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Three questions facing Philadelphia Flyers

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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 phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Building off a breakthrough: Travis Konecny

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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.

The Flyers have a couple of players who could be restricted free agents in the summer of 2019. One of them in Konecny, who posted 24-23—47 in 81 games last season while averaging 14:54 of ice time. He was most productive with linemates Sean Couturier and Claude Giroux, chipping in 27 of his 47 points at 5-on-5 with those two. The top line chemistry was unmatched as all three produced career seasons.

That was a big difference from 2016-17 when he was mixing time with Couturier, Jake Voracek, Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn during a rookie season that produced 10 goals and 28 points in just over 14 minutes of ice time a night.

[2017-18 review | Under Pressure: JvR | 3 Questions]

He learned from those rookie year benchings, minimized his mistakes and took smarter risks. All of that combined for a breakout season and the trust of head coach Dave Hakstol that he can hold his own on the top line.

But how much of his success can be attributed to the seasons of Couturier and Giroux? Konecny wasn’t as productive during early and late seasons stints off the top line and the defensive side of his game also suffered away from those two. Which should probably tell Hakstol to keep the 21-year-old with them, seeing as how well they work together and that there could be more to his game that’s yet to be unlocked.

“I think I’ve narrowed my game to where it’s effective for me and the team,” Konecny said in March. “This is good for me, I’m learning a lot. Honestly, I’m trying to play as safe as I can and as smart as I can and gain the trust of the coaching staff. Things like good defense leads to good offense, everyone says it, and cliché, but it seems to be working. I was worried about making mistakes before earlier this season. As of right now, I’m playing with a confidence that if I can’t make a play this time, I’ll get a chance to make a play the next time.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

It’s Philadelphia Flyers day at PHT

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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.

2017-18
42–26–14, 98 pts. (3rd in the Metropolitan Division, 6th in the Eastern Conference)
Playoffs: Lost in six games to the Pittsburgh Penguins, first round

IN
James van Riemsdyk
Christian Folin

OUT
Valtteri Filppula
Colin McDonald
Brandon Manning
Petr Mrazek
Matt Read

RE-SIGNED
Samuel Morin
Alex Lyon
Robert Hagg

It was a bumpy ride as the Flyers returned to the Stanley Cup Playoffs after a year off in 2017. The end of November saw the team holding an 8-10-7 record as they were in the middle of a 10-game losing streak. “Fire Hakstol” chants rang throughout Wells Fargo Center, but general manager Ron Hextall was preaching patience and stuck by his head coach. That losing streak was then followed by seven wins in eight games and strong months in January and February that helped put them into the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

The season ended in disappointment after a first-round exit at the hands of their rivals in Pittsburgh, but there were a lot of bright spots that were encouraging signs moving forward.

[Breakthrough: Travis Konecny | Under Pressure: JvR | 3 Questions]

Nolan Patrick, the No. 2 overall pick in 2017, had a strong rookie season with 13 goals and 30 points. Travis Konecny potted 24 goals and Scott Laughton and Jordan Weal saw extended ice time. That coupled with a 100-point season from Claude Giroux, an 85-point campaign from Jake Voracek, a 31-goal year from Sean Couturier and more steps forward for young blue liners Shayne Gostisbehere (65 points) and Ivan Provorov (17 goals, 24:09 TOI) set a nice foundation for 2018-19.

The addition of James van Riemsdyk could mean bye-bye to Wayne Simmonds. Or an extension. Who knows? Ask Hextall. But JvR’s addition gives the offense a boost and will aid their power play (JvR scored 11 PPGs in 2017-18).

Petr Mrazek is gone, so it’s Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth, who are both UFAs next summer, in goal again, with Carter Hart looming as the ‘tender of the future.

The Flyers have cap space to add a piece, if needed, and a highly-rated prospect pool. In a tough Metropolitan Division, they’ll need to get more from their youth and continue relying on their veterans in order to navigate an 82-game slate and find themselves as one of the lucky 16 teams playing in mid-April.

Prospect Pool

Joel Farabee, LW, 18, Boston University (NCAA) — 2018 first-round pick

Known for his two-way play, Farabee enters his freshman year with the Terriers coming off a productive season with the U.S. National Team Development Program. He scored 33 goals and recorded 76 points with the U-18s and posted 40 points in 26 games during their season in the USHL. While serving as captain for the Americans at the U-18 Worlds, he scored four goals eight points in seven games. So you can see why the Flyers were happy to get him 14th overall in June.

