After a long off-season, the Philadelphia Flyers and the NHL season are back. One of the favorite sports teams in the Delaware Valley, the Flyers are saddled with high expectations every season. The question remains: will they live up to expectations this year?
This year’s team is very similar to last year’s. The Flyers did not make any significant changes to their roster, and feature many of the same players as last year’s team, which fell to the New York Rangers in the first round of the 2013-2014 Playoffs.
On offense, the Flyers still have a top-notch group of forwards that should score a lot of goals. The top line still features an elite team captain in Claude Giroux, as well as skilled wingers, Jake Voracek and Wayne Simmonds. However, Giroux and Voracek’s linemate from last year, Scott Hartnell, was traded during the off-season to Columbus for former Flyer RJ Umberger and a fourth round pick. Hartnell’s goal-scoring ability will be missed, but his awful skating skills surely will not.
Youngsters Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier will once again be expected to progress this year, as each will be thrust into prominent roles on the team. Schenn will be replacing Hartnell on the first line’s left wing, while Couturier will center the second line. The only other change to the Flyers offense is their fourth line, which now features high energy speedsters in Jason Akeson and Pierre-Edouard Bellamare, with penalty-on-skates Zac Rinaldo to provide some muscle. Akeson and Bellamare are quite different players from Rinaldo’s previous linemates, the skilless and brutal enforcers, Jay Rosehill and Adam Hall.
The biggest weakness of the Flyers last season was their defense, and somehow, their awful defensive corps became even worse this year. The defense did not change much over the summer, except for the loss of first pair defenseman Kimmo Timonen for the entire season due to a blood clot in his leg. The Flyers’ other first pair defenseman from last year, Braydon Coburn, is already injured, and will be out indefinitely to start the season. That leaves the Flyers defense to feature the turtle slow and injury-prone Nick Grossmann, the immobile Luke Schenn, the overpaid Andrew MacDonald, Mark Streit, and two journeymen in Michael Del Zotto and Nick Schultz. On the bright side, the Flyers have a plethora of young defensive talent in their system, some of whom could make their way onto the team at some point this season.
In the end, this year’s Flyers team simply does not look like a Stanley Cup contender, and their season will likely turn out similarly last year’s campaign. I predict that the Flyers will make the playoffs as one of the Eastern Conference wildcard teams, but I highly doubt that