As long as Paul Holmgren is running things, the Flyers off-season will always be some sort of wild adventure and this summer was no different. He didn't do anything absurd like trade Claude Giroux or try to get Alex Pietrangelo to sign an offer-sheet, but the Flyers were still very active this off-season and were the laughing stock of Twitter for a couple of days. Things started off early when the team elected to use both of their amnesty buyouts on Danny Briere & Ilya Bryzgalov, which was followed up by them trading for Mark Streit and signing him to a long-term deal. They then signed Vincent Lecavalier to a five-year deal with a cap hit of $4.5 mil. goaltender Ray Emery to a one-year contract.
So how do the Flyers look after these moves? Honestly, not too bad. Some laughed at Holmgren for handing out long-term deals to declining players because they feel the team needs to rebuild after how bad they were last season. The Streit & Lecavalier contracts will look bad in a couple years and I'm not sure how the Flyers can justify throwing away so much money on Bryzgalov, but it's hard to say that Holmgren didn't improve the roster and I think the Flyers should be a pretty good team this year.
Like Carolina, the Flyers experienced some awful luck with injuries and had only nine skaters who appeared in 40 or more games. They also cycled through 13 different defensemen throughout the season and were relying on fringe NHL players like Bruno Gervais and Oliver Lauridsen to play regular minutes by the end of the season. The Flyers defense still has plenty of concerns, but I find it hard to believe that their injury problems will stay this bad. A healthy roster could be what they need to get back to the playoffs.
The Flyers are also a team that has regularly gives the Hurricanes fits ever since the the Whalers franchise moved to North Carolina. The Hurricanes are 30-64-14-10 all-time against the Flyers and have the lowest point-percentage against them than any other team in the Eastern Conference. The Canes were also swept by Philly over three games last season and took only one of four from them the previous year. Just goes to show that it doesn't matter where each team is in the standings because the Flyers have always had the Canes number and this is something that will need to change with the two becoming division rivals now.
I've already gave an overview of the Flyers off-season and after the jump, we'll take a closer look at their roster and see how the Canes match up with them this year.
Philadelphia Flyers at a Glance
Going by shots allowed at even strength, the Flyers were a middle of the road team and their penalty kill was one of the best in the league in this area, too. Why did they give up so many goals? Ilya Bryzgalov. The Flyers goaltending situation has been a mess ever since the 2011 playoffs and it didn't get any better after they brought in Bryzgalov to "fix" it. Last year may have been his worst in his NHL career, as he posted a .900 save percentage and started all but eight games for the Flyers.
Given that the Flyers were already a poor possession team with an injury-ridden defense corps, terrible goaltending can put your team at the bottom of the standings and this is exactly what happened to the Flyers. They did a little this off-season to improve their goaltending situation but it still looks very sketchy. Ray Emery was a good bet on a one-year deal but he has injury concerns and hasn't been a starter in awhile and eight great games from Steve Mason last year does not discard the fact that he may have been the worst goalie in the NHL for three years before that. This new, cheap tandem could give the Flyers league-average goaltending but it could also turn out to be a disaster if Emery gets hurt and Mason falls back down to Earth.
Some good news is that the Flyers have an offense that's good enough to outscore their problems. They have some great finishing talent up front and a strong power play that only got better with the additions of Streit and Lecavalier. The Flyers aren't a team that can dominate you territorially, though so this method could come back to hurt them if they lose the possession battle and run into a shooting percentage rut, something every team is prone to.
C Vincent Lecavalier
G Ilya Bryzgalov
D Mark Streit
C Danny Briere
G Ray Emery
RW Jody Shelley
C Kris Newbury
LW Simon Gagne
LW Ruslan Fedotenko
D Kurtis Foster
D Kent Huskins
RW Mike Knuble
Signing Lecavalier and Streit to long-term deals will be a decision that comes back to haunt the Flyers a few years down the road but for next year, they could both be very productive. Lecavalier has scored at a high rate at even strength for the last few years and unlike Briere, he can play the toughs to take some heat off of Claude Giroux and the rest of the top line. He can also kill penalties, which is a plus and gives the Flyers more options.
Streit has seen his play decline over the last few years but he is still a pretty solid offensive defenseman and fills a need for the Flyers. Their defense was very slow and didn't have many guys who could make a clean breakout pass or move the puck up ice. Streit is still very capable of this, but he may need to be sheltered in order to be effective because he hasn't been able to play the toughs in a couple of years. He may also help the Flyers power play stay as one of the best in the NHL.
The Flyers also didn't lose anyone of great importance this off-season. Briere & Brygalov were bad value for their contracts, injuries have limited Gagne's effectiveness, Fedotenko was a replaceable bottom-six player, Shelley is one of the most useless players in the NHL and neither Foster or Huskins played a big role last season. Most of these guys can be replaced from within and I think the Lecavalier & Emery signings should be enough to replace Briere & Bryzgalov respectively.
