Philadelphia Flyers 2015-16 preview
COACH: Dave Hakstol
2014-15 RECORD: 33-31-18, 84 points (sixth in Metro, missed playoffs)
VITAL SIGNS: 2.6 goals per game (21st); 2.7 goals-against (21st), 23.4 power play pct (3rd); 77.1 penalty kill pct (27th); PDO: 99.8 (20th); Corsi For pct.: 49.7 (20th); Fenwick For pct.: 49.3 (21st); face-off pct.: 51.1 (13th)
NOTABLE ARRIVALS: G Michal Neuvirth, F Sam Gagner, coach Dave Hakstol
NOTABLE DEPARTURES: F Jason Akeson, D Niklas Grossman
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
Brayden Schenn – Claude Giroux – Jakub Voracek
Michael Raffl – Sean Couturier – Wayne Simmonds
R.J. Umberger – Sam Gagner – Matt Read
Vincent Lecavalier – Ryan White – Pierre-Edouard Bellemare
Chris Vande Velde
Mark Streit – Michael Del Zotto
Luke Schenn – Andrew MacDonald
Nick Schultz – Radko Gudas
Brandon Manning – Evgeni Medvedev
OUTLOOK: Owner Ed Snider has boldly proclaimed that his Flyers will return to the playoffs this season. O.K., what else is he supposed to say? Still, if he takes a good look at this roster without his rose-colored spectacles he might realize he’s put a little heat on his rookie coach.
The Flyers are returning mostly the same team that enjoyed an early tee time last spring. The biggest change is behind the bench, where Dave Hakstol, the former University of North Dakota bench boss, is being entrusted with unenviable task of doing what his predecessor, Craig Berube, could not: make Philly formidable. Depth up front and scoring aren’t the problem, not with Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Sean Couturier, and Wayne Simmonds. Last season the Flyers had two top-15 scorers and very well may again, but they're going to need production from Matt Read, who is coming off a down year, and Sam Gagner. There's also some pricey dead wood here, most notably Vinny Lecavalier ($4.5 million per with a no movement clause) and R.J. Umberger ($4.6 million cap hit), who are leaving GM Ron Hextall with little wriggle room.
Philly's real weakness is its expensive ($24 million) and thoroughly questionable defense. Who knows what they’ll get out of Michael Del Zotto (see below). Luke Schenn is reportedly on the trading block and may only fetch a draft pick. Andrew MacDonald scares no one. Power play specialist Mark Streit, 38, is aging out. Evgeni Medvedev is a 33-year-old KHL vet. If there's a plus side it's that the door may open for rookie blueliner Samuel Morin, a 2013 first round pick, and his imposing 6' 7" 225-pound frame to inject some more youth into the proceedings. Steve Mason may be a criminally underrated goalie, but he's going to see his share of cold vulcanized rubber this season. At least new backup Michal Neuvirth is capable of spelling him from the onslaught.
So will a new voice in the room be enough to get this team to mesh, to play to its collective talents? Well, despite what Ed Snider may think, that collective talent is pretty underwhelming in a division that boasts two established powers (Rangers, Penguins), two rising powers (Capitals, Islanders) and a resurgent contender (Blue Jackets).
PLAYER TO WATCH: Michael Del Zotto
A strange case, this Del Zotto guy. He burst onto the scene with the New York Rangers as a 19-year-old in 2009, scoring nine goals and adding 28 assists. Then he took a huge step back as a sophomore, including being sent to the minors. Then he found his game again, putting up 41 points, as well as eight assists in the Rangers’ run to the Conference finals in 2012. A so-so post-lockout campaign led to a horrendous final go-round with New York that saw him traded to Nashville where he continued to play poorly. But in Philly? Del Zotto was fantastic last season, putting up 34 points, looking like a legitimate first-pair defender, and finding himself the proud owner of a new two-year deal worth $7.75 million.
So who is Michael Del Zotto? Is he a 30- to 40-point producer who contributes on the power play? Or an up-and-down defender who is due for a decline? He will always have his shortcomings in own his end, but he can make up for it with his ability to lead the rush, quarterback the power play and put up points. If he plays like he did last season, the Flyers will have a nice set of offensive defensemen, including Mark Streit. If not, he could find his way from the first pair to the press box.
PREDICTION: 85 points, sixth in Metro