Dave Hakstol's first season in charge of the Philadelphia Flyers has to be considered a success, as the Flyers surprised many by reaching the playoffs and putting a scare into the top-seeded Washington Capitals once there. The team improved steadily as the season went on. Its blueline, viewed by most as one of the worst in the NHL, held together reasonably well for much of the season, with some help from star rookie Shayne Gostisbehere. And its goaltender duo of Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth was among the best in the league. Not to mention, Hakstol himself didn't at all seem in over his head in making the jump from the NCAA to the NHL.
- Can Jakub Voracek shake off a rough year and get back to form?
- Are the Flyers really the team we saw in the second half of the season last year?
- Just what impact do the kids have this year?
BEST CASE SCENARIO
by Charlie O'Connor
At even strength, Philadelphia looks like the same borderline-elite play driving team from the end of last season, validating the system and tactics of Hakstol. Claude Giroux proves that it was injury and not aging that caused his just-okay 2015-16 season, as he rebounds to a point-per-game pace. Jakub Voracek also bounces back as his low shooting percentage from last year returns to career norms. The defense takes a leap when a key prospect (Provorov, Sanheim or Morin) follows in Gostisbehere’s footsteps and hits the NHL as an impact blueliner immediately. New, aggressive tactics help the penalty kill back to a top-10 efficiency ranking after sagging in recent years. Steve Mason is the biggest beneficiary of that, as his improved PK save percentage combined with his always-excellent 5v5 play ends up earning him scattered support for the Vezina.
The Flyers remain a cut below the Penguins, Caps, and Lightning, but are clearly the fourth-best team in the East and battle their way into Round 2 of the playoffs before bowing out.
WORST CASE SCENARIO
by Kelly Hinkle
One of the good things about heading into a season with low -- or maybe we’ll call them "tempered" -- expectations is that there isn’t a lot of disappointment heading our way, regardless of outcome. We’ve all accepted that this team is still in rebuild mode, so missing the playoffs is okay. We don’t have to be mad about it. If things go well and the team sneaks in, it's all gravy and fun times, right? Well despite that, there are a few doomsday situations that could pop up this season that might make things a little scary for us Flyers fans. So let’s take a look at the three worst things that could possibly happen to your Philadelphia Flyers this season, in no particular order.
1. Jakub Voracek remains slumped up. Last season, Jake put up a measly 11 goals in 73 games played; half of what he scored in the 2014-15 season. His point totals were down from 81 points two seasons ago to 55 last year. It wasn’t fun to watch him struggle. We all assume that he’ll get back to his normal self this season but if he doesn’t? It’s going to be tough for this team to win games if Voracek still has that big giant monkey on his back. Long-term, two down seasons has to make you start worrying about that contract and where this team will find goals going forward.
2. Shayne Gostisbehere doesn’t repeat last year’s performance. Ghost came onto this team last season like a man on a mission and pretty much single-handedly carried them into the playoffs, earning himself the attention of the league and a well-deserved Calder nomination in the process. But what does this team look like if Ghost can’t sustain that kind of fire over a whole season? Or if it was just lightning in a bottle that won’t repeat? Or, god forbid, he hurts his knee again and is sidelined long-term? Essentially, for this team to be competitive we need Gostisbehere to at least get close to repeating his 46-point rookie season or things will probably be ugly on the blueline.
3. Regression, regression, regression. While Voracek was having a down year, quite a few key players had career years last year and were instrumental in the over-achievement we enjoyed this past season. Wayne Simmonds’ 60 points was a career high. Brayden Schenn’s 59 was also his best to date. Even Sean Couturier, who is often lambasted for not scoring enough, tied his career-high 39 points over the course of the season. Add in solid performances from both Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth, and you have the basis for this team sneaking in to the playoffs and giving the Caps a little bit of a challenge. If any one of these guys falls off this year we’re probably going to have a bad time.