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 focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Philadelphia Flyers.
1. Is their goaltending good enough to take them on a long playoff run?
Going into last season, not many people expected the Flyers to be a playoff team. Sure, they were one of the up and coming squads in the league, but expecting them to make the postseason seemed to be a bit of a stretch. But they made the playoffs. They eventually lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round, but it was a positive season overall.
As always, the Flyers had issues with their goaltenders at times. The duo of Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth suffered through injuries and inconsistency, so GM Ron Hextall went out and acquired Petr Mrazek from Detroit. The Mrazek acquisition didn’t work out, so he’s no longer with the team (he signed with Carolina in free agency).
The big question is whether or not the Flyers can get it done with a duo of Elliott and Neuvirth. Both goaltenders aren’t true number ones at the NHL level. They go through times where they look like they are, but they tend to come crashing back down to earth eventually. Both are veterans, so it’s unlikely that they’ll suddenly emerge as superstar netminders.
[2017-18 review | Breakthrough: Travis Konecny | Under Pressure: JvR]
The wild card is all of this is Carter Hart. The top prospect is turning pro this year, which means he has zero experience at this level. He’ll start the year in the AHL, but what happens if he dominates at a young age? It’s not likely, but the possibility can’t be ignored.
Ultimately, the Flyers will probably have to roll with Elliott and Neuvrith. That means that a long playoff run is unlikely. Making it out of the first round with that duo would be a bonus for this team.
2. What happens to Wayne Simmonds?
This is a contract year for Simmonds, who had 24 goals and 46 points in 75 games last season. Those are the lowest offensive totals he’s put up during a full season since 2010-11. It’s hard to blame him when you look at all the injuries he dealt with. At trade deadline time, there were rumblings that the Flyers were willing to unload the rugged winger.
Now that they’ve inked James van Riemsdyk to a massive five-year contract, there might not be anymore room for Simmonds. That’s where things get a little tricky for Philadelphia. If they’re in the middle of a playoff race, can they really afford to let go via trade? Probably not. On the flip side, are they good enough that they can keep him and then lose him for nothing in free agency? Again, probably not.
So they’ll have to make a huge decision at some point. There’s a chance that management isn’t interested in bringing him back on a long-term deal that a player of his caliber will command on the open market. That’s understandable, too. He’s almost 30, he plays a physical style and he’s had his share of injuries. Players like Simmonds rarely age well.
“I’ve played in this league a long time and I think you come to realize as a player if you’re not at your top, you’re probably not going to be getting probably what you usually should,” Simmonds said, per NBC Sports Philly. “I know that’s what maybe went down at the end, there’s not really much I can say about that. If I was 100 percent, then I think there might be some annoyance, but I wasn’t 100 percent and I understand the situation that we’re in, the position that we’re in, we were fighting for the playoffs.”
The Flyers also have a number of in-house options that could step into a top-six role, as well. With Simmonds on the shelf, youngster Nolan Patrick saw his ice time increase. The second overall pick’s ice time probably won’t be going down this season, either.
3. Can Sean Couturier replicate what he did last season?
Coutier was one of the biggest surprises in the NHL last season. The 25-year-old had a career-high 31 goals and 76 points in 2017-18, which was 37 points more than his previous high. Those numbers came out of nowhere. Couturier was always regarded as a solid two-way player, but by putting him on a line with Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek, the Flyers discovered that he had a lot more to give.
Unfortunately for Couturier, he suffered a torn MCL after he collided with teammate Radko Gudas during a practice in April. He ended up missing Game 4 of the first-round series against the Pens, but he eventually came back and even had a five-point night in the final game of the series.
Couturier was expected to be ready to go for training camp, but this story took an interesting twist on Wednesday as Hextall announced the forward will miss a month with a knee injury.
All things considered, that’s not so bad (it could have been a lot worse). The big question now is: how will back-to-back knee injuries affect him both physically and mentally? The Flyers need Couturier to be the player he was last year. Anything less will be a huge disappointment.
Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.