“He disguises whether it’s a shot or a pass,” Hextall said after development camp in July. “He’s got really quick hands. A lot of guys will come down, the goalie knows where they’re going to shoot, so you see goalies make a save and go, ‘That was quick.’ It really wasn’t because they read the puck off the stick blade. The puck is really hard to react to. Joel hides things. If he’s going to shoot the puck, he’ll turn his hands real quick, bang and let it go. Or he’ll open up for a shot and he’ll pass the puck. A lot of top guys in the league, you wonder why they score or how that pass went through … they’re showing hands to the defenseman, to the goalie. Joel is one of those guys.”

Carter Hart, G, 19, Everett Silvertips (WHL) — 2016 second-round pick

The 2017-18 WHL Player and Goalie of the Year was also the first player in CHL history to win the junior hockey goaltender of the year twice. He had a remarkable season with 41 wins, a 1.60 goals against average, seven shutouts and a .947 save percentage with the Silvertips. In the middle of that, he backstopped Canada to gold at the World Junior Championship with a 1.81 GAA and .930 SV% in six games. He’ll have a shot to get some time in the NHL, but he’ll likely be in AHL Lehigh Valley to get some seasoning as the Flyers figure out their goaltending situation for the future.

Morgan Frost, C, 19, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL) — 2017 first-round pick

Also getting a shot to stick with the big club is Frost, who put up 112-points last season. He’s doubled his goal output in junior in each of the last two seasons and his point total has jumped from 27 to 62 to 112 since 2015-16. He has playmaking ability and is a possibility to fill the third line center role. But Hextall has made it sounds like Frost is a little lower on the depth chart at the moment and like Hart, could see himself furthering his development in the AHL this season.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Should Flyers sign Simmonds long-term? It’s complicated

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An NHL GM can make mistakes in a lot of different ways.

One of the most challenging hurdles an executive must clear is determining whether they should keep quality (but aging) mid-level talent around. It’s easy to pinpoint the nucleus of your roster, and try to lock those players down – ideally for value – and it should be easy to disqualify the filler. But what about nice assets with cloudier stances in the pecking order?

It’s maybe a bit amusing that the Flyers signing James van Riemsdyk – a player the Maple Leafs ultimately decided wasn’t a core player – might open the door for Wayne Simmonds to leave Philadelphia under similar circumstances.

Flyers GM Ron Hextall admits that he’d like to keep Simmonds, but he also doesn’t know if it will work out.

“We’d like to sign Simmer,” Hextall said, via Sam Donnellon of the Philadelphia Inquirer. “Whether we can or not, I don’t have the answer to that.”

It’s fair to ask if the Flyers can sign Simmonds. It’s also reasonable to wonder if they should.

Now, if this wasn’t a salary cap league, a big-budget team like the Flyers probably wouldn’t fret about signing Simmonds, who’s an undeniable talent. Things get trickier when the belt tightens, and Hextall’s wise to acknowledge that there are some big decisions – and possibly mammoth raises to brilliant younger talents – coming in the near future.

So let’s explore many of the ins and outs of this situation, and the Flyers’ fascinating outlook with or without one of the league’s best power forwards.

Superb situational scorer

Possessing prolific power-play prowess might sometimes seem like a backhanded compliment (“He can’t score at 5-on-5,” – hypothetical jerks), but it can be highly valuable to unearth players who seem to score in those situations, year-in, and year-out.

Simmonds has been, unquestionably, a fantastic scorer on the power play since being traded to Philly. Since 2011-12 (his first season with the Flyers), Simmonds scored 86 power-play goals, the second-best total in the NHL during that frame. Only superhuman Alex Ovechkin was better, leaping tall buildings with a signal bound at 131 goals; Simmonds leads third-place Steven Stamkos by 10 goals (Stamkos had 76, albeit limited by injuries).

Fixating on the power play is only natural with Simmonds (86 of his 187 goals in 522 Flyers games came on the man advantage), yet he brings other strengths to the table.

While the physical winger’s fantasy value gets bumped up another notch by frequent trips to the penalty box (958 PIM in 762 career NHL regular-season games), Natural Stat Trick’s metrics show that he tends to draw about as many penalties as he takes. So that grit doesn’t necessarily put his team at a massive disadvantage.

Simmonds’ possession stats ebb and flow, but some of that might come down to the quality of his linemates. They were mostly “meh” at even-strength in 2017-18, with Valtteri Filppula and Jordan Weal ranking as his most common forward partners.

