Much to the chagrin of Penguins fans, the Flyers finally avoided the ever-present cloud of mediocrity with a playoff berth last season, only to be beaten in six games by a much more talented Pittsburgh team.
In 2018-19, expect those same Flyers to be in playoff discussion again, even though they’ll likely be leading the charge closer to the bubble. Dom Luszczyszyn of The Athletic named Philadelphia in the top-10 teams in the NHL with a 72-percent chance of earning postseason clinching numbers come April. But that isn’t to say the Flyers are a definite lock. Most of their success comes with a lot of if’s and but’s, and it’s a laundry list of things that need to go right.
Philadelphia will either surprise with an excellent season, or completely crash and burn. There is no in-between. Can it break 100 points this year? Will it win a playoff series? Does everything come crumbling down? Anything can happen at this point. They’re in a weird position, as on paper, the Flyers seem daunting, but there are enough flaws scattered around the team to skew the ability to project what they’ll manage to do accurately.
The Flyers were one of the youngest teams in the NHL last year, and their top-six youth drives their success
Travis Konecny, at 21-years-old, is playing in his third season as a Flyer, and he’s been absolutely brilliant for them. After getting placed on the top line next to captain Claude Giroux and Selke finalist Sean Couturier in late December, magic was made, and the Flyers’ season was effectively saved from disaster. Those three are a dynamite trio that’ll cause chaos in just about every opposing team’s end.
Nolan Patrick, now coming into his sophomore season as the team’s second-line center, also finally picked up the pace around that same time. He wasn’t gifted with the most talented wingers, and his first half stats were horrific, but once Dave Hakstol saw a click between him, Wayne Simmonds, and Jacob Voracek, Nolan pulled a 180-flip and became a more productive player.
The development of these two players on the top-six, coupled with the star talent they’re lined up with, will open the gates for the remaining guys on the Flyers’ depth chart. Oh, and don’t forget about Travis Sanheim or Oskar Lindblom either, who are both gearing towards a breakout performance if their numbers keep improving.
Goaltending is still a major concern heading into the 2018-19 season
Let’s just say it. The Flyers have two of the worst goalies in the league playing for their team. The tandem of always-hurt Michal Neuvirth and decidedly-average Brian Elliott was ranked in the bottom-10 of the NHL last year, alongside the rest of the bottom-feeders between the pipes. Elliott has posted a .909 save percentage in the last two seasons, and Neuvirth has been a .912 — when he’s healthy, which is never.
Most of their faults come on the penalty kill, where a lowly .820 save percentage was all they could muster behind a PK unit that was even worse. If the Flyers want to make any type of noise in the Metro, being better on special teams is item No. 1 after fixing the goaltending debacle.
The one bright spot is the development of elite prospect Carter Hart. If he ends up in a back-up (or starting, what the hell) role after playing down in the AHL with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms for a couple months, Philly may have just found its permanent netminder fix for the foreseeable future.
Adding James van Riemsdyk was a huge offseason move
James van Riemsdyk does a lot of one thing: score goals. In fact, he’s extremely good at scoring goals. His ability to find and create space in front of the net gifted him with a 1.21 goals per 60 stat line at even-strength, good for third in the entire league. van Riemsdyk creates chances at a regular rate — something the Flyers have desperately missed since Simmonds fell off. He’ll also be the left winger of a line that includes Voracek, who can really move the puck and get it to the right guy in the right place at the right time. He’ll be a big matchup threat for the Penguins, and really every other team he faces.
Philly has to contend with juggernauts Pittsburgh, Washington, and Columbus once again
The Penguins and the Capitals are owners of the last three, consecutive Stanley Cup championships. On the Blue Jackets, elite talent in Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky, not to mention their boat-load of depth, stands in the way of a sure lane to the playoffs. Contending with the giants in the Metro is no small feat, and it’s evident that at least three of the best teams in the league will come out of the same division once again.
Predictably, that means another first-round exist is probably in the cards for the Flyers in 2018-19. Their floor is higher, but they’re not quite ready to bust the roof off that ceiling just yet. However, they are trending in the right direction.