Our Philadelphia Flyers 2019-20 Preview is a part of our series covering the entire NHL. Check them out here in the lead up to another exciting season.
In the course of the 2018-2019 season, the Philadelphia Flyers fired their coach, fired their general manager, set an NHL record for most goalies used in a season, and missed the playoffs. The good news going into this upcoming season, is they made some important changes to stabilize the team. The city of brotherly love has had a pattern of missing playoffs one year and then making playoffs the following season. So they should be on pace to have a more successful season right? Besides the pattern, the offseason the Flyers had actually could push them into the postseason in 2019-2020.
Coach Dave Hakstoll and GM Ron Hextall were fired just a few months into the season. Hakstol was fired mid December, and Hextall was fired at the end of December. Hakstol had been protected by Hextall for a long time. Hakstol was in his fourth season as bench boss and had a record of 134-101-42 in 277 games. Hextall had been a pretty decent GM for the club. He’s drafted well, made some good trades and brought in some free agents when the team has needed them. He kept the team right on the bubble for a number of seasons, and everyone could expect the Flyers to be in the fight for a playoff spot until the very end of the season, but ultimately everyone is measured by their playoff success. The Flyers had never won a playoff series in Hextall’s four seasons with the team, and things were shaken up. Since his departure he was rumoured to be involved in numerous general manager positions around the league, but ended up taking a part time advisor to hockey operations role in Los Angeles to be part of Rob Blake’s team.
The team had their AHL affiliate coach, Scott Gordon, fill in as interim head coach, and Chuck Fletcher, previous Minnesota Wild general manager, took over in December in the gm role. He inherited a team in a rough spot, with no starting goalie and living in the basement of the Metro Division. The Flyers went on to finish the season at 37-37-8 with 82 points, and were sellers at the deadline.
At the deadline, Fletcher dealt Wayne Simmonds to the Nashville Predators in exchange for Ryan Hartman and a conditional 2020 fourth-round pick. The fourth would have turned into a third if Nashville won a playoff series. Simmonds was expected to go for a lot more than that, but at least they got something for him before his contract expired with no guarantee of him returning. Simmonds has lost a step in his game since admitting he played most of the 2017-2018 season battling through a torn pelvis, pulled groin, fractured ankle, torn ligament in his thumb and a broken jaw. He only missed 7 games that season and still earned 46 points. However, not properly healing those injuries may have cost him, as he only put up 30 points last season. Simmonds was the embodiment of Flyers hockey, and it’s still weird he isn’t suiting up for them. In his 19 games with the team, Ryan Hartman looked to exemplify Flyers hockey too. He had a huge hit and a fight in his first shift as a Flyer. He didn’t have quite the point production that Simmonds did, but he could definitely bring the same energy to the team.
The Flyers played a record number of goalies in the season with eight different starters. Injuries with Brian Elliot and Michael Neuvirth forced the Flyers to call up and bring in new goalies. Elliot, Neuvirth, Anthony Stolarz, Calvin Pickard, Alex Lyon, Mike Mckenna, Cam Talbot and Carter Hart all made starts for Philly last season.
Rookie Carter Hart looked solid and definitely earned himself a spot in contention for starter this upcoming season.
This off season, Fletcher showed he’s not averse to trying new things, such as hiring three head coaches. Fletcher brought in Alain Vigneault as the clubs 21st head coach. Vigneault was fired by the New York Rangers one season ago. Mike Yeo was fired by the blues last season, and Michel Therrien was fired by Montreal two years ago. Yeo and Therrien come in as Vigneault’s assistants. Scott Gordon will return to his post as the franchise’s AHL head coach. Vigneault has an impressive resume, and I was a little surprised that it took this long for him to get another shot. He has 16 seasons under his belt as a head coach in the NHL, and has won the President’s Trophy three times and gone to the finals twice. He’s coached teams with elite talent and depth, and will be sure to push the Philadelphia roster hard. He’s known for asking a lot from his players, and for giving big chunks of ice time to defensive specialists.
Vigneault will have a few new faces in town to throw into the lineup. The major addition this offseason was Kevin Hayes, who was a pending UFA. Philly actually jumped in before the signing period, and traded the Jets a fifth-round 2019 pick for contract negotiating rights for the 27 year old centreman. Hayes soon signed a six year $7.14 million annual cap hit extension with the team. He definitely got paid! What is particularly significant is that Vigneault actually coached Hayes for four years on the New York Rangers, so has a player he can put his confidence in early. Hayes says that Vigneault being the coach was a definite factor in him signing with the club. The familiarity between Hayes and Vigneault should be a strong asset to the team.
The team also brought in some solid right handed defenders in a couple trades. Radko Gudas was shipped out for Matt Niskanen from the Washington Capitals. Justin Braun was acquired from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a 2019 second-round pick and a 2019 third-round pick.
I’ll take a further look at how these additions affect the Philly roster down below.
Coaches : Alain Vigneault, Michel Therrien, Mike Yeo
Not too long ago, Claude Giroux was rumoured to be regressing. These concerns were wildly overblown. In 2016-2017 he only got 58 points. The next, he got 102, which was second in the league only to Connor McDavid. Last year he got 85. He’s definitely switched his game up a bit, as he did switch from centre to wing. Making the switch to wing allows him to play with Sean Couturier, who has quickly become one of the league’s most dominant two way centres. Couturier is coming off back to back 76 point seasons, and is definitely underrated outside of Philadelphia. Travis Konecny just re-signed with the club this offseason with a $5.5 million annual cap hit contract for six years. He’ll likely play on the top line with Giroux and Couturier and improve upon his 49 points from last season.
The second line will get a massive boost with Kevin Hayes coming in. He’s a big centre who can play a 200 foot game. He can take pressure off Couturier to play too safe defensively, and can contribute offensively too. He’ll slot in between Jakub Voracek and James Van Reimsdyk on the second line.
This will allow Nolan Patrick, who’s been forced by necessity to play up on the top two lines as a centreman, to move down into a more comfortable third line role. Patrick has battled some injuries, as he did before coming into the NHL, and at this point is doubtful for opening night. He could however come back very soon and play in that third centre spot. Rookie Morgan Frost is looking to crack the lineup. He could be a potential line mate on the wing for Patrick, or he could fill in as a centre until Patrick’s return. Oskar Lindblom will round out the third line on the left wing. Joel Farabee, a 19 year old winger is also trying to make the squad out of camp. He’ll have to make the team right away, otherwise he’ll return to Boston University and be unavailable for the season.
German Rubtsov is a 21 year old centre also looking for a spot, but with the current centre depth, he’ll likely be number one on the depth chart for call ups.
The fourth line is looking to be Scott Laughton as centre, Michael Raffl on left, and Tyler Pitlick on right. Pitlick was acquired in a deal which sent Ryan Hartman to Dallas for a cup of coffee before he wound up in Minnesota. I thought Hartman actually fit in super well in Philly and I’m surprised he wasn’t given a longer opportunity in town. I guess with no real space in their top nice, Philadelphia has cheaper options for their fourth line at this point. Andy Andreoff, Mikhail Vorobyov and Nicolas Aube-Kubel will provide some additional depth for the squad this season.
Philly is set to have a lot of scoring talent on the team and has a lot of solid depth. They have definitely improved the team a lot by adding Hayes and allowing players to move to more comfortable positions within the lineup.
Philly is pretty set on defense. They have some great left handed puck movers in Ivan Provorov, and Shayne Gostisbehere. Provorov, 22, signed a contract extension this off season for six years at an average annual value of $6.75 million. It’s a great contract with the amount defenseman were getting paid elsewhere. Provorov hasn’t missed a game in his first three seasons, and led the team last year with an average of 25:07 of ice time per game. He’ll continue to eat up minutes on the first pair this year. Gostisbehere will likely play on the second pairing.
Fletcher added some solid right handed veterans this season to complement the team’s existing surplus of young left-handed defenders. Radko Gudas was sent out of town for Capitals defenseman, Matt Niskanen. Niskanen, 32 is coming off one of the worst seasons of his career and was unable to provide his normal level of shutdown performance to the blueline. He and his partner Orlov struggled heavily at times last season, but Niskanen still had an average of 21:56 of ice time and was relied upon greatly. New systems, coaching and defense partners could revitalize his on ice abilities. He’s defensive prowess will go nicely with the more offensive minded lefties. He could slot in on the second or third pairing. Plus he’s good for at least one clapper goal from the hash marks per year. Justin Braun enters Philadelphia as a victim of cap strapped and defensively stacked San Jose Sharks team. Braun was simply the odd man out for San Jose as they had to make room to sign Erik Karlsson. In Philly he will be relied upon for more minutes and given some more responsibility. He and Niskanen are the only two right handers, and are both solid defense first minded players. The two of them will likely see a lot of time on the penalty kill and get a lot of defensive zone starts.
One of Robert Hagg or Travis Sanheim will have to play their off side in this lineup. They both looked really good last season. Sanheim signed a contract extension for two year $3.25 million per year salary cap hit. These two lefties are the remaining guys to slot into the lineup somehow. Both of them are still quite young at 24 and 23 respectively so could still develop further this season. We could see Sanheim up front with Provorov very easily, but we will have to see how Vigneault draws up his lines.
Beyond these guys, Philly has a lot of young depth defenseman that can come up to cover injuries in the top six. Philippe Myers and Samuel Morin saw time with the Flyers last year and would be the first to come up.
Goaltending has been the area that Philly has historically struggled. Enter Carter Hart. It could be a little early to pin the future of the entire team on a 21 year old goalie, but Hart definitely looks like the real deal. He played in 31 NHL games last year with a 2.83 GAA and a 0.917 save percentage. For a Philly goalie, that is great, especially when you consider they played 8 goalies last year.
Carter Hart will be entering his first full season and will have to show that he can sustain those numbers across a larger sample size. I think he will, especially with a more reliable defense in front of him. Brian Elliot showed he’s not capable of being a full-time starter anymore. The $2 million, two year deal he signed this season shows that he isn’t being paid like a starter anymore either. He’ll have to stay healthy enough this year to backup Hart and to provide some veteran guidance to the young goalie.
Carter Hart is the future of the team’s netminding, and could finally be what Philadelphia has missed since Hextall played, a true starting goaltender.
2019-2020 Philadelphia Flyers Prediction
Philadelphia definitely improved this off season. They’ve added some much needed depth on centre with Kevin Hayes, and improved their defense by acquiring Matt Niskanen and Justin Braun. New coach Alain Vigneault will push players on this team to perform every night. Goaltender Carter Hart will be playing his first full season and will be a key piece to the team’s success. There’s some opportunity in the Metro for Philadelphia to move up, and if everything goes to plan, they’ll be in the playoffs.