Between power plays and normal minutes, the bottom line is that Simmonds has been very productive. Last season’s 24 goals and 46 points were borderline alarming for him for the simple reason that he’s been very, very good at times for the Flyers. Simmonds previously scored at least 28 goals for four straight seasons, and with 24 last year, has five in a row with at least that many. He’s essentially been a 30-ish goal guy for most of his Flyers run, as he managed 15 goals in the 45 contests during the pattern and streak-ruining 2012-13 lockout season.

Long story short, there’s a lot to like about Simmonds. If the Flyers let him walk, plenty of teams will clamor for his services, and there are scenarios where he’d sign with a divisional rival and make his former team miserable.

The questions

Again, there are some stumbling blocks, especially if Simmonds wants serious term.

He’ll turn 30 on Aug. 26. While his rather unusual ability to score in tight might be a skill that actually ages well, there are reasons to also wonder if he’d hit the aging curve especially hard.

Most obviously, a physical player is involved in more demolition derby moments, and even if they “win” those collisions more often than not, they take a toll. (Consider that Scott Stevens retired in large part for health reasons, despite being the guy who was usually the culprit rather than victim of vicious hits.)

[James van Riemsdyk signing could spell end for Simmonds with Flyers]

Simmonds was slowed in 2017-18 by issues that ended up requiring core surgery. Maybe those issues can be considered a one-time thing, but age is a serious question here. With Claude Giroux (30), Jakub Voracek (28), and JVR (29) all signed to serious term and combining for a cap hit of $23.525M, the Flyers already boast some forwards whose contracts could become future problems.

JVR’s skills may also make Simmonds’ PP gifts relatively redundant. During his time with Toronto, 45 of James van Riemsdyk’s 154 goals came on the man advantage.

A clever special teams coach would look at a power play featuring JVR and Simmonds – along with gifted assets such as Giroux and Shayne Gostisbehere – as a buffet of brilliant options. Still, the salary cap sometimes dictates that team give up on luxuries to afford necessities, and JVR might make Simmonds expendable.

The bill’s coming

According to Cap Friendly, the Flyers currently enjoy a robust $13.22M in cap space.

With that in mind, it would be tempting to dismiss the fact that Simmonds is due to make a lot more than his bargain, expiring rate of $3.975M. The issue gets thornier when you consider other looming expenses, particularly if Simmonds – justifiably – seeks both a raise and serious term.

Ivan Provorov is entering a contract year, and Hextall might just want to get that situation wrapped up. The Flyers’ two goalies (Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth) will see their combined $5.25M evaporate after 2018-19. One way or another, netminding decisions are coming; it could be a cheap situation once more if Carter Hart ends up being ready, but it’s fuzzy right now.

Locking up the Provorov’s and eventually the Nolan Patrick‘s stand as serious concerns, yet there are also some positives that push the Simmonds decision closer to “go for it.”

Hextall’s been crafty with erasing the mistakes of the past, sometimes quickly and sometimes gradually. Some dead money will be fading soon, making it more plausible for a Simmonds deal to come into focus. Jori Lehtera‘s ghastly $4.7M goes away after next season. Andrew MacDonald‘s ridiculous $5M mercifully expires after 2019-10. They’ll also get to wave goodbye to Dale Weise, Michael Raffl, and Radko Gudas if they want to fairly soon.

Between some money coming off the books and (in an ideal world) another healthy jump for the salary cap, retaining Simmonds might become quite manageable. As Hextall acknowledges, some of the details need to be sorted out.

Wait-and-see?

Donnellon reports that Hextall said he’d be willing to negotiate with Simmonds into the season, and while that might seem like a throwaway detail, it might just be the ticket.

The bottom line is that it will be easier to understand how the pieces fall together (between JVR, Simmonds, and rising young talents such as Patrick and Travis Konecny) after seeing them all in action. JVR’s presence could just as easily boost Simmonds as it could push him to a secondary unit or clog too much of the same real estate in front of the net.

Taking that extra time could also give Hextall the opportunity to achieve cost certainty if he can figure out how much Provorov will cost, and if it would make sense to keep Elliott or Neuvirth around to support Hart.

The Flyers stand as a truly fascinating team to watch. There’s an appealing mix of established players and rising young stars, and if they can come to productive conclusions with the eternal questions about goaltending, they could rise from a playoff bubble team to a frequent, scary contender.

Figuring out what’s the best step to take with Simmonds – whether it be to sign him, let him walk, or trade him before his deal expires – is a very important decision.

