Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2019-20, where Last Word on Hockey gives you a detailed look at each team from around the NHL leading to the start of this hockey season and offers our insight and analysis. Make sure to stick around until the end of the series, where we’ll offer our full predictions for the standings in each division, and eventually our 2019-20 Stanley Cup pick. You can check out all our articles on our Puck Drop Page. Today the series continues with the 2019-20 Philadelphia Flyers.
2019-20 Philadelphia Flyers Preview
After a run to the playoffs in the 2017-18 season, the Flyers plummeted back to Earth in 2018-19. Philadelphia endured a nightmare season that was categorized by changes in the organization. First, Ron Hextall was fired on November 26th after a disappointing start to the season. Head coach Dave Hakstol was the next to meet the ax as Scott Gordon replaced him in mid-December. Just as the dust settled, long-time fan favorite Wayne Simmonds left the team in a trade. Though the Flyers faced sweeping changes, not all upheaval is a bad thing. The arrival of Carter Hart brought stability to the Philadelphia net that was long absent. With all the turmoil, the Flyers missed the playoffs finishing 11th in the Eastern Conference.
With a disappointing regular season behind them, the Philadelphia Flyers entered the 2019 offseason in a tough position. The team is not built to compete, but can not enter a full rebuild. The contracts of high-quality middle-aged players force Philadelphia to compete now. Facing the difficult task, general manager Chuck Fletcher retooled the Flyers lineup. However, these adjustments represented a mixed bag.
The acquisition of Kevin Hayes proved positive, but is it worth the salary? Can Justin Braun and Matt Niskanen contribute more than what the Flyers already employed? The Flyers also have yet to re-sign their talent. Important pieces like defenceman Ivan Provorov and forward Travis Konecny remain unsigned. Past the roster, the Flyers assembled a new bench staff that includes Alain Vigneault, Mike Yeo, and Michel Therrien. The 2019 offseason presented a fork in the road for the Flyers and although they were active, more questions remain than answers.
2019-20 Philadelphia Flyers Projected Line-up
(The projected line-ups represent the team at full strength.)
Two strong lines headline the Flyers’ forward group. Sean Couturier may be one of the most underrated players in the league. The forward is one of the premier defensive talents in the NHL, finishing top ten in Selke voting three of the past four seasons. Past his defensive acumen, Couturier has notched back-to-back 30 goal seasons. Claude Giroux and Travis Konecny join Couturier on the left and right wings. Giroux is one of the league’s most exciting talents, mixing play-making ability (two straight 60+ assist seasons), defensive play (has received Selke votes in six out of his 10 full seasons), and underrated stick-handling. Travis Konecny, while less established than his first line counterparts, is an exciting player to watch coming into this season.
The Flyers second-line features a group of competent forwards anchored by the newly acquired Kevin Hayes. Although Hayes’ contract faces scrutiny, the center-man is a solid contributor that will provide a versatile skill set for the Flyers. Joining Hayes on the second unit will be James van Riemsdyk, and Jakub Voracek. “JVR” is a consistent scorer that is good for at least 27 goals in every season that he stays healthy. Voracek is a similarly consistent scorer, tallying at least 60 points in five of his last six seasons. Though the unit is talented on paper, it remains to be seen if the chemistry will pan out. At 27 years old, Kevin Hayes is the youngest of the trio. In a league that’s moving more towards youth and speed (A trait that none of Van Riemsdyk, Voracek, and Hayes are known for), the second line could face difficulties.
For as concrete as the top-six forward group is, the bottom-six represents a situation in far greater disarray. The biggest question-mark resides on the right-wing of the third line. The spot will likely be filled by one of Philadelphia’s promising young forwards; a group that includes Morgan Frost, Joel Farabee, and German Rubstov. Unless one of the three enjoys a breakout year, look for the third-line to undergo multiple changes throughout the season. Their center will be young forward Nolan Patrick. Patrick has been disappointing up to this point, given his status as the #2 overall draft pick. The acquisition of Hayes allows Patrick to be moved down to the third line, a move that paid off in dividends for Sean Couturier when he spent time in the bottom-six.