Giroux, Voracek & Hartnell typically get all of the tough matchups both from opponents and their own coaching staff, so I don't see this changing too much next season. Sean Couturier might be able to pitch in a little more there but he doesn't really have the linemates to play that kind of role yet. I think Lecavalier could also take on some tough minutes but the Flyers could try to maximize his offense by using him in a similar role to Briere last season. With him getting older and Couturier likely improving with this is probably what the Flyers will do.
Despite being 38 years old, Kimmo Timonen still drew the big assignments on the Flyers defense corps with Braydon Coburn. He played fewer minutes per game at even strength, though and it will be interesting to see if someone else takes over for him this year. They are going to need to replace him eventually and I'm not sure if Streit, Schenn, Grossmann or Gustafsson are up to filling in those shoes just yet. Streit will probably be asked to play a bigger role than he did with the Islanders last year because the Flyers didn't have many defensemen who could push the play forward and he could potentially be better than Grossman or Gustafsson in that area. Schenn is coming off a decent season, though and he might work well with someone who can move the puck well.
When looking at their lineup, the Flyers could effectively run a zone-matching strategy if they wanted to. They have two scoring lines with lots of offensive fire power mixed with plenty of defensively responsible forwards in their bottom-six. Peter Lavioette usually doesn't deploy this kind of strategy though and is fine with using top line in defensive situations. This hasn't exactly been a bad thing, as Giroux is a good two-way center and hasn't had any trouble scoring despite playing with a big workload. Voracek is also coming off a breakout campaign and is developing into a solid first liner.
If any line can benefit from protection, it's Lecavalier's. Not that they need it, but Lecavalier's ability to drive the play has decreased in recent years and this isn't a strong point of his two linemates either (Schenn & Simmonds). Lavioette has shown a lot of trust in Couturer's defensive play by making him take a lot of draws in his own end and Lecavalier's line could benefit from this more than someone like Giroux, who has had no issue scoring while being faced with other burdens.
On that note, Couturier received some criticism for not putting up many points last season but his performance was a lot more impressive if you look at the type of situation he was in. He took over 60% of his 5v5 draws in the defensive zone and managed not get constantly plugged into his own zone despite that. Forwards who are this good defensively so young in their careers are hard to find and Couturier is only going to get better as he gets older. I would look for him to put up more points and slide into a top-six role within the next couple of years. He might also benefit from having Tye McGinn on his line instead of Max Talbot, as McGinn showed some flashes of being a solid play-driving forward last year.
The fourth line is one area that can use an upgrade for the Flyers since they currently have a few replacement level guys in those roles, but they can probably promote from within or claim someone of waivers to fill those spots.
The Flyers will have to plan for life without Timonen sooner or later, so he could be replaced on the top pairing with one of Streit or Schenn. Streit is a downgrade, though and he might not be able to play big minutes for much longer. Schenn, however, did pretty well while playing top-four minutes last season and could play on the top pairing soon. He will probably replace Coburn, though since having two slow, right-handed defensive defensemen will make breakouts very tough.
Speed seems to be a problem with the Flyers defense corps as a whole, though because outside of Streit & Timonen, there aren't many guys here who can jump into the play or get the puck moving forward. They have no shortage of players who can kill penalties, block shots and deliver hits but all of that ends up being a net loss if you're playing 60% of the game in your own zone. This is why adding Streit can help them short-term because he gives them a mobile defensemen on the second pairing and help them bide some time until they find a replacement for Timonen.
Steve Mason had a save percentage of .944 in seven games after being traded to the Flyers. Proir to that, his save percentage was .899 and he has consistently been one of the worst goalies in the NHL for the last four seasons. He is far from a sure thing as a starting goaltender, which is why getting Ray Emery was a smart move by Holmgren. His injury history makes him a bit unreliable as a starter, too but he might be able to give the Flyers average goaltending and keep them in games. This goaltending tandem could work out very, very poorly but the Flyers have been able to win in spite of their goaltending in previous years, so them putting up average numbers is all they really need to do.
Philadelphia doesn't have a great prospect pool, but they made a nice addition in may by signing Austrian left winger Michael Raffl. He is 24 years old and has put up great numbers in the Swedish Elite League for the last few seasons. If Brayden Schenn doesn't work out as a top-six player, then Raffl could get a long look in training camp for a top-six spot. Nick Cousins could also make the jump to the pros after lighting up the OHL the last couple of seasons.
The Final Word
The Flyers have what it takes to get back to the playoffs even with the questions on defense and in net. Their offense is a force to be reckoned with and if they can stay healthy, they should be able to win a lot more games this year. The concerns I have about them relate to whether or not they can get back to being a positive possession club. That would put less stress on their goalies and give their offense more opportunities to do their thing. I'm not sure if they've done enough to improve in this area but Streit should be able to help and so will Lecavalier if he is utilized properly.
All in all, I think we'll see a better Flyers team this year and they should be in contention for a playoff spot. However, there is a chance that this all could go south if Streit, Timonen & Lecavalier end up aging quicker and their goaltending manages to get even worse.