For all we know, it could be one of the make-or-break factors as Hextall hopes to convert all of this potential into playoff glories.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Where they stand: Metropolitan Division

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As summer rolls on, PHT will examine the four NHL divisions and see how each individual team stands.

Previously: Atlantic Division

Carolina Hurricanes

Summer summary: If your main complaint about the Hurricanes was about the franchise getting too stagnant – considering that they’ve missed the playoffs since being swept from the 2009 Eastern Conference Final – then the team has you covered. Ron Francis is out as GM, making way for Don Waddell. Rod Brind’Amour replaced Bill Peters as head coach. And the team will look different on the ice, too.

It was quite the draft weekend for the Hurricanes. To start, they selected Andrei Svechnikov, a forward who might be the sort of true game-breaker they crave, with the second overall pick. While that was a no-brainer, they made waves the next day by sending Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm to Calgary for Dougie Hamilton, Micheal Ferland, and prospect Adam Fox.

Cam Ward‘s finally gone, with Petr Mrazek coming in with the hopes of supporting Scott Darling after a disastrous first season as Carolina’s would-be No. 1 goalie. To avoid introducing too much change, Carolina maintained its status as analytics darlings by adding solid defenseman Calvin de Haan to an increasingly impressive group.

More to do?: The Hurricanes come into 2018-19 with a ton of cap space and an anxiousness to break the playoff drought, so you wonder if they might want to jump in, say, the Max Pacioretty sweepstakes.

Every indication – seriously, just about every indication – is that the Hurricanes will be on a tight budget, however, so there might not be many big moves brewing.

That said, perhaps Jeff Skinner gets traded? The talented skater is entering a contract year, and the Hurricanes might not want to cough up a new contract, so we’ll wait and see there.

Where they stand: In a familiar place, seemingly on the precipice of a breakthrough, yet also with serious questions about goaltending.

(The more things change, the more they stay the same, huh?)

The Hurricanes boast quite a bit of talent, but also a lot to prove, especially with a new coach and Hamilton stepping in as a prominent new defenseman. Will they fall short of the hype once again?

Columbus Blue Jackets

Summer summary: Generally speaking, the most prominent talk about changes in Columbus revolve around next summer.

Both Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin are entering contract years, and Panarin in particular seems to be a tough nut to crack. The Blue Jackets might feel the need to trade Panarin rather than seeing him walk for nothing (except cap space) in free agency. It’s a disquieting situation, as Panarin showed signs of being the difference-maker the Blue Jackets have lacked ever since they climbed into relevance.

Columbus did make some nice low-risk, medium-reward plays, though. Anthony Duclair is an interesting addition considering his bargain rate, and Riley Nash could be a savvy pickup, too.

More to do?: Again, sorting situations out with Panarin and “Bob” should keep the Blue Jackets very busy.

Not much has been made of this, but Cap Friendly pegs their space at about $5.63 million, and that’s with an overstuffed roster. If the Blue Jackets decide to just roll the dice in 2018-19 and then let the pieces fall how they may when it comes to Panarin, maybe they’d be wise to try to land an expiring contract? Skinner, Max Pacioretty, and Erik Karlsson all could conceivably push this team over the top.

The Blue Jackets could justify a vacation before things pick up, generally, as most of their concerns are more forward-thinking.

Where they stand: No doubt, it must be beyond frustrating for Columbus to see the Stanley Cup winner come out of their division for three seasons in a row, yet they still haven’t won a single playoff series as a franchise. Such frustrations clearly boiled over when Torts beefed about Jack Johnson‘s perceived slights while joining the hated Penguins.

New Jersey Devils

Summer summary: If you count Taylor Hall winning the 2018 Hart Trophy, this was a solid-enough summer for the Devils.

New Jersey deserves credit for restraint, more than anything else, this off-season. Sure, it would be great to continue adding key pieces, as they’ve done for multiple summers now. Still, plenty of franchises overreact to an unexpected postseason surge by making reckless, shortsighted investments.

Instead, the Devils allowed Michael Grabner, Patrick Maroon, and John Moore walk rather than possibly giving them problem contracts. GM Ray Shero clearly prefers maintaining flexibility for the moments when he might be able to land another asset in a winning trade. Can you blame him?

More to do?: Unless the Devils are lurking on another big deal, it’s mostly smaller stuff, like signing RFAs Miles Wood and Steve Santini. It might not hurt to start battering around potential extension offers with Will Butcher, though, as he’s on a deal that expires after 2018-19.

Where they stand: Hall provided a Herculean effort to get the Devils into a surprise spot in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. To make a repeat appearance, he’d almost certainly need to be as good or better this season.

