Hello, It has been a while since I wrote one of these, but with an important off-season looming, I felt it was as good a time as ever.
The 2014-15 Flyers were a disappointment. No way around that. However I am not sure if anyone was really shocked by this, the defense is old and slow, the secondary scoring is sporadic, and there seems to be team wide problem with consistency. Put it all together and the results were not surprising. The good news is that a lot of the consistency and secondary scoring issues can be mostly attributed to the relative youth of the teams forward core. Personally I feel a top 6 of Giroux, Voracek, Simmonds, Schenn, Couturier and Read is as deep as any. Throw in Raffl and Laughton and you get a good group of young forwards. The problem is that beside Giroux, Voracek and Simmonds, none off these forwards had a great year. So lets take a look at those other forwards. How they did, and how much their being paid.
Brayden Schenn - 1y/2.5m - 82gp 18g 29a 47p -5
Schenn bested his career high by 6 points this season, however flyers fans everywhere are still left wanting. His game is inconsistent, but there are flashes of greatness that tease us into thinking there is more than 47 points in him. Already a veteran of 4 NHL seasons, Schenn is still only 23 years old and I have no doubt he will only continue to get better. The only question is what is his ceiling? 25 goals and 50 points or 30-35 goals and 65-75 points. Time will tell.
Sean Couturier - 1y/1.75m - 82gp 15g 22a 37p +4
Also a veteran of 4 NHL seasons, Couturier beat out his career high of 13 goals by 2 more, however his point totals dropped by 2. Alot of this can be attributed to the struggles of perennial linemate Matt Read. However like Schenn, flyers fans wanted to see more scoring from this just 22 year old center. As with Schenn I have no doubt that his point totals will increase, it again will just be a question of what his ceiling is. The difference between the two is that even if Couturier never bests his High of 39p. He is already a valuable hockey player whos 2-way game is all star caliber. More goals and points will just be icing.
Matt Read - 3y/3.625m - 80gp 8g 22a 30p -4
The oldest of the 3 so far Matt Read also only has 4 season under his belt despite being 28. A late bloomer Read came into the league at 24, scoring 24 goals and adding 23 assists. Despite his diminutive size at 5'10 Read proved to be a battler, with good speed and two-way game, he became a reliable penalty killer and someone the coach could lean on with linemate Couturier to shut down other teams top players. 8 goals was disappointing but I am willing to chalk it up to a bum ankle, and I say he returns to his 20 goal form next season.
Michael Raffl - 1y/1.1m - 67gp 21g 7a 28p +6
Raffl, in his second year, exceed expectation for the most part. His two-way game and speed were good, and 21 goals constitutes a good season for any hockey player really. But his game is not that of a First line winger, as he was used for parts of the season. He is however a good complementary player that can be used all over the line up to add speed and energy. Hoping for more of the same next season.
Scott Laughton - 31gp 2g 4a 6p -1
Okay, pretty brutal, but the reason he is on this list is because I expect much bigger things from the 20 year old center in his next season. Laughton struggled to find offense on the big stage but his speed and two-way game again were encouraging, especially early on. Never going to be a 50 goal scorer but if he can come in next year and put up 10 - 15 goals while taking some defensive responsibility off Couturier then I will call it a good season.
After that,is where we run into some problems. Big ones!
Vincent Lecavalier -3y/4.5m - 57gp 8g 12a 20p -7
The flyers hoped they had shored up that number 2 center spot when the sighed Lecavalier to a 5 year 4.5m contract 2 years ago. So far that has not worked out. Some blame can be put on the defense first system Craig Berube implemented just 3 games into Lecavaliers first season. But most of the blame lands on his feet, and our feet for signing him. Never a speedster, Lecavaliers skating is no longer NHL caliber, and in an era where speed is everything, he no longer has the tools to be a top 6 forward. I do however think that under the right coach, system and circumstance that Lecavalier could still be effective as 3rd line center and PP specialist, skating limited even strength minutes. His shot is certainly still NHL caliber. Anyway I cannot see Lecavalier returning next season anyway. Despite stating publicly that he would not buy-out Lecavalier. If a trade cannot be facilitated, I believe Hextall will buy him out rather than have that distraction linger into next season.
RJ Umbereger - 2y/4.6m - 67gp 9g 6a 15p -9
No one was thrilled with the trade of Hartnell for Umberger but I don't think anyone thought Umberger would have the kind of season he did. Umberger couldn't score, skate, play two-way hockey or any of the things that a NHL player should be able to do. His season was brutal, no way around it. The only positive was that his game did seem to reappear late in the season briefly, but otherwise it was a disaster. Two more season at 4.6m seems like a long time right now. Lets just hope that his late season surge can continue into next season. I mean things couldn't go worse next season, could they?
