Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Philadelphia Flyers.
Let’s take a look three questions facing the 2019-20 Flyers:
1. Is Carter Hart the real deal?
This is the same sort of question that’s being posed about Jordan Binnington this offseason.
Both Hart and Binnington began their seasons, loosely, around the holidays. That meant they didn’t play full campaigns and weren’t exposed to the rigors that a full NHL season can bring.
But if you’re a Philly fan, you have to like the sample size you were given. Hart didn’t exactly fold under pressure. If anything, he seemed to thrive in the environment and fans certainly got behind him.
That being said, the expectations have been turned up to max at this point. And that’s where the real challenge for the 21-year-old begins.
And given his tender age, one could question whether or not he’s being rushed — even with his breakout performance in the second half.
For him to build off last year, the team in front of him has to follow. The Flyers allowed the second-most five-on-five goals last season. Team defense was flat-out atrocious at times, yet Hart put up a respectable .917 save percentage.
Hart may very well be the real deal. It’s up to the Flyers not to ruin that.
2. What impact will Kevin Hayes have?
On paper, $50 million over seven years is a lot for a guy who has reached 50 points just once in his five-year NHL career.
But let’s put the money aside for a second and look at where Hayes may help the squad.
As the team’s de-facto second-center, Hayes now allows Claude Giroux to move out to the wing, where he scored 102 points two seasons ago. Giroux is a point-per-game player at center, surely, but diversifying and adding 20-ish more points isn’t a bad thing, and Hayes allows for that.
[MORE: 2018-19 summary | Under Pressure | Patrick the X-factor]
As the team’s second-line center, Hayes’ presence also allows Nolan Patrick to move to the third-line role where the former No. 2 overall pick can develop his game further while facing lesser competition. Patrick, despite his high draft position, could have used a year in the American Hockey League. He wasn’t afforded that chance.
Hayes can also bring solid contributions to the penalty kill, a real sore spot for the Flyers last season. He should complement Sean Couturier well in that regard and it should boost the teams 26th ranking at the same time.
3. Are the Flyers reverting to old ways?
It’s a question I asked back in June after the Hayes signing and I think it still is worth pondering now.
Ron Hextall tried to do what has made other teams successful in the long run — a slow build, through the draft, developing talent in house and building up an asset base. His patient approach clearly wore on the impatient higher-ups in Philly.
Enter Chuck Fletcher. He’s the exact opposite of Hextall, preferring a win-now-style approach that has included trips to the bargain bin while casting a large contract to a middle-of-the-road centerman.
Methodical rebuilds aren’t a Philly thing. But maybe they should start, especially is Hart shows to be a legitimate No. 1 this season. That’s something you can build around, however enticing it might be to think you can just win now.
The last thing the Flyers need is to heap so much pressure on a young Hart that he implodes because of it. There’s been enough of that sort of thing with goalies in Philly over the years.
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule
Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck