Over the next month, we at NHLnumbers are going to be taking a look at where each team in the league currently stands based on what we learned from them last season, and where they realistically can and should go this summer with the resources and cap space they have.
The Flyers were kind of a nice story last year, if you can get behind a team that comes from a city with a shabby reputation. Still, the team was able to sneak into the playoffs with a late season push led by a rookie coach, a rookie defenseman, and some stellar goaltending.
The team was far from perfect — they had puck possession percentages on the wrong side of 50, and ultimately were -4 in goal differential, but they still did enough to keep themselves playing hockey past early April. Let’s take a closer look at what exactly the Flyers have on their roster, in their system, and on the books in order to better assess where the team can and should go moving forward.
Highlighted in orange and yellow are the players that, according to the numbers, fit the bill of being legitimate top-six forwards or top-four defensemen at even-strength. Highlighted in blue are the players that arguably fit that bill. In white are the bottom-six forwards and bottom-pairing defensemen.
As we can see, the Flyers are pretty strong in front-end talent, especially up front. Frankly, there are few teams in the league with a top-six forward group that can match Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn, and Sean Couturier. Michael Raffl is also clearly pretty talented.
Things are bit shoddier on defense. The Flyers don’t seem to really have a #1 guy on the backend. However, Calder Trophy nominee Shayne Gostisbehere could eventually fit that bill, at least as far as the numbers go. Whether or not he actually gets the deployment of a top-pairing guy though will be another story.
So, the problem on defense for the Flyers is a lack of elite talent. What’s good is the team has probably the strongest collection of defense prospects in the league. Ivan Provorov and Travis Sanheim are both excellent prospects that will make very strong pushes to make the big club next year, with the likes of Samuel Morin and Robert Hagg offering more long-term potential.
Up front, I think it’s clear the problem is depth. A good thing, though, is that the team has a couple of good young forwards in Scott Laughton and Nick Cousins, and we shouldn’t forget last year’s 24th overall pick Travis Konecny either.
We haven’t mentioned the Flyers goalies yet, who are pretty damn good too. Steve Mason is presently one of the best in the league and Michael Neuvirth should probably be getting starter’s minutes somewhere else right now. Mason had an adjusted save percentage of 93.45 this season while Neuvirth posted a 93.33. So, the Flyers have no immediate worries there.
The Flyers are in a bit of a cap jam, namely due to the atrocious contract of Andrew MacDonald. The money they owe the likes of Umberger, Read, and Lecavelier isn’t helping much either.
Luckily, they have enough players already to field a full roster. Now, that’s not entirely ideal. I don’t think the Flyers would want to dress the exact same lineup as last year given they just barely squeaked into the playoffs. But the fact that they have potential internal solutions to their roster problems bodes well for their ability to keep themselves under the cap heading into next season.
It’ll be interesting to see whether the team elects to buy out the likes of Umberger or Read, which could clear up some much needed cap space in the short-term. MacDonald is a buyout candidate as well, but would likely be too much to stomach at this point. They might want to wait another year or two before they inevitably bite the bullet.
I think I’m being a bit conservative up front here. The Flyers are basically icing the same group of forwards as they did last year, save for replacing Sam Gagner with Travis Konecny. I think it’s very possible the team buys out R.J. Umberger or perhaps looks to make a trade here or there to mix up the forward group. I imagine they’d like to have something that offers a bit more promise in the depth department heading into next season. Again, whether that happens through trade or free agency who knows, but I think the team will look to do something to supplement the aforementioned depth issues of their forward group.
That defense, though, I think might just be spot on. I mean, it’s just way too early to make a call like that since things change so quickly and so often over the course of a couple weeks in late June and early July, but nonetheless, the Flyers seem poised to start addressing their blueline problems from within. Provorov and Sanheim are both likely to make the jump to the NHL next season, and while inserting two more rookies into the lineup that also includes sophomore Shayne Gostisbehere might not be the healthiest thing for the team’s short-term success, there’s clearly a lot of promise in the long-term on that Flyers blueline.
In net, the team doesn’t need to do anything, save for maybe trying to sign Steve Mason to a long-term contract extension before he hits unrestricted free agency in 2017.
The Flyers have depth problems up front and front-end problems on defense. Luckily, the team has good young players that offer the promise of internal solutions to those nagging problems. In net the team is among the best in the league and should be able to stand pat. A rough salary cap situation will threaten to limit their flexibility, but if the Flyers aren’t able to make the changes they want, they should be able to continue building towards long-term success.