Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2020-21, 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 2020-21 Stanley Cup pick. Today the series continues with the 2020-21 Philadelphia Flyers.
2020-21 Philadelphia Flyers
Finishing 2nd in the Metropolitan Division, with 89 points, the Philadelphia Flyers had their best regular-season and playoff showing in years. The ‘Broad Street Bullies’ had been on a steady decline since their loss to the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2010 Stanley Cup Final. Losing in the first round to Eastern Conference rivals and not even qualifying for the playoffs for four, the next nine seasons were fairly underwhelming for Philadelphia.
Not only did the Flyers bring on a new coaching staff for the 2019-20 season, including experienced head coach Alain Vigneault, but free agent Kevin Hayes was added to the roster. While the first few months of the season were a rollercoaster of wins and losses, by 2020, the Flyers were shaping up to be one of the most dominant teams in the league.
In February, they won 10 of their 13 games and went on a nine-game winning streak. This propelled them past the Pittsburgh Penguins and just one point behind the leaders of the Metropolitan Division, the Washington Capitals. With contributions coming from all over the roster, names like Claude Giroux, Travis Konecny, and Carter Hart stood out.
The Flyers finished first in the round-robin seeding, beating out the Capitals, the Boston Bruins, and the eventual Stanley Cup Champions, the Tampa Bay Lightning. In the first round, Philadelphia took on the Montreal Canadiens. The 24th-ranked Habs put up a fight but were ultimately taken down by the Flyers in six games. Facing the New York Islanders in the conference semifinals, Philadelphia’s Stanley Cup were dreams dashed in a seven-game series.
The 2020-21 Philadelphia Flyers didn’t do much this past offseason. Going into the 2020-21 season with much the same team that lost to the Islanders in September, only a few small changes have unfolded.
Announcing his retirement in October, 33-year-old Matt Niskanen shocked the league and the Philadelphia Flyers. After winning a Stanley Cup with the Washington Capitals in 2018, he spent this past season on the Flyer’s number one defensive pairing. Losing the steady, all-around veteran had an immediate effect on the organization.
The Flyers announced the move they made to patch the hole left by Niskanen’s retirement six days later. They signed offensive defenceman Erik Gustafsson to a one-year, $3 million contract. While not a huge name, he should be able to add some extra firepower to the roster, as well as aid in the Flyer’s dreadful power play. As evidenced by their 2020 Stanley Cup run, the Flyers could use his help. Converting on only 7.7 percent of 52 power-play attempts, the Flyers clearly did not make it to the second round because of their special teams.
Philadelphia has taken a little bit of a hit to their offensive depth this offseason. Losing Tyler Pitlick, Nate Thompson, and Derek Grant, the organization might end up having to rely on their prospect pool. With one of the best prospect pools in the league, that shouldn’t be a problem.
General manager Chuck Fletcher is okay with a fairly inactive offseason.
“Making a big splash doesn’t necessarily mean you make your team better. There’s a lot of things at play between a flat cap, the expansion draft, and resigning our own players. We’ll always try to make the team better but we have a very good team now.”
Oskar Lindblom – Kevin Hayes – Travis Konecny
The top-six for the 2020-21 Philadelphia Flyers will start this season relatively unchanged. The only modification being Lindblom. Lindblom missed the majority of the 2019-20 season due to a cancer diagnosis. He is currently in remission and expected to start as a member of the top-six. Alongside projected linemates Hayes and Konecny, this could very well be a deadly combination.
Leading the Flyers in goals and points this past season, Konecny put a lot of focus into defining his game under a new head coach. The 22-year-old plays fast, hard, and irritating. If put on a line with Hayes, they’ll end up doing some damage in 5-on-5 play. Add Lindblom to that equation and you have a goal-scoring machine.
