It goes without saying that this season left much to be desired. However, I have compiled a list of reasons to be excited for the Flyers in the 2013-2014 season based on bright spots from this disappointing 2013 campaign. They are ordered from 5 to 1, with 1 being the most promising. If you disagree, voice your opinion in the comments below and let us know which order you would place them in, or if you beleive there are a few things I may have overlooked.
5: Up-and-Coming Prospects
Excluding the young players who have already spent a season at the professional level, the Flyers have plenty of talent who are earning valuable experience, most notably at either the CHL or NCAA levels. Scott Laughton headlines the list, followed by Anthony Stolarz, Nick Cousins, Petr Straka, and Shayne Gostisbehere. Laughton is the only one of these players who is expected to have a strong chance at an opening day roster spot in October. Cousins could make his NHL debut later next season, as most expect him to open 2013 with the Adirondack Phantoms.
4: The 11th Overall Pick
I won't delve too far into this because I wrote about the team's options with the pick earlier this week. In case you haven't read the piece, you can check it out here. There will be a handful of quality players to draft at this position, but Paul Holmgren could also trade down as a package for a quality defenseman, one of the team's biggest needs. Don't expect someone of Sean Couturier's caliber to be available, but you never know what could happen.
3: Steve Mason
Let me make this perfectly clear: I am not writing off Ilya Bryzgalov as the team's starting goaltender and I do not see Steve Mason as this city's savior. The team can benefit tremendously from having a high-quality backup goaltender. Mason will compete to earn the starting job next year, which should give Bryzgalov some extra motivation to put forth 110% in September's training camp. I can't help but speculate there have been some issues in the locker room as a result of the immense pressure put on Bryzgalov this season from unreliable understudies and a porous defense. I say this because it seemed to me that the Flyers appeared to play better in their defensive zone with Mason in the crease, but it could always just be a coincidence. Hopefully "Stone" Mason's presence will maximize cohesion among the team's defensive efforts. Also, never discount a guy with a chip on his shoulder, like Mason.
2: Contributions from the Farm
There is no question that the amount of injuries sustained by this team over the course of the season played a large role in their inability to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. When key players on the big club succumb to injuries, players from Adirondack need to fill the void. Enter Tye McGinn and Oliver Lauridsen. Players like Jason Akeson, Matt Konan, and Brandon Manning seemed to contribute positively to the team, but there is a much smaller sample size with which to analyze them, especaially the former two. Erik Gustafsson has also greatly improved from his NHL performance in the past, but I will narrow the focus on the first two names.
"Tye McGinn is the future, just you wait." It seemed that every time I watched a game that McGinn played in, my girlfriend would always say some variation of this sentence. Sure, her opinion might be based on her crush on him, but I completely agree with her. McGinn most likely will not become a top-line player, but he is a very reliable alternative to a 2nd/3rd liner like Wayne Simmonds: very dangerous in front of the enemy net where his big frame can screen the goalie or set up deflections on shots from the blue line.
Where do I start with Oliver "Great Dane" Lauridsen? He has been a stalwart blueliner since his NHL debut against the Bruins on March 30. I have heard hockey fans repeatedly mention that if a defenseman doesn't make the highlight reel, it's a good thing. I agree with this, but since his embarassing fight with Sabres goon (this word doesn't even begin to describe my disdain for this man) Patrick Kaleta, Lauridsen has been attracting the spotlight in a different way.
Although it was one of the most boring 1-0 games I ever watched, I witnessed the big rookie constantly mouthing off to and getting physical with Kaleta and Steve Ott throughout the game. Many people have been comparing him to Chris Pronger because of his size, but I do so because of the mean "take no prisoners" attitude he took away from that afternoon in Buffalo. Yes, he was selected in the 7th round (196th overall) in 2009, but do not let that change your opinion when I tell you that Lauridsen will be a reliable and physical 2nd-3rd pairing defenseman in the coming years.
1: Paul Holmgren
This is only the second season since 1994 in which the Flyers did not qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. By now, most people have heard Ed Snider's comment in his interview with Lisa Hillary (@LHillaryCSN) of CSN Philly: "We don't rebuild, we retool." Because of this philosophy, expect Holmgren to be on his phone all summer, especially before June 30's draft. Tim Panaccio speculates on whether Holmgren would try to sign another restricted free agent after losing out on Shea Weber last summer. I'm crossing my fingers for a guy like Alex Pietrangelo.
Also, keep the amnesty clause in mind. The drop in hockey-releated revenue as a result of the lockout has allowed for teams to buy out up to two players on their rosters who are inked to long-term and high-salary contracts. Ilya Bryzgalov and Danny Briere are the two most popular names linked to the amnesty clause due to their gargantuan deals.
Tell us what you think of the order in the comments or let me know on twitter @dkcookie37.