With a little over a week before the start of hockey’s regular season, the Guardian Liberty Voice will be taking an in-depth look at the 30 organizations, one for each day. Today, 30 in 30 will look at the Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers are probably the most difficult team to predict coming into next season. Their defense may be one of the worst in the league and their goaltender seems to have no middle ground between awful and elite, but their offense should rank among some of the best in the league. To make the playoffs in 2015, the Philadelphia Flyers better hope their offense can carry them there.
Last Season – Last year, Philadelphia began the season like many of their Metropolitan division rivals; That is, very poorly. After going 1-5-1 in the preseason and losing the first three games of the regular season, the Flyers fired their head coach Peter Laviolette and replaced him with assistant coach Craig Berube. The adjustments that came as a result of the coaching change left the Flyers struggling in October, eventually finishing the month with a 3-8-0 record.
However, the team was eventually able to right the ship, thanks in large part to their stellar home record. A 5-2-0 home record in November led to a perfect 4-0-0 home record in December. However, what pushed the Philadelphia Flyers into a playoff position was their March record, going 9-3-2 to distance themselves from a crowded Eastern Conference bubble group. Again, their home record was a large reason for their success, going 7-2-1 that month.
Unfortunately for the Flyers, their record was not good enough to secure home ice in the playoffs, instead facing the second-seeded New York Rangers in the first round. The series went back and forth, but the home ice advantage eventually worked out to favor New York, winning Game 7 in front of the home crowd at Madison Square Garden.
The Offseason – The Philadelphia Flyers had a relatively quiet offseason that has caused them some trouble as the season approaches. Rather than attempt to improve the roster after an early playoff exit in 2014, the Flyers seemed content to remain with the roster they had, and simply hope for better puck luck in the upcoming season. This is a stark contrast to many offseasons in the past, where the Flyers and blockbuster trades seemed to go hand-in-hand.
Even the one move that Philadelphia made this offseason seems like a lateral move at best (and a step backwards at worse). Dealing with the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Flyers dealt long-time winger, and fan favorite, Scott Hartnell in exchange for former player, RJ Umberger, and a fourth-round draft pick. The move left many analysts confused, as Umberger made his desire to leave Columbus public and he will, seemingly, bring less to the Flyers than Hartnell would.
Philadelphia did have to make one move out of panic late into the offseason, after it was announced that defenseman Kimmo Timonen would be out for an unspecified amount of time due to blood clots in his right leg and lungs. No player could replace what Timonen brings to the Flyers’ defense, but Philadelphia did sign young defenseman Michael Del Zotto to fill the hole in the roster. Del Zotto is inconsistent, but he does have the offensive instincts that could lessen the loss of Timonen in that department.
What to Watch for This Season – Whether or not the Flyers make the playoffs this year will ultimately come down to which players show up and which ones do not. Philadelphia’s Top 6 should easily compete with any other team in the Eastern Conference, but their Bottom 6 is filled with possession-black holes, and their defense was iffy even before the loss of Timonen.
Claude Giroux should remain the leader of the Philadelphia Flyers, even if he should struggle early in the season. In the first 15 minutes of training camp, Giroux left due to a lower-body injury. He has spent the time since then recovering from an injury, and though he has started skating recently, do not expect him to be 100% to start the season. He may play in the Flyers’ first game against Boston, but he will not be completely healthy doing so.
Steve Mason has had an interesting career, one that almost ended prematurely a few seasons ago. The less said about his time spent in Columbus, the better, but needless to stay, it was not pretty. However, he seems to have turned a corner in Philadelphia, which could not be better news for an organization that has goaltender troubles since Ron Hextall retired. A lot of Philly’s success will depend on how well Mason plays.
Can the Flyers make the playoffs on offense alone? Probably not. Philadelphia will need Mason to play above his career average or have the defense play better as a whole than their individual parts may indicate. It is not impossible, or even improbable, that the Flyers make the playoffs this year, but when much of the Eastern Conference has improved, including a few teams in the Metropolitan division, it will take a bit of puck luck for the Philadelphia Flyers to finish as high as they did last year.
Join the Guardian Liberty Voice tomorrow when 30 in 30 will examine the always dangerous Pittsburgh Penguins. Also, check out how important new leaders are for yesterday’s team, the Ottawa Senators.
Commentary by Jonathan Gardner