Saturday, April 20, 2019

Pool Outlook for Philadelphia

The Philadelphia Flyers were much better on paper, looking down the list of their scorers and point totals, than their 22nd place finish in the overall league standings would suggest.  They had a whole lot of firepower, but the downside to their season was the back end, as they set a new NHL record for the most number of goalies to get a start in one season and as much as they received some pretty decent goaltending from their goalie of the future, Carter Hart, it just wasn't enough to save them from a horrible start and then a sputtering finish.

The real telling statistic to the Flyers' season was their goals against, as they ranked 29th in the league with 281 pucks in their own net and a goal differential of -37, which was only 23rd in the league.  There was just no sense of a totally cooperating unit throughout the season, as the team would push forward, but not come back or really lack in their special teams, ranking 26th on the penalty kill or 23rd on the power play.  This team just didn't want to come together for the whole season and it really hurt them.

The winds of change are already blowing through this organization, looking for serious improvements and it starts with the coaching, where they have hired Alain Vigneault in the last couple of weeks to take over the reins of this side and hopefully turn this team back into a contender.  Again, on paper, it doesn't look like it should be too hard, but there might be a whole lot more to it than just the coaching staff.

Captain Claude Giroux didn't quite have the repeat season of the 2018 campaign, where he was over 100 points, but he was still over a point-per-game player with the Flyers this season, posting 22 goals and 85 points in all 82 games for the club.  That was good enough for 22nd overall in pool scoring and 19th among all forwards.  His scoring ability, however, wasn't enough to carry this team very far.

The Flyers were not short on pool worthy talent either.  Unlike some of the teams we've seen already in these outlook posts, the Flyers have 14 players on the list, including Giroux, and thanks to a deadline deal, they finished with three worthy goalies on that list too.  Up front, Sean Couturier, Jakub Voracek, Travis Konecny, James Van Riemsdyk, rookie Oskar Lindblom and Scott Laughton all finished within the top 200 forwards, Shayne Gostisbehere, Travis Sanheim, Ivan Provorov and Robert Hagg were all among the top 100 defensemen and then Carter Hart, Cam Talbot and Brian Elliott were all in the top 50 goalies.  With a lineup like that, it is very surprising that they couldn't clinch a wild card spot in the east, but that is a testament to how hard it is to make the playoffs nowadays, especially when your defense is in shambles.

What I Said Last Year, At This Time...

Flip a coin to decide which Flyers team we'll see in the 2019 season. Can we trust a guy like Claude Giroux to have a big season again? Has Shayne Gostisbehere really arrived now as a top level defenseman at the NHL level? Maybe these two are tied together at the hip and each of their seasons will rely on one another. That's a certain possibility too. I like where the Flyers are headed next season, they do appear to have a fairly strong core, especially at the back, goaltending may still be a little bit of a question mark, but it's quite serviceable at the moment. If this side can stay competitive, there's no reason why they couldn't go back to the playoffs, but much like Columbus, their path to the holy grail is paved with incredibly tough divisional opponents.

The coin flip didn't quite work in their favour this year, despite Giroux still among the top players in the league and Gostisbehere still coming along as a scoring defenseman.  Their core still remains fairly strong and goaltending was a huge let down for them this season, while the division was insanely difficult, thanks to Carolina and Long Island really making their pushes.  They were a bubble team for the playoffs and that bubble burst pretty early.

How did my intriguing or breakout player fare?

I thought this was going to be the season that Travis Konecny really broke out of his shell, as he had seen some improvements, year over year to start his career, but year number three was a bit of a plateau, only going up a couple points and still scoring 22 goals, the same as 2018.  He was still worthy of a pool selection and would have been a very good option for those middle rounds, as he played quite well at times, but he'll be leaned upon next season to tighten up his two-way game, which may keep his numbers plateaued to some degree.

2020 Pool Outlook

Forwards Cap Defense Cap Goalies Cap
Claude Giroux 8.275 Andrew MacDonald 5.000 Alex Lyon 0.750
Jakub Voracek 8.250 Shayne Gostisbehere 4.500 Carter Hart 0.731
James Van Riemsdyk 7.000 Radko Gudas 3.350
Sean Couturier 4.450 David Schlemko 2.100
Michael Raffl 1.600 Robert Hagg 1.150
Oskar Lindblom 0.925 Samuel Morin 0.700
Nolan Patrick 0.925 Philippe Myers 0.678
Joel Farabee 0.925
German Rubtsov 0.894
Morgan Frost 0.894
Mikhail Vorobyev 0.784

Free agency will really take its toll on this team, once July 1st rolls around, since they really got stripped of a number of regular players, but that does allow this team some flexibility at this point moving forward.  There is a good core still remaining, like the big ticket players like Giroux, Voracek, Gostisbehere and now Hart, so there are some positives for points here on this team and you know that they will be aggressive this summer to shore up all their positions.

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

Unrestricted free agency won't strip away much from the skaters this summer, just more so raise some questions about the goaltending moving forward, since they will have a bunch hitting the open market, including the other two pool worthy keepers, Brian Elliott and Cam Talbot.  I believe one is expected to come back, but probably not both.

Restricted free agency is where the hard work will go into, with Scott Laughton, Travis Konecny, Travis Sanheim and Ivan Provorov all in need of new deals this summer.  These four will really shape the rest of the summer, especially the defensemen, as their deals will give management the rough number they can take to the open market and be aggressive with.

Currently, against the projected cap numbers of $83 million for the ceiling and $61 million for the floor, the Flyers are $7.1 million below the floor, so flexibility isn't going to be an issue here.  They have plenty of money to play with, even after the four RFAs.

The Flyers are not short on talent coming up through their own system, as they do have a couple of key forwards making their way to the pros and it might be sooner, rather than later, when a guy like Morgan Frost takes to the ice.  Frost was one to watch at the World Juniors, unfortunately falling short at the tournament, but his skills were on full display and it probably had the Flyers organization drooling, wondering how soon they can see that raw talent in their lineup.  If all goes well, maybe it's next season.

Needs at the 2019 Entry Draft

If there has been one thing the Flyers have been really good at of late, it's been stockpiling picks and doing well with them.  They will pick from the 11th spot in the opening round of the draft and if there was one spot where they could really use a top end prospect, it's probably on the blueline once again.  A mobile, two-way defenseman like Victor Soderstrom sounds like a good piece to help shape the future with.  He isn't the biggest defenseman in the draft class, but we've been learning that this league isn't about the huge defenders any longer, so a kid that just plays smart and a little bit physical, could go a long ways.

Has anything really truly changed with this Flyers team over the last 12 months?  They have some great offensive players on their side, they're slowly coming along defensively and their goalies couldn't stay healthy to win them any games.  This team is going to probably go as far as Carter Hart can possibly take them, but an aggressive summer spending plan could certainly aid this team, especially if they drop their dollars in the right pockets.  If they can go defense-first in the summer spending plan, they do have a legitimate shot at making the playoffs once again, but it's going to be a competitive market, likely to a point where a team like the Flyers will overspend.  They're close, so they'll have to make the push.

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