All things considered, the Flyers had a fairly successful 2015-16.
Led by a rookie head coach and coming off a season in which they missed the playoffs, expectations were tempered heading into the year. There were some onerous contracts on the books, and the “defense of the future” was still that — something for the future.
Well, mostly for the future.
It’s easy to look at last season and focus on the biggest positive — the breakout of Shayne Gostisbehere. The dynamic blueliner didn’t open the year with the club, but made an immediate impact upon his November recall and quickly put his name in the history books.
He set an NHL record for points in consecutive games by a rookie blueliner, and became the first to score four OT goals in a single campaign. He then capped things off by finishing second to Artemi Panarin for the Calder Trophy.
Ghost was great, no doubt.
But the year wasn’t all about him.
Brayden Schenn also enjoyed a breakout campaign, scoring a career-best 26 goals and 59 points, earning him a four-year, $20.5 million extension. Wayne Simmonds cracked the 30-goal plateau for the first time in his career, and the goaltending tandem of Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth proved an effective one-two punch.
Those efforts masked what was a modest year from captain Claude Giroux, and a disappointing 55-point effort from Jake Voracek, he of the $66 million contract.
Speaking of contracts, the guy that signs ’em, GM Ron Hextall, had himself a pretty solid season. He unloaded one of the aforementioned albatrosses — Vincent Lecavalier — on the Kings, in a midseason deal that also saw Luke Schenn head to Hollywood.
And the first-year bench boss did well, too.
Longtime North Dakota man Dave Hakstol was an unconventional choice — few coaches make the leap from NCAA hockey to the NHL — but eventually proved his worth, especially late in the year when the Flyers went 12-4-3 down the stretch, and snuck into the postseason.
Philly was eventually dispatched by Washington in Round 1, but not before rallying from an 0-3 deficit to push the series to six games.
There was a real sense Philly building something last season, and the process wouldn’t be rushed. That philosophy carried over to the offseason, where Hextall was reasonably quiet, the biggest splashes being the R.J. Umberger buyout, and a four-year deal for grinding winger Dale Weise in free agency.
That approach makes sense, too.
Eventually, Gostisbehere’s fellow blueline prospects — Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim, Samuel Morin and Robert Hagg — will be ready to make the leap, and there are good young talents up front as well (think Travis Konecny, Nick Cousins and, further down the road, ’16 first-rounder German Rubstov).
All that said, Philly still has work to do.
Some unappealing contracts remain on the books — like Andrew MacDonald‘s, and Matt Read‘s — and 38-year-old Mark Streit has one year left on his deal. Hextall pulled off some magic in unloading Lecavalier last season, but that might prove difficult with those three.
As such, the situation in Philly can be summed up like this:
The future is certainly bright.
The big question is when will it all be on display.