, leaving Matt Read, Dale Weise, Andrew MacDonald and Michal Neuvirth exposed for the draft, all four of which carry certain pluses and minuses to their game and to their cap value, but Neuvirth does have to be one of the more appealing goalies available.
Free Agency and the Salary Cap
The salary cap ceiling is due to move up a little bit this summer, which is the best news the Flyers could get this off-season. The 10 pool worthy players with contracts already are already coming in at $46.1 million and that's before negotiating with a player like Shayne Gostisbehere, who has his entry-level contract finishing up on July 1st.
Steve Mason and Michael Del Zotto are the only two players that were pool worthy in the 2017 season and up for unrestricted free agency and both could be of interest to teams, if they were to make it to the open market.
The Flyers' blueline may see some youth injected into it, as a couple of their top prospects do the patrols down in the AHL, with Travis Sanheim and Samuel Morin, two big bodies, are showing some real potential, according to the Hockey News' Future Watch issue. Sanheim appears to have the better tools for the hockey pool, but if Morin could shape his game in the NHL, he could find some points, one way or the other.
Needs at the 2017 Entry Draft
The Flyers are going to really stock up at this year's draft, assuming they use all of the 11 or 12 picks they have this June. They do have their 1st round pick and they were very fortunate to see it move up to the 2nd overall pick. The outright 2nd overall pick, according to most outlets, especially after Nolan Patrick is taken 1st, is Halifax's Nico Hischier. The speedy winger has torn up the QMJHL this year and was a standout at the World Juniors for the Danes. The Flyers would be amiss not to pick him, if they are still holding onto this pick.
The Flyers should have been better than what they have been over the last couple of seasons and I think you can make an argument that they have overpaid for a few of their mistakes. It does look like they'll continue to struggle with their cap issues, unless they can somehow offload a big contract through trade or via the expansion draft. I am looking for the Flyers to try and swing a shrewd move somewhere along the line and that would be what I'd pin their 2018 successes and/or failures on. Right now, the way it stands, even the number two pick in the draft isn't going to help this team into the playoffs, but a combination of moves will get this to work. As long as they're not overpaying again this Summer, they at least have the chance to make the playoffs.