Even though I spent many years living in Philly, the only team I’ve really gotten behind is the Flyers. I’ve been to quite a few of their games, and was even there for the infamous Scott Stevens hit on Eric Lindros, but have not been to a game for a number of years. Luckily they seem to be on TV quite a bit so I do get to catch my fair share of their games. But before I started looking at things on a more current timeframe, I at least wanted to take a look back at the season so far as it has been a rocky road.
Starting off this season, I really didn’t expect much from the Flyers, maybe squeek into the playoffs, but that would have been a stretch. The team has just been straddled with too many bad contracts and not enough depth to survive deep into the season. My main hope for this year was to maintain respectability (not pull a 76ers and tank) and try to figure out the log-jam of young prospects to see who’s an option for next year(s). But so far, this team and leadership has far exceeded expectations and looks like they could possibly do some damage in the playoffs.
Let’s first look at some of the moves they’ve made so far. It was a pretty quiet off-season as there just wasn’t too much they could do with bad players signed to horrible contracts. Early on this year MacDonald was sent down to the Phantoms to bury his salary, but I have to think Hextall would love to move him if he could but also is a bit of an insurance policy in case someone gets hurt. The Grossman for Gagner trade really seemed like one of those “helps each team” kinds of deals, although I really haven’t been too impressed with Gagner this year. However, his contract is up after this year so there really isn’t too much to worry about and Grossman just wasn’t going to work with the amount of defensemen the Flyers have. The other big trade so far was the one done with the Kings that sent Vincent Lecavalier and Luke Schenn packing and brought back Jordan Weal as consolation. This was another cap saving move that helps the Flyers out but doesn’t really cost the Kings all that much as Schenn’s contract is up after this year and Vinny has said he’ll retire. So they get a rental and give up a prospect and a draft pick. Weal hasn’t had too much playing time, but anything more than a bag of pucks is a bonus from what I was expecting. As we get closer to the trade deadline I don’t see the Flyers rocking the boat too much but it wouldn’t shock me if they could unload another bad contract or two onto someone a player away from a Cup run.
As for actual play on the ice, I have to say I’m quite surprised. So many things have gone “wrong” for the Flyers that I would’ve expected them to be much worse off. Voracek’s slow start and Streit’s injury are the two obvious ones but also having to adjust to a new coach is always rough. I’m been impressed with the system and style Haskol has implemented and it seems like not only are the players buying in but they seem to embrace it. Two main things have happened this year that have allowed the Flyers to stay afloat:
- Consistent and solid goaltending
- Contributions from their younger players
The first one is obvious, and very much unlike the Flyers but I have seen multiple smart people say they Flyers have had the best goaltending play in the league. I’m not sure I’d go that far, or feel super confident one of them could steal a playoff series, but the Mason/Neuvirth combination has been very effective. As for the youth contributions for me it comes down to 3 players:
- Couturier (thankfully back tonight from injury)
- Brayden Schenn
- Shayne (Ghost) Gostisbehere
Ghost is the easy one, he was on the fringe of making the team last year until a nasty knee injury, but has been amazing this year. Sure he’s making mistakes, but he’s solid enough on defense and such a force on the attack that the good out-weighs the bad. He’s making a real push for rookie of the year and is looking like quite a draft steal for the Flyers. Schenn has turned in a nice solid and consistent offensive year helping provide another scorer on the power play to help crowd the net. But I think the real advance has come this year from Couturier as he just keeps getting better on defense and this year is really turning up the offense. Its not going to be long until we start seeing his name mentioned in the Selke debates.
Overall, I’m pretty happy the way this year has gone and have lots of expectations rolling into next season as spots open up for some of the exciting youth in the system. I’m not going to promise any sort of game by game update, but focus more on the big picture kinds of stories.