The fourth-line should remain fairly consistent with Scott Laughton at the pivot. Laughton has been an important part of the Flyers’ forward group over the last two years, playing in all but one game. The forward registered career highs in all offensive categories last season with 12 goals, 20 assists, and 32 points. Though his possession stats aren’t shining (44.0% Corsi for), Laughton started just 36.3% of his shifts in the offensive zone. Michael Raffl, and new acquisition Tyler Pitlick likely slot into the wings.
If the Flyers re-sign Provorov, their first pairing looks to be an area of strength. Provorov has yet to meet the lofty expectations many have put upon him, but he remains one of the most promising young defenders in the league. He averaged 25:07 in time on ice last season, making Provorov in an elite class of workhorse defenders. Travis Sanheim should line up opposite of Provorov, rounding out a young talented first pairing. Sanheim had a breakout year in his first full professional season, scoring 35 points in 82 games.
The likely second pairing features the newly acquired Justin Braun. The Flyers acquired Braun for a second and third round pick this Summer. The veteran defender had long been a stalwart for the San Jose Sharks. He plays a mostly defensive game and started 58.9% of his shifts in the defensive zone last season. This is a great contrast to his expected partner, Shayne Gostisbehere. Gostisbehere endured a disappointing 2018-19 after a career year the prior season. The defender’s career has been inconsistent to this point, and this year may be a make or break year for the Union University product.
The third pairing should feature another duo of a veteran and young talent. This time coming in the form of Matt Niskanen, and Robert Hagg. Niskanen is also a new addition to the Flyer’s lineup. The veteran once provided a balanced set of offensive ability and defensive responsibility. However, in recent years Niskanen has seen his production steadily plummet. He has also been used heavily, averaging over 20 minutes a game in 7 straight seasons, and a reduction in minutes may allow Niskanen to return to form. Hagg should comprise the other half of the bottom pairing for most of the year. The 2013 draft pick will be starting his third full season in the NHL. Hagg showed some offensive upside last season, scoring 20 points in 82 games.
As is the Philadelphia tradition, the goal-tending situation could be a concern. Carter Hart burst on the scene last year, fulfilling much of the hype that had surrounded his arrival. Still, Hart is just 21 years old and young goalies often experience inconsistency. The Flyers could mitigate this by providing him a stable backup. However, they opted to retain Brian Elliott coming off of his worst year since 2012-13. Elliott surprised the league in 2015-16 when he registered a .930 save percentage but has not lived up to his breakout year since. As a long-tenured player in the league, Elliott should serve as a great role model for Hart, but between the pipes, it’s unlikely he provides much value.
Players to Watch
Hart may be the most exciting young player on the Flyers’ roster. When drafted in 2016, Hart became the Flyers’ next hope in net. The Philadelphia organization has long gone without an elite goaltender. The Everett Silvertips product looks to change that and met expectations in his first season. He registered a .917 save percentage and won 16 of his 31 games. While Hart impressed in his first year, he still has a lot left to prove. His development will be a feature storyline this season in Philadelphia.
When Shayne Gostisbehere finished second in Calder voting after the 2015-16 season, the Flyers appeared to have one of the next great offensive-minded defenders. Since that season, Gostisbehere has been up and down. He had a fantastic 2017-18 season before falling back to earth last year. The disappointing results led to rumors that Gostisbehere could be traded over the Summer, but no deals materialized. Without a departure, this is likely a make or break year for the defender. Gostisbehere is an exciting player regardless of whether he’s at the top of his game. This, combined with his status on the team makes him a must-watch player going into the 2019-20 season.
2019-20 Philadelphia Flyers Prediction
The Flyers can not afford another slow start in 2019-20. This means they must come to terms with Provorov and Konecny before the season begins. If they are unable to do so, they don’t seem to have the firepower to make up ground quickly. One thing that may work in Philadelphia’s favor is playing in the metropolitan division. The Pittsburgh Penguins appear to be declining, and the Columbus Blue Jackets are a much weaker team this season than the last few years. Though the New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers improved on paper, questions remain on how their new acquisitions will gel. If there are growing pains among the other teams in the metro, the Flyers may be able to sneak into the playoffs. However, the 2019-20 season more than likely ends with Philadelphia on the outside looking in.