As for Giroux, Couturier, and Voracek, the Flyers can’t really go wrong with their top line. One of the best two-way players in the league, Giroux helps his line dominate possession whenever he’s on the ice. Although he could work on his offensive production, the Flyer’s captain is a solid left-wing. Put him on a line with Couturier and Voracek, the second and third best scorers on the team, and Philadelphia has one of the most influential top-six in the league.
While the bottom-six could end up changing a little after training camp, this is most likely the team that 2020-21 Philadelphia Flyers will put on the ice to start the season. The Flyer’s bottom-six all make pretty significant contributions to the roster. Rising stars Frost and Farabee have the talent and skating to crack the top-six in just a few years. Putting them with Van Riemsdyk brings experience and physicality to a solid and, most likely, a high-scoring third line.
As for Raffl, Laughton, and Aube-Kubel, the Flyers are presenting a dependable fourth line. This line combined for 62 points during the 2019-20 season. There is no doubt that this line brings an offensive production that many fourth lines don’t.
Travis Sanheim – Erik Gustafsson
Not the flashiest top-four in the league, but these guys have incredible defensive talent. Possibly the youngest top pair in the league, Provorov, and Myers have proven their ability. Provorov is poised for a breakout season, despite his already massive contributions to the Flyer’s defensive core. And, having 6′-5″ Myers who can read plays and skate fast, by his side definitely won’t hurt.
The Flyers have another rising star in Sanheim. Pairing him with 28-year-old Gustafsson should make for a solid defensive pair. Coming off a lousy and uncharacteristic season and a trade, Gustafsson is looking for redemption with the Flyers. Sanheim’s ability to break up dangerous plays and control the puck should pair nicely with Gustafsson’s offensive defenceman capabilities.
Braun’s underrated and unflashy play makes for a reliable third pair shutdown defenceman. Coupled with Hagg’s physicality and ability to block shots makes for an extremely defensive pairing. Their ability to hold down the blue line is what will keep them on the 23-man roster.
Extra: Alex Lyon
The same goalie tandem employed by the Flyers last season, Hart and Elliot are a solid duo, but one definitely outshines the other. Hart is on his way to becoming a Vezina-caliber goaltender. In his second season in the NHL, he posted a 2.42 goals-against-average and a .914 save percentage in 43 games. And, he’s only getting better. An elite goaltender on the Flyers’ home turf, he had some troubles on the road. Fortunately for him, the pause in the season provided some respite from away games. As for the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Hart was, arguably, the best player on the team. Posting two consecutive shutouts against the Montreal Canadiens in the first round propelled the Flyers into the second. Despite losing to the New York Islanders in the second, Hart played his literal heart out.
Elliot, the veteran goaltender is a solid backup if Hart needs a rest. If injuries plague the Flyer goaltenders like they usually do, Alex Lyon is a dependable third.
Players to Watch
Gustafsson is a major bounce-back candidate for this season. His offensive production has gone down the past few seasons, but hopefully, a change of scenery should jumpstart his play. A proven power-play quarterback, if he gets the chance, Gustafsson should be able to establish himself in a special teams position. Gustafsson should be able to tally some points on a defensive pairing with Sanheim.
Patrick hasn’t played since being diagnosed with a migraine disorder a little over a year ago. While reports of him skating surfaced before last season ended and rumours that he might be playing this upcoming season, no official information has been released on when he plans to return to the NHL. If he does come back, he is definitely a player to watch. His return to the league means he can take one step closer to becoming the franchise player the Flyers drafted him to be.
Prediction for 2020-21 Flyers
While the Flyers are probably a few good years from raising the Stanley Cup, their young team is only going to get better. Their power-play was a huge reason they failed to get past the Islanders. Adding some much-needed depth to their special teams was an important step this offseason. Now, they just have to find a way to convert on the power-play. With time and practice, this Flyer’s core is going to be amazing. Although, the goal this season will be to continue their success of last year. With a stacked East Division, they will face some huge challenges. But, I have a good feeling they’ll end the 56-game season near the top and make a deep Stanley Cup run.
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