New Jersey heads into this campaign as an underdog once again, yet there’s quite a bit to like about what the Devils are cooking. They still need some help behind Hall to really scare other teams, though.

New York Islanders

Summer summary: *Cough* oh dear, this is awkward.

So, the Islanders began the summer on a relatively strong note. They enjoyed one of the best weekends at the 2018 NHL Draft and brought in Lou Lamoriello as GM, who then hired a reigning Stanley Cup winning coach in Barry Trotz. Pretty, pretty good.

All of that crumbled, of course, when John Tavares decided to leave the Islanders for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Lamoriello responded to that rebuke by clogging up an already expensive bottom-of-the-order with a blah contract for Leo Komarov, a mediocre signing in Valtteri Filppula, and trading for Matt Martin. Yikes.

At least their moves in net might help stem the tide in that regard. Jaroslav Halak‘s turbulent era is over, as volatile (but occasionally brilliant) goalie Robin Lehner comes in to compete with Thomas Greiss and others.

More to do?: The Islanders need to think long and hard about trading some valuable players entering contract years rather than risking losing them altogether, or signing them to deals that could end up being a waste of money. (Sometimes it’s better just to commit to a rebuild instead of taking half-measures.)

Jordan Eberle, Brock Nelson, and Anders Lee all see their current deals expire after 2018-19. Trading one or more of those useful forwards could give the Islanders’ rebuild another big boost.

Where they stand: Look, the dark times have outweighed the peaks for Islanders fans for decades now. Asking for patience won’t be the easiest sell.

That said, with a budding star in Mathew Barzal, the Islanders have a chance to – in a way – get the Tavares situation right this time. They merely need to look around their division to see teams that landed premium prospects in multiple drafts, made some smart moves on the periphery, and yes, enjoyed some good fortune to turn things around.

Finishing at or near the playoff bubble year after year did them very little good.

New York Rangers

Summer summary: Around trade deadline time, the Rangers embraced a rebuild much like the Islanders arguably should. They took another step in that direction by replacing polarizing head coach Alain Vigneault with David Quinn. The Rangers’ logic all seemed sound here.

Still, as an “it” destination for free agents, there might have been a temptation to, say, throw a bunch of money at Ilya Kovalchuk as the latest quick-fix.

(After all, the Rangers have been seduced by headline-grabbing moves essentially since Glen Sather started chewing cigars at MSG.)

Instead, they stood pat, and time will tell if they made the most of three first-rounders and six picks within the first three rounds.

More to do?: The Rangers still have plenty of work to do. Three RFAs still need contracts: promising defenseman Brady Skjei, plus forwards Ryan Spooner and Kevin Hayes. Even modest deals will eat into what’s currently a robust $19.18M in cap space.

More interesting questions loom around some other players. Would the Rangers consider shopping beloved winger Mats Zuccarello, who’s entering a contract year and might not want to stick around for a rebuild considering he’s already 30? Also, if Artemi Panarin favors a market like New York, would the Rangers be able to move closer to competing close to 2019-20? Management needs to answer questions like these.

Where they stand: This team seems fairly transparent about pivoting for at least one season. Credit management for seeing the writing on the wall, though 2018-19 could be painful to watch as a result.

It’s fascinating to wonder how Henrik Lundqvist truly feels about all of this, and how many times he’ll snare victory from the jaws of defeat (maybe to the Rangers’ short-term detriment).

Philadelphia Flyers

Summer summary: Spending $35M over five years is a bit pricey to be called a “mulligan,” but either way, the Flyers brought back James van Riemsdyk after getting hosed in the Luke Schenn trade. GM Ron Hextall’s M.O. mostly revolves around being patient and either trading away lousy deals or letting them evaporate with time, so it should be fascinating to see how an old-fashioned, big-money Flyers signing works out in a more … stable era.

The Flyers showed signs of breakthrough in pushing for the postseason, from Claude Giroux getting his game back on track, the rise of defensemen Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere, Sean Couturier‘s ascent, and Nolan Patrick making some significant second-half strides.

More to do?: Somewhat like Columbus, the Flyers’ biggest concerns rest on what to do after 2018-19.

Wayne Simmonds is due a big raise, and it’s plausible that JVR is penciled in to be his replacement. Both Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth are entering contract years, so the Flyers’ perpetual goalie questions seem likely to continue. Ivan Provorov’s about to enter the final year of his rookie deal, too.

Clearing up those situations – eventually – will play a big role in Philly’s future.