Another thing that was encouraging about this year was the play of the 4th line. Bellemare, Vandervelde, and White all played way above expectation and the latter two should be re-signed. Oh and then there's Rinaldo.
Well here's your problem right here. These aren't the right parts... I can order them for you but they might take a few season to come in... Anyway if any team had a more blatant flaw then the flyers defense then... I guess they probably finished lower. But ours is pretty bad.
Mark Streit -2y/5.25m - 81gp 9g 43a 52p -8
Mark Streit was a bright spot, 9g and 52p is a great season, and this year he earned every penny of his 5.25m contract playing big minutes. The problem with Streit is he is not suppose to be that guy. His defense is no where near the same level of his offense, and he is a turnover machine as a result. He needs less ice time and more favorable matchups. The offense is great but -8 is ugly for a guy who scored 52 points
Nick Schultz - 2y/2.25m - 80gp 2g 13a 15p +2
Another bright spot was the resurgence of Nick Shultz. Signed as a 7th D-man, he quickly came in and locked down a spot playing big minutes against teams top lines. The problem again is he is not suppost to be that guy. I am sorry but when he is our best defenseman there is a problem. No offense to Shultz but he should not have to play in the top pairing. Great guy to have around but should be considered no more that a 3-4 at best.
Michael Del Zotto - RFA - 64gp 10g 22a 32p -5
Another great story, Del Zotto also has seemed to revive his career in Philadelphia. Once considered a one-dimentonal player, Del Zotto earned time on the penalty kill this season because of his solid play. Still it maybe to early to proclaim a full turn around, I would say the kid has earned another season to prove his game has fully rebounded.
That sums up the good,now for the bad.
Grossmann - Brutal 1y/3.5m
Schenn - Brutal 1y/3.6m
Macdonald - Brutal 5y/5m
Grossmann is usually a leader in hits and blocked shots, however he is slow and possesses pretty much no offensive game. Schenn is basically a younger Grossmann. And Macdonald, well lets just say he's not that great either. When the flyers traded for him, I saw it as a reasonable playoff addition. When they signed him to a 6 year 30m contract after just 17 games and 4 assists, I said "WTF". Now we have a below average 3 - 4 defensman being paid like a good #2. And that pretty much sums it up. His contract is probably the worst on the team, and that is saying something when Lecavalier is still owed 3 years at 4.5m.
Been an issue since our GM played for us. But... not anymore!
Steve Mason - 2y/4.1m 48gs 18w 18l 11otl 2.25gaa .928s% 3so
Mason is the man, no way around it. This was almost a Vezina season if the team was better and he had stayed healthier. But that is one of the real questions is how healthy can Steve Mason stay? How many starts is to many? There is no question Berube mishandled Steve Mason this year. Not once but twice putting him in a game before he was ready, and after assuring him he would not play lest and injury. That careless attitude toward Masons health was really my biggest issue with Berube, and inexcusable in my opinion. Hopefully those stupid desions don't cost Mason a productive career. Anyway I BELIEVE IN STEVE!
Ray Emery - UFA - 25gs 10w 11l 7otl 3.06gaa .894s% 0so
Emery had a great working relationship with Mason, but those numbers are not good. We need a better back-up and I fully expect Hextall to shop for one in the off-season. Ray Emery will not be back.
Rob Zepp - UFA- 9gs 5w 2l 0otl 2.89gaa .888s% 0so
Zepp was a feel good story, but again those numbers aren't great either. If Zepp can be re-signed cheap again, I say do it, but only if you have someone who will at least challenge him for the back-up.
The final two skaters I will talk about are two interesting young players who may challenge for a spot next season
Nick Cousins - 11gp 0g 0a 0p +1
Well his NHL stats don't tell you anything, but Cousins is a tenacious forward and playmaker. He played 11games but played less than 10 mins a night. He will most likley return to the AHL next season, but has for sure moved up the call-up order.
Brandon Manning - 11gp 0g 3a 3p +3
Manning impressed me in his limited viewing. He has a good shot, is a good hitter and plays a intense brand of hockey, but will most likely have to work his way up from a number 7 spot starting next season.
So This leads us to the off-season. What to do?
