Consistency’s the Key for Flyers

The 2013-14 season was a tumultuous one for the Philadelphia Flyers. It started with an 0-3-0 start which led to the firing of Peter Laviolette and the arrival of Craig Berube behind the Flyers bench.  After an initial sluggish adjustment period to Berube and his new system, the Flyers fortunes took off and they successfully made a furious push to qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs, losing a highly-contested playoff series to the New York Rangers, the eventual Eastern Conference champions.  In the off-season, there was another change in management brass, that being longtime Flyers General Manager (GM) Paul Holmgren being shifted to the team President of Hockey Operations and Assistant GM Ron Hextall being promoted to GM.

As for the on-ice product, for an organization that often appears preoccupied with headline-grabbing moves versus methodical, solid moves designed to shape the future and current fortunes of the team, the Flyers had a rather uneventful off-season. Perhaps it’s attributed to their penchant for obliterating the upper limits of the NHL’s salary cap ceiling, but for this off-season, only one trade of note was made, trading ‘heart and soul’ forward Scott Hartnell to the Blue Jackets for former Flyers forward RJ Umberger, a trade that didn’t exactly generate a lot of excitement for a carryover of their blistering second half finish.

Offensively, the Flyers are as potent as any team in the NHL, finishing the regular season 8th in the NHL team rankings in goals scored per game.  They are led by team captain Claude Giroux as well as Jakub Voracek and emerging star Wayne Simmonds.  Mirroring the Flyers sluggish start, Giroux also struggled to find his scoring touch, having gone through a 15-game goal-scoring drought.  However, much like his team’s fortunes the rest of the way, Giroux found his groove and finished the season with 28 goals and 86 total points in 82 games played.  Simmonds was a breakout star during last season, leading the Flyers with 29 goals scored and posting a career-best 60 points.  Voracek finished second in points scored last season and has started this season on a blistering point-scoring pace although has always been a streaky scorer during his NHL career.  Beyond their top three scorers, the Flyers struggle with secondary scoring, so a marked improvement from young forwards like Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier would go a long way in easing the burden on their goaltenders.

Defensively, the Flyers have an aging blueline with an average age over 30 years of age for their top seven defensemen, with stalwarts Kimmo Timonen at 39 and Mark Streit at 36. Timonen has been starting to slow down due to overuse over the years so that will be a concern as the season progresses.  Streit is a power play specialist with a booming howitzer and accounted for 10 goals and 44 points.  The acquisition of Andrew MacDonald solidified the blueline pairings and served as a steadying influence on defensive pairing partner Luke Schenn the former 5th overall pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.  For the Flyers to be effective, defensively, they rely on steady, two-way forwards Couturier and Matt Read and consistent, relentless forechecking.

In goal, Steve Mason was quite a pleasant surprise for the Flyers after struggling for several years with the Blue Jackets to regain his Calder Trophy-winning form from 2009. He appears to have found both a home in Philadelphia and the fans have taken to his level of competitiveness and cool confidence, a welcome change to the last several years of ‘musical chairs’ in net for the Flyers.  Mason’s resurgence appears to be tied in with his comfort level with his new goalie coach, Jeff Reese.  Mason has also developed a peaceful coexistence with backup goalie Ray Emery, who appear to support each other, quite successfully.

Qualifying for the Stanley Cup playoffs is by no means out of the question, but overall consistency in performance, secondary scoring from their young forwards and another solid year from Mason would go a long way towards being a Stanley Cup championship contender.