Where they stand: The Flyers are already translating promise to tangible results. Hyped players like Provorov are producing as advertised.

So it seems like the Flyers have “good” more or less locked down. The next step ranks as one of the toughest mountains to climb in sports: going from good to great. There’s a solid chance that the Flyers can make that leap, but it won’t necessarily be easy.

Pittsburgh Penguins

Summer summary: After falling short of a three-peat, the Penguins made some interesting choices.

The key subtraction was Conor Sheary while it seemed like the team’s machinations went into landing Jack Johnson. By just about any metric (beyond “third pick of the 2005 NHL Draft” and “Sidney Crosby‘s friend”), Johnson isn’t particularly effective. The Penguins’ front office obviously believes otherwise, and their off-season basically comes down to exchanging Sheary, Matt Hunwick, and others for Johnson.

More to do?: Pittsburgh doesn’t have any free agents left to deal with, but there are some pressing issues after this coming season. The biggest wild card is that Jake Guentzel is scheduled to become an RFA after his rookie deal expires. What to pay a player with solid stats in the regular season, but most noticeably, generating an excellent 42 points in 37 playoff games? 

There are other smaller questions. There were also strange rumors about Phil Kessel being shopped (hot take: they probably shouldn’t do that). But, generally speaking, the big picture for Pittsburgh is the status quo.

Where they stand: The Penguins won the Stanley Cup twice in a row, then finished last season in the second round. Despite such an impressive run, Pittsburgh seems poised to contend once again, as they still have Crosby, Kessel, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, and Matt Murray.

There’s always concern about hitting a wall, though, particularly since the Penguins’ core players have so much mileage on them between deep postseason runs, international play, and in many cases a decade-plus of intense NHL play.

Crosby and Kessel are 30; Malkin and Letang are both 31. The Penguins’ window should still be open, probably for a while. Even so, fates can turn on a dime in sports. There’s always the chance that this talented group slips.

Washington Capitals

Summer summary: The summer … you mean, one long hangover for the Capitals? After years of frustration, Alex Ovechkin & Co. won it all after it seemed like the best opportunities went out the window. Repeating won’t be easy, but it’s probably the No. 1 problem the Caps always wanted to have.

The Capitals saw some losses, though smaller than you might expect from a team that just won the Stanley Cup. Jay Beagle was well-liked, but ranks as an expendable “energy guy,” while Brooks Orpik left and then returned. The toughest loss is Philipp Grubauer, an excellent backup receiving his chance to transition into a top guy with Colorado. If Braden Holtby stumbles in the regular season again, the Capitals’ grip on the Metro crown may finally loosen.

Overall, Washington did a nice job keeping players at a reasonable clip, including somewhat unexpectedly managing to retain John Carlson‘s services. Rather than falling into the trap of giving playoff heroes way too much money, the Caps generally leveraged the “we just won” factor to sign Michal Kempny and Devante Smith-Pelly to perfectly reasonable contracts.

Of course, the biggest change of all ranks as quite unusual. You don’t see coaches leave teams they won Stanley Cups with very often (Mike Keenan comes to mind; Jimmy Johnson in the NFL), yet that is exactly what happened with Barry Trotz. Todd Reirden faces the tough task of attempting to repeat as a rookie head coach.

More to do?: Tom Wilson remains an RFA without a salary arbitration date, which could make contract negotiations tricky. Aside from Andre Burakovsky and Jakub Vrana, the Capitals don’t really have many tough contract situations to sort out in the near future, either.

Interestingly, Washington might actually be in a halfway-decent spot to try to land a premium rental. While Wilson will eat up a significant chunk of the available space, Cap Friendly puts Washington’s room at about $6.27M right now.

Where they stand: They’re the defending champions and they didn’t lose a major piece of their roster. In hindsight, it’s easy to see why the Capitals won: they have two fantastic centers, the world’s most lethal sniper, a reliably excellent goalie, and some other very nice supporting cast members to buoy their chances.

Like their BFFs in Pittsburgh, there’s concern about the aging curve, though both teams are more likely to worry about tougher days on the horizon rather than next season.

Still, it’s worth noting that Ovechkin is 32, Nicklas Backstrom is 30, and T.J. Oshie is somehow 31. They aren’t ancient by any stretch, but some players hit the wall sooner – and harder – than others.

Considering the victory parade that may stretch (unofficially) through the regular season, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Capitals see a slight dip through the dog days of 2018-19. It’s most likely that they’ll place themselves in a strong position to defend their title once the games start to matter quite a bit more.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.