The summer is a time of great hope for most teams but there is always room for some trepidation. For fans of the Philadelphia Flyers, it has been a long 44 years since the Stanley Cup was raised there. Every year, the wounds just get a little deeper. Here are five reasons why the fear is very much real.
First, Brian Elliott is still in Philadelphia
It may be the Carter Hart show but having a backup that has meandered around league average or below the last three seasons is not optimal. Furthermore, considering Elliott’s history err injury history in Philadelphia and there are many concerned faces in the city of “Brotherly Love”. Hopefully, Elliott is not asked to play more than 25-30 games because at 34 years old, that may be all he has left to give.
Second, Chuck Fletcher is the general manager
Now, Fletcher may just work out, but the early returns have not been great. Trading Radko Gudas for an older Matt Niskanen did not look so good along with the retained salary (tack on another $1.05 million). Then, there was signing Brian Elliott instead of at least exploring trades or free agency even. Furthermore, that Justin Braun trade turned some stomachs as well. Braun is another veteran player on the other side of 30 that endured one of his worst seasons of his NHL career.
Did we mention that Kevin Hayes contract? That seven-year, $50 million contract is not bad by itself. However, this may form one of the slowest second lines in all of hockey. This is all on the eve of free agency where Philadelphia still needs to address some defensive needs, the penalty kill, and forward depth.
There are also the Ivan Provorov negotiations. A growing fear is that the defenseman might get closer to $8 million as opposed to $6 million or so. Suddenly, the trepidation of overspending is back in the Philadelphia Flyers’ vocabulary and fans are panicking all over again.
Third, when does Nolan Patrick live up to expectations?
It is the question that must be asked. Patrick showed some flashes with a 30 to 35-point campaign last year but looking up the turnpike had to sting a little. This summer, Philadelphia brought in Kevin Hayes to play in the top-six as it looks like Patrick will be on the third line again which will further limit his offensive potential.
Considering the seven-year deal Kevin Hayes received and the fact that Sean Couturier is the first-line center for the foreseeable future, that leaves Patrick in a less than optimal position. Does Patrick ever come close to his ceiling in Philadelphia? The possibilities of a trade will start increasing if the pivot does not start turning heads this season.
Fourth, what does one do with that penalty kill?
The penalty kill became one of the main reasons Philadelphia missed out on the playoffs last year. It was a disadvantage that got worse over the second half (75.5% efficiency compared to just over 81% for the first half). Adding Matt Niskanen probably does little and honestly Justin Braun does not do much either. Both are very serviceable defensemen, but any improvement is going to come from within the current core.
A lot of this will fall on a player like Ivan Provorov and then the goaltending. Those are your last lines of defense when it comes to the penalty kill. If an improvement does not come from those two places then it could be another long year for the man disadvantage.
Finally, are the playoffs even likely?
The Metropolitan Division seems to be improving in leaps and bounds. Also, Pittsburgh and Washington are teams that seem to find a way to make the playoffs every year. That leaves limited spots to get into the second season. Philadelphia’s futures are around +2500 to +3000 and dipping it seems. That bodes ominously futures wise for a team with the front-end talent they possess.
Making the playoffs is plausible for Philadelphia but they are going to need Carter Hart to play 55-60 quality games and get some bounce back seasons from players like Matt Niskanen and Justin Braun among others.
Also, their power play must get off to a better start than it did last year (ranked 25th after the first half). The Flyers man advantage is a top-ten caliber unit when it is clicking (probably closer to top five). If it gets off to a slow start, the doubt will creep in again and up will come the fears.
There are probably a few more fears that could be mentioned but these are the five most prominent. Good luck Philadelphia. This year will not be dull at least!
By Chris Wassel