So, Will The Flyers Be Any Good This Season?
The Flyers used to be a sure bet for the playoffs every year. Ed Snider would assemble a team of French Canadians, Regular Canadians, Americans and maybe a Scandinavian or two; the Flyers would finish in the top half of the conference and they’d make the playoffs. This happened every year except one from 1994-95 season to the 2011-12 season (when hockey wasn’t locked out). It didn’t really matter that the Flyers never won the Stanley Cup; the team would draw nearly 20,000 a game every year to South Philadelphia, and things were good. What other Philadelphia sports team could boast such (regular season) success?
In two out of the last three years, however, the Flyers have not made the postseason. The one year they did (2013–14) they lost in the first round to the Rangers. Instead of coming into this season as legitimate Stanley Cup contenders — hockey playoffs are weird and long, any team that qualifies can make a run — they are coming in defending themselves. “Philadelphia Flyers out to prove critics wrong,” is the headline on a story by longtime Courier Times Flyers beat writer Wayne Fish. “Giroux out to prove Flyers better than expected,” reads today’s Daily News back cover. Even Comcast SportsNet, which has the same parent company as the team, headlines its piece: “Claude Giroux: Flyers using outside doubt as motivation.”
It’s true: Not one ESPN expert has the Flyers winning the Metropolitan Division. No writers at Sports Illustrated picked the Flyers to even make the playoffs. “With [backup goaltender Michal] Neuvirth as insurance,” SI writes in another article, “do the Flyers defensively challenged Flyers pick up enough points to challenge for a playoff berth?” The Flyers are such an afterthought no one has even fixed that typo yet.
Which leads us to this: Uh-oh. Are the Flyers going to be bad this season? Will this year of Philadelphia sports horror never end?
First off, some reason to be optimistic: The Flyers have a long history, consisting of their entire existence, of searching for a goaltender. Even when they have good goaltenders (and they’ve had some great ones!) they always are looking for a goaltender. There always seem to be issues. Fortunately, last year goaltending was not the problem. Despite having a leaky defense, Steve Mason had the third-best save percentage in hockey last year.
Plus, there’s Claude Giroux, the player so good people write erotic fan fiction about him. The captain remains an elite player, and if the Flyers are going to make the playoffs this year, they will likely need a great season from Giroux.
The problem, though, is the Flyers have essentially the same roster as last season. Giroux is good. Jake Voracek is good. The Flyers’ young guys are getting older and better. But they still have a roster similar to last season. There are a few new fringe guys (the team did keep up 21-year-old center Scott Laughton). The team waived pricey defenseman Andrew MacDonald. They have a new backup goaltender. That’s just not that much different, though.
The primary difference this year is the new coach, Dave Hakstol. Previously, he coached 11 years at the University of North Dakota. Who knows? Maybe he’s the greatest coach of all time. Maybe he can be the Flyers’ Chip Kelly! Er, wait.
The Flyers open the season tonight in Tampa against the defending Eastern Conference champion Lightning. The home opener is Monday against Florida. We’ll know soon if the pundits, or the Flyers, are right.