(The 2019-20 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to look at all 31 teams. We’ll be breaking down strengths and weaknesses, whether teams are better or worse this season and more!)
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Better or Worse: Better, although it remains to be seen if the Flyers get their money’s worth.
Kevin Hayes has a strong chance to serve as an elusive 2C, but there will be significant pressure stemming from a risky contract that carries a $7 million AAV. How you grade other moves comes down to taste. Is Matt Niskanen due for a bounce-back season, or did the Flyers just waste money and flexibility on a downgrade from Radko Gudas? Alain Vigneault brings name recognition and decent resume to the table, but his teams have often been swamped from a possession standpoint. We may look back at this situation and realize that Scott Gordon might have been the better option.
Strengths: If everything breaks right, the Flyers have a nice mix of veterans with enough left in the tank (Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, James van Riemsdyk), players in the meat of their primes (Sean Couturier, Shayne Gostisbehere), and young talent about to make the leap (Carter Hart, Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny).
Nolan Patrick has been a bit of a disappointment, but with Couturier taking 1C and Hayes slotting in at 2C, the second overall pick of the 2017 NHL Draft may flourish against lesser competition.
If everything pans out, the Flyers could have a nice mix of scoring, modern-style defense, and goaltending. I’d expect a lot of the things that went wrong in 2018-19 to correct in 2019-20, though it’s possible that the Flyers’ outlook was inflated a bit by a lot going right in 2017-18.
Weaknesses: There are reasons to wonder if certain players are overrated. Management may have put too much stock in Niskanen and Justin Braun, two players who’ve had a rough go of things lately and are 32. Even Ivan Provorov might not be quite as dynamic as many believe.
Rolling with Carter Hart is mostly smart, but it’s unsafe to merely assume that he’ll have a strong season. He’s still pretty wet behind the ears, and was actually struggling a bit in the AHL with a .902 save percentage before his big call-up. Brian Elliott isn’t exactly the greatest safety net either, considering his struggles on the ice lately — when he can even be healthy enough to suit up.
It’s also fair to worry about Father Time limiting the likes of Giroux and Voracek, not just players like Niskanen. Even JVR is already 30.
Frankly, recent experience points to Vigneault being a weakness, especially if he indulges in too much of a fixation with fighters, as he notoriously did with Tanner Glass in New York.
[MORE: 3 Questions | Under Pressure | Patrick the X-factor]
Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being red hot): Hiring Alain Vigneault felt like one of several Flyers moves based on reputation and name recognition. Ron Hextall had introduced the rare concept of “patience” to this often-impetuous franchise, yet Chuck Fletcher is bringing a nostalgic air of chaos. I’d expect Vigneault to be fairly safe in his first year, so let’s put him at three.
Three Most Fascinating Players: Hart, Patrick, Sanheim.
The Flyers have a lot hinging on Hart, so we’ll see if he can justify his pedigree, and all of the relief people felt when he looked so promising late last season. It figures to be a less volatile situation than last season’s rotation of eight goalies, but that doesn’t mean it’s a guaranteed success.
Fans would be wise not to daydream too much about how much more potent this Flyers team would look with Miro Heiskanen (third overall) or Elias Pettersson (fifth overall) instead of Patrick at that second pick from 2017. Even if you can ignore such painful thoughts, the bottom line is that Philly needs more from the 21-year-old.
During Gordon’s interim run, Sanheim got a big bump in stature, and he delivered with promising play. Will that carry over with AV, or will Sanheim sink?
Playoffs or Lottery: The Flyers figure to be a bubble team not unlike what they were in 2017-18. While I’m not sure they’ll make the playoffs, that seems like a safer bet than Philadelphia being lottery-bound.
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
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James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.