As far as forwards are concerned I would be happy to just rid ourselves of Lecavalier some how, and then see how all the kids respond to a new coach. Like I said above, I think we can put together a good enough top 6 with the pieces we have.
The defense needs an overhaul for sure, but I think fans should dull their expectations of this off-season. I know a lot of people want Grossmann and/or Schenn traded to make room for Gostisbehere and/or Morin and/or Hagg and/or Sainheim. But I would much rather they play a full season in the AHL rather than rushing them in just for the sake of moving out Grossmann/Schenn. Macdonalds contract is the worst anyway.
Need a new back-up for sure. If Hextall decided to trade for one, Robyn Lehner maybe a good fit.
One way of possibly shedding some bad contracts is by potentialy bringing in someone elses and hoping for better results. With that in mind here is a list of the Top 15 worst NHL contracts.
1 Car - Alex Semin 3y/7m
2 Lak - Mike Richards 5y/5.75m
3 Phi - Andy Macdonald 5y/5m
4 Det - Steve Weiss 3/4.9
5 Phi - Vincent Lecavalier 3y/4.5m
6 Clb - David Clarkson - 5y/5.25m
7 Phi - RJ Umberger 2y/4.6m
8 Fld - Dave Bolland 4y/5.5m
9 Was - Bruce Orpik 4y/5.5m
10 Njd - Ryan Clowe 3y/4.85m
11 Nas - Victor Stalberg 2y/3m
12 Ott - Colin Greening 2y/2.65m
13 Anh - Clayton Stoner 3y/3.25m
14 Cal - Derrek Engelland 3y/3.25m
15 Buf - Cody Hodgson 4y/4.25m
You could make an argument for Kessel, but I won't. Anyway I could see swapping our some of our bad contracts for some of these bad contracts. Say Lecavalier for Staberg, or Umberger for Greening... Macdonald for Engelland or Stoner. All of these would provide relief but if we wanted just to target shorter term I could also be persuaded to part with 5 years of Macdonald at 5m for 3 years of Semin at 7m. Food for thought.
The Flyers already hold the 7th pick and will also recive Tampas pick which will probably fall anywhere from 25-30. But lets look at that 7th pick and see who we maybeable to grab. First we have to see who we won't be getting.
1st Edm C McDavid
2nd Buf C Eichel
Not getting those two.
3rd Ari C Strome
4th Tor C Mariner
Could see those teams swapping picks, but regardless we're not getting them either.
5th Car D Hanifin
6th Njd LW Crouse
Now its possible that one of these guys makes it to us but not likely. I would draft Hanifin in a second, but I am not sold on Crouses offense. Anyway these 6 guys most likely constitute the first 6. So that leaves us with more than a few choices.
RW Mikko Rantanen - Big Bruising power forward. However like Crouse, There are questions about his offensive ceiling. Everybody seems to assume this is the guy but, I am not sold.
D Ivan Provorov - Potential 4S, top pairing defensmen, all the tools to be star. But with the flyers loaded up with defensive prospects, they may rather go with a forward. Still I would be fine with this selection.
C/LW Pavel Zacha - Now this is my pick. Big Busing power forward Like Rantanen but plays the left side, Which is our biggest need up front. Have watched abit off him and love everything about this kid, he seems to have that "It" factor. Also he is Czech native, so you know Voracek will take this kid under his wing and make him a star. Zacha Giroux Voracek for the next 10 years sounds good to me.
Also in the running
D Zach Werenski - Smooth skating 2-way defencman. Really impressed me at the juinors. Also a potential 4S defenseman.
C Mathew Barzal - A stretch maybe but some have compaired him to Giroux... So maybe not such a stretch then...
Grab a back-up like Greiss or Enroth and then steer clear of the madness, would be my preference. This is a weak year for UFAs, and even though Mike Green might look good in a flyers Jersey, he is not going to come in and play savior. No, spend this year ditching dead weight and then maybe next year look for a guy. Brett Seabrook is a UFA next season, and with Chicagos financial woes he may hit the market. If he does I might be convinced into signing him but this is not our year and Green and Ernhoff our not our guys.
Finally a new Coach must be hired. Mike Babcock is in my opinion the best coach in the game and I fully expect the Flyers to do everything than can to court the superstar. Other names might be in the running such as Eakins but I just have a gut feeling this year we get our guy. Calling it!
I fully expect the Flyers to battle for a playoff spot next season, but as far as contending for the cup. That might be a job for the 2016-17 Flyers, and thats fine for me. Thanks for reading!