Philadelphia Flyers ’15-16 Outlook

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The Philadelphia Flyers have built a great foundation, but it remains to be seen if their supporting cast is ready to help propel them into the playoffs.

Although it hasn’t always been the case, at this point it seems reasonable to bet on Steve Mason providing the Flyers with a strong presence between the pipes. At the same time, the chemistry that Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek have developed should result in the Flyers once again having one of the most effective top lines in the league. Even defensively, which tends to be seen as their weakest point, they have a solid anchor in Mark Streit.

A solid starting goaltender, great top line, and an effective offensive defenseman are a good start, but that in and of itself isn’t enough to make a serious contender, as the Flyers exemplified last season.

For example, a championship team typically has quite a bit of offensively depth, which Philadelphia didn’t possess in 2014-15. That problem could be largely addressed though if 24-year-old Brayden Schenn and 22-year-old Sean Couturier are able to make bigger contributions this season. There’s also a chance that newcomer Sam Gagner will prove to be an effective complimentary player or that Vincent Lecavalier or R.J. Umberger will bounce back.

Their defense is an even bigger question mark though. While it’s true that Philadelphia has a very promising group of defensive prospects, it’s entirely possible that none of them will be ready to make major contributions this season. That means that the Flyers might be relying in part on Michael Del Zotto, who has been inconsistent over the course of his career, to have a good season or that 32-year-old Yevgeni Medvedev will make a smooth transition from the KHL and at the very least prove to be a helpful stopgap measure.

There are certainly scenarios that can be painted in which this team bounces back and perhaps even enjoys a lengthy playoff run. However, with so many significant X-factors in play, Philadelphia will be interesting, but not necessarily successful in the short-term.

It’s Philadelphia Flyers Day at PHT

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Throughout the month of August, PHT will be dedicating a day to all 30 NHL clubs. Today’s team? The Philadelphia Flyers.

In 2013-14, the Philadelphia Flyers endured a terrible 1-7-0 start, but they improved as the campaign went on and still managed to make the playoffs. Last season they once again struggled out of the gate (0-2-2), but this time no comeback of significance was forthcoming.

There were silver linings to be sure. Steve Mason showed that his solid 2013-14 campaign wasn’t a fluke as he posted a 2.25 GAA and .928 save percentage in 51 games. After years of goaltending headaches, the fact that the 27-year-old netminder is secured for another two seasons with a reasonable $4.1 million annual cap hit is a big plus for Philadelphia. However, the Flyers largely squandered his strong play in 2014-15 as he had the NHL’s best GAA in losing efforts (2.67) among goaltenders that were charged with at least 10 defeats.

Philadelphia was credited with just 215 goals for, which left them in 22nd place. That’s despite the fact that Jakub Voracek stepped up in 2014-15 with 22 goals and a career-high 81 points in 82 contests.

Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds were the only other Philadelphia forwards that recorded at least 50 points as Sean Couturier and Brayden Schenn weren’t able to make a significant leap offensively, Vincent Lecavalier was used sparingly under coach Craig Berube, and R.J. Umberger struggled in his first season following the Scott Hartnell trade.

That all culminated in Philadelphia ending the season with a 33-31-18 record.

Off-season recap

After missing the playoffs, Flyers GM Ron Hextall fired Berube and replaced him with Dave Hakstol, who previously served as North Dakota’s bench boss. Philadelphia stayed busy in the lead up to the UFA period by inking veteran KHL defenseman Evgeni Medvedev, shipping forward Zac Rinaldo to Boston for a 2017 third-round pick, and trading Nicklas Grossmann along with Chris Pronger’s contract to Arizona in exchange for Sam Gagner.

When it came to the draft, Philadelphia realized it needed a forward, but with Ivan Provorov available for the seventh pick, Hextall couldn’t pass on the opportunity to grab the highly regarded defenseman.

The Flyers were relatively quiet during the free agent period, likely due in large part to their cap situation, but they did ink 27-year-old goaltender Michal Neuvirth to a two-year, $3.25 million deal. A veteran of 168 games, he’ll enter the season as Mason’s understudy.

Philadelphia might not be done yet though as they do have eight defensemen signed to one-way contracts, so the squad might part ways with one via the trade market. There’s also always the possibility that the Flyers will find a suitor for Lecavalier, although the fact that he has three seasons left on his contract with a $4.5 million annual cap hit makes moving him a challenge.

Report: Veteran Russian d-man Nikulin eyeing NHL move

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Interesting story out of the KHL — Ak Bars Kazan blueliner Ilya Nikulin is reportedly mulling a move to the NHL.

More, from the league’s English website:

In Kazan, fans are following Nikulin’s bid for an NHL deal with interest: many are still hoping that he might come back ‘home’ to Tatarstan if things don’t work out across the Atlantic, but [head coach Zinetula] Bilyaletdinov himself is looking to the future.

“I can understand why players like Medvedev and Nikulin want to try and play in the NHL,” he told Sovietsky Sport during the current pre-season tournament in Nizhny Novgorod. “It’s a good league, and it’s an honor to play there. I’m sure Ilya [Nikulin] will make the right choice and will get his contract over there.” 

“Medvedev” is 32-year-old Yevgeni Medvedev, who spent his entire professional career playing in Europe, most recently with Kazan, before signing a one-year, $3 million pact with the Flyers in May.

Nikulin, 33, was the 31st overall pick at the 2000 draft — taken by Atlanta — but never appeared in a game for the Thrashers, or North America for that matter. He played with Dynamo Moscow for the early parts of his pro career before moving to Kazan, where he’s been since 2005.

It remains to be seen what, if any, interest NHL teams have in Nikulin, or how much he has left in the tank. He is a regular on the Russian national team and is coming off a good offensive year with Kazan, scoring 13 goals and 28 points in 58 games.

Report: Burmistrov headed back to the NHL

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Alexander Burmistrov is headed back to the NHL according to a report out of Russia.

The 23-year-old, who has spent the past two seasons with Ak Bars Kazan of the KHL, last played in the NHL with the Winnipeg Jets during the lockout shortened 2012-13 season.

He hinted at a return to the NHL last summer following his first season in the KHL.

Burmistrov’s KHL teammate Evgeni Medvedev, who signed with the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday, is the one who broke the news to Russian reporters.

The center bolted for the KHL citing issues with then Jets’ coach Claude Noel.

Winnipeg still owns the rights to Burmistrov, who left the team as a restricted free agent after parts of three seasons.

He had 20 goals and 43 assists in 107 KHL games.

Burmistrov appeared in 194 NHL games with the Atlanta/Winnipeg franchise scoring 23 goals and 58 points before heading overseas.