Have the Flyers Improved from Last Season in Key Areas?
The dark days of the hockey offseason are nearing an end. Very soon, a new season will reach its dawn as training camps open, the preseason nears and meaningful regular season games sit just around the corner.
With the Flyers offseason plan essentially complete -- with the exception of training camp happenings -- have the Flyers done enough to show improvement in key areas from a season ago?
Here are some of those areas and how the Flyers addressed these areas in the offseason.
Penalty Kill - The James van Riemsdyk signing does nothing for the penalty kill and in terms of personnel, the Flyers didn’t do much to improve this area from the outside. If anything, the only way this area will be improved is if players from within start to step up.
The Flyers still have Sean Couturier to lead the way among forwards on the PK, assuming he's healthy, and can utilize players like Wayne Simmonds, Claude Giroux and Scott Laughton there as well, but it will likely take a player like Travis Konecny, Oskar Lindblom, Jordan Weal or Nolan Patrick to show that two-way ability and start to take on more of a role.
Defensively, Ivan Provorov is obviously a fit for the PK and Robert Hagg had a place there as well. Andrew MacDonald still slots in there too and figure that either Radko Gudas, Christian Folin or another young defenseman like Travis Sanheim slots in there too.
Depth - On the other hand, this is an area the Flyers were able to address much more indirectly than you think. Obviously JVR is a big add for the Flyers offensively, but what about what that signing does to the rest of the lines. You have Giroux, Couturier and Konecny on the top line. You have JVR, Patrick and Jake Voracek on the second line. Suddenly, that makes Lindblom and Simmonds third-line forwards. That’s certainly improved depth across the top nine.
Consider what the Flyers had a season ago, at least to start. Lindblom wasn’t up to the NHL yet. Patrick was still not 100 percent healthy. Simmonds played through injury. Beyond Giroux, Couturier, Konecny and Voracek, you were left with Michael Raffl, Valtteri Filppula, Jori Lehtera, Dale Weise. It wasn’t enough.
The Flyers can get away with a combination of those guys on the fourth line. They can’t have them playing second or third-line minutes and expect to succeed. Regardless of who steps into the third-line center role -- be it Weal or Laughton or somebody else -- the Flyers top three lines have improved even more from the end of last season.
Defense - Slowly but surely, the Flyers are starting to shed some of the dead weight from the back end and open up a spot for a young defenseman. This offseason, it was Brandon Manning cycled out of the rotation and a spot left open for the likes of Sanheim or Phil Myers.
Does that make the Flyers defense better? The more experience that Provorov, Shayne Gostisbehere, Sanheim and Hagg get, the better. They can only improve as their young careers progress. More than anything, the way to judge this area is two-fold -- see how the combinations look and how well these young defenders are able to play without the puck.
Goaltending - This is an area where the Flyers hands are really tied this offseason. With both Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth under contract, don’t expect any change in personnel at all.
Elliott was a solid netminder for the Flyers for stretches until his injuries late in the season. Neuvirth shows flashes of greatness, but can’t stay healthy. That much should keep Alex Lyon, Anthony Stolarz and even Carter Hart on notice.
There’s really no chance Hart makes the team out of training camp. He’s entering his first professional season and would need to surpass four goalies on the depth chart to make the team. That said, if everything breaks a certain way and his number is called, it’s not out of the question to see him in the NHL this season.
What’s more likely to happen is for Lyon to get another long look at the NHL level. Lyon performed well, all things considered, in a small sample size last season and deserves an opportunity to stick at this level.
The answer to this question is somewhat incomplete then. The Flyers are going to improve between the pipes by the 2019-20 season, when a spot clearly opens up, probably for Hart. For now, it’s another season of stopgaps in the crease.
Kevin Durso is Flyers insider for 97.3 ESPN and Flyers editor for SportsTalkPhilly.com. Follow him on Twitter @Kevin_Durso.