We are 24 days away from preseason hockey, and 25 from Flyers preseason hockey. Hang in there folks, the light at the end of the tunnel is getting closer by the day.
An already long enough off season, lengthened by the excitement surrounding young players development and the signing of a scoring winger that this team has needed for the past few years, is quickly coming to an end, and the fans of the orange and black are getting more and more restless by the day.
And for good reason.
The Flyers have plenty to look forward to in the coming season. Fans alike will be chomping at the bit to see what this team has to offer, and it’s got Philadelphia abuzz with all of the possibilities on the table for the upcoming 2018-19 season.
Let’s take a look at a couple things to look forward to this upcoming season.
Emergence of Young Players
There’s no lack of youth on the Flyers, and they are getting better by the day. Last year saw the emergence of Travis Konecny as an offensive force, and also solidified the star-status of Ivan Provorov.
We saw a handful of rookies introduced to the team. The highly-touted Nolan Patrick made his debut, and did not disappoint. He endeared himself to the fanbase early on, taking on David Krejci in a nice fight in September. Since then, he posted 13 goals and 17 assists on 13:43 ATOI, and was promoted to the second line center position as the year went on. With him potentially centering Voracek and JVR, Patrick is in line for a breakout year.
Travis Konecny saw a boost in his play when he got bumped up to the top line with Sean Couturier and Claude Giroux. In 81 games, Konecny put up 24 goals and 23 assists, much of those points coming on the top line with top tier talent. With TK seemingly being the last piece of the top line, he could be in line for even more of a scoring boost, playing opposite of Coots and G once again.
Finally, the Flyers have a few rookies who figure to slot in and fill the needs left by the departures of guys like Matt Read. Oskar Lindblom figures to jump back into his third line role with the club, seeing almost a quarter of the season with the Flyers. Robert Hagg and Travis Sanheim, although being sophomores, will see more time on the blue line (at least in Sanheim’s case.) Hagg played a majority of the season, and even led all rookies in hits, while proving he can be a jack of all trades for the Flyers’ defensive core.
Merger of the JVR-Patrick-Voracek Line
With the signing of JVR, the Flyers seem to have added much needed scoring depth to their forward lines. JVR brings a net front presence that can jam one home, thanks Lavy, while in close to the net. Voracek is coming off of an 85 point campaign, his best season yet. With those two centering the dynamic Nolan Patrick, the Flyers’ second line could see some major success against other sub-par second lines.
JVR is good for around 20-30 goals per year, and Voracek as well. With Voracek being more of a setup guy, whether the fan base wants him to pass or not, JVR could see his goal total sky rocket. Add in Nolan Patrick who seems to have eyes in the back of his head, and we could see the James Van Riemsdyk that many thought the Flyers had before he was traded away to Toronto.
Claude Giroux’s 102 Point Season, Proving it Wasn’t a Fluke
It’s been beaten to death by fans and journalists alike, but it needs to be said: Claude Giroux is coming off of a Hart-Worthy season. After posting a career-high 102 points, Claude Giroux is being primed for another big season. With Travis Konecny coming out of his shell, and Sean Couturier finally finding his offensive game, Claude Giroux could potentially match his 2017-18 point total, or even best it.
It’s unlikely that Claude will end the year with 102 or more points, but it isn’t too farfetched to believe that he could reach the 100-point mark for just the second time in his career, and in as many years.
With the development of Couturier and Konecny, and more scoring depth being added via JVR on the second pairing, the load on the top line’s shoulders has been lightened, which could lead to much more production on the offensive side of the puck.
The Net-Minding Messiah, Carter Hart, Debuting with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms
Finally, Carter Hart will make his long-awaited debut in either the NHL and AHL. After being drafted by Hextall in the second round of the 2016 NHL Draft, Hart showed why he was worth such a high pick for a goalie, posting consecutive 30+ win season, and averaging under 1.99 goals per game and a little better than a .930 save percentage.
Needless to say, Carter Hart could be a franchise goaltender for years to come if he pans out.
With so much excitement surrounding Hart, fans should curb that enthusiasm, considering how patient General Manager Ron Hextall has been with his draft picks. Sure, Provorov and Konecny skipped their 2nd year of Juniors to join the Flyers, and Nolan Patrick went straight to the NHL from Juniors. However, goalies are a totally different beast.
If Hart comes out of camp having absolutely dominated, Hextall will have no choice but to make room for him on the Flyers roster. If he comes out and plays solid, expect Hart to be the Phantom’s starting goaltender for the 2018-19 season. Either way, you won’t find a fan who isn’t excited about Carter Hart joining the pros.
Dumping More Veteran Skaters
It’s like an annual garage sale. Players like Matt Read, Brandon Manning, even Chris VandeVelde were sent packing once their contracts expire, and it was much to the adulation of fans.
It’s no secret that Paul Holmgren left the Flyers in a bit of a pickle when it came to cap space. Hefty veteran contracts really set Hextall back, but he has shown patience in riding some of these out, and it is finally starting to pay off.
Aside from the MacDonald contract, the Flyers only have a handful of “bad” contracts left to rid themselves of.
Jori Lehtera’s contract expires at the end of this season, netting the Flyers a little under five million in cap space for next summer. Simmonds, Michael Raffl, and Jordan Weal all become unrestricted free agents at the end of the year as well, and the only player the Flyers may end up bringing back is Wayne Simmonds.
After the end of the 2019-20 season, the Flyers finally rid themselves of Dale Weise and his 2.35 million dollar hit, Radko Gudas and his 3.35 million dollar hit, and finally, MacDonald and his five million dollars comes off the books.
With players like Philippe Myers, Samuel Morin, maybe even newcomers like Adam Ginning in the defensive pipeline, replacing AMac and Gudas should be no problem. Add in the fact that forwards like Isaac Ratcliffe, Noah Cates, even Morgan Frost being ready in the next few years to make the jump, replacing Raffl, Weal, even Wayne Simmonds shouldn’t be as hard as it seems.
The Flyers are in good shape moving forward, and it’s only getting better as these horrid veteran contracts start expiring.
Process trusters, behold. We are starting to see Hextall’s master plan take shape. Anti-process fools, sorry you’re impatient, but each year that passes, the Flyers are getting better on paper. Whether that translates to the ice is a whole other argument.
The Flyers time is coming, there’s no doubt about that. With Hextall’s drafting prowess, and him finally showing faith in the current roster and going out and signing a key free agent this offseason, the time is now to start the wheels heading in the right direction. The Philly Faithful have plenty to look forward to when it comes to the 2018-19 NHL season.
Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports