The dog days of summer are over, the kids are gearing up to go back to school, and fall is almost upon us. That means that the start of a new Philadelphia Flyers season isn’t far away.
While the Flyers dropped a fat turd in their first-round playoff exit to the hated Penguins last year, a new season brings new hope, new players, and another season of Flyers Twitter whining about Andrew MacDonald and Dave Hakstol. It also carries an interest in what fans deem the most important storylines entering a new season. I’m here to give you my three biggest question marks going into the 2018-19 season for the Flyers.
- Can Brian Elliot and Michal Neuvirth form a goaltending tandem that isn’t butt?
Surprise, surprise, the Flyers had inconsistent goaltending again, and Michal Neuvirth confirmed after suffering another injury that he is indeed made out of paper-mâché.
So, how bad was the goaltending? Well, the league average save percentage in 2017 was .912. The Flyers goaltenders combined for a save percentage of .907. Petr Mrazek – whose name I have a hard time mentioning without boiling with rage – posted a god-awful .891 save percentage in 17 games. He carried 3.22 goals against average to boot. Also, Brian Elliot and Mrazek both posted negative goals saved above average (GSAA), -4.22 and -9.50 respectively. If you are not familiar with GSAA, it tells you how many goals a goalie either has allowed or stopped more than if an average goaltender was in their place. In Mrazek’s case, his GSAA was -9.50, which means he allowed almost 10 goals more than if an average goaltender faced the same number of shots. Need I say more?
Even in lieu of the poor goaltending, the Flyers were still able to reach the playoffs and place 3rd in the Metro. If Hakstol and company want to get to the second round, though, they’re going to need Elliot or Neuvirth to step up or at the very least give the Flyers league average goaltending.
Unfortunately, Elliot isn’t getting any younger, he’s posted a negative GSAA two years in a row, and he has seen his save percentage take a tumble in consecutive seasons since leaving the Blues in 2015. And in Neuvirth’s case, even if he were to stay healthy, who knows which goaltender we’re going to get. Would it be the one that posted a GSAA of 8.31 in 2015? Or the one that posted a ridiculously bad -13.29 GSAA in 2016?
Either way, the Flyers goaltending situation is far from ideal and is a huge question mark entering the season.
- Can Travis Konecny take the next step in his development and become a 60 point scorer for the Flyers?
Konecny finished last season with 47 points. He scored 24 goals and had 23 helpers. After a slow start to the season that saw him only total 13 points in 38 games, due to him sharing significant minutes with Valtteri Filppula, Dale Weise, and Jori Lehtera, Dave Hakstol had an epiphany and paired the young phenom with Sean Couturier and Claude Giroux.
It didn’t take long to see positive results come from this line. Konecny, individually, thrived in his new role, scoring 32 points in 39 games, 19 of them being goals. He had only scored four goals in his previous 38 games. Sometimes it takes time for a new line to click, but not these guys. The chemistry was immediate. The forward combo of Giroux, Couturier, and Konecny combined for 33 goals for, tied for 6th most in the NHL. I’m so eager to see what kind of points this line can put up with a full season playing with one another. Konecny has the talent to become a 60-point player, and it doesn’t hurt that he shares the ice with two great players like Couturier and Giroux.
While Konecny’s offensive prowess is considerable, an aspect of his game that needs improvement is his defense.
There were numerous times last season where his defensive deficiencies were hard to miss. Whether it was failing to back-check on an opponent’s rush, or missing an assignment in the defensive zone, he was struggling in his end. It got so bad that Hakstol eventually started benching Konecny late in close games because he didn’t trust him. Hakstol saw him as a liability, and it’s hard to argue he wasn’t. Konecny had the 3rd worst SCA/60 (scoring chances against per 60 minutes) on the team among Flyers forwards with at least 500 minutes of ice time and had the 2nd worst 5v5 def rating according to GAR.
I don’t think Konecny will ever become a two-way player, but he doesn’t have to be to contribute to this team. I’m not asking Konecny to become Sean Couturier, only that he improves his defense to a point where it’s no longer a liability and Hakstol can trust him not to have brain fart defensively in a close game.
- Can Dave Hakstol coach this roster to a second-round playoff series, somewhere the Flyers haven’t been since 2011?
The 2018-19 season will mark Dave Hakstol’s 4th year coaching the Orange and Black. He’s led the team to the playoffs twice, losing both times in the first round. Not too bad a start to an NHL coaching career.
However, Hakstol’s coaching career hasn’t been without controversy as he has made some head-scratching decisions. He’s benched Shayne Gostisbehere and Travis Konecny to “make a point.” In last season’s playoff series against the Penguins, Hakstol refused to break up the defensive pairing of Brandon Manning and Radko Gudas even though they were getting slaughtered. He’s started goalies in back-to-back games that data irrefutably tells us is a horrible idea.
Those are just a few examples I could think of. I’m sure you, the reader, could add to that list.
Suffice it to say, Hakstol has not endeared himself to me, nor to any of my friends who are also Flyers fans. Hakstol could change the narrative, though, with a deep playoff run, a task that got a little easier after the Flyers front office decided to spend some money.
Ron Hextall finally opened up the purse strings in free agency, signing James van Riemsdyk, giving Hakstol the deepest set of forwards he’s had in his short stint as an NHL coach. In addition to JVR, all the young kids had another year to develop. Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov are one of the best top pairings in the league, Sean Couturier is a legitimately great 2-way player, and Nolan Patrick began feeling himself at the end of the year and is only 20 years old.
Hakstol has the roster pieces to begin another great era of hockey in Philadelphia. While Hextall has conveyed his unwavering support for his coach, Hakstol has a lot riding on the team’s success this year, and anything less than a trip to the 2nd round of the playoffs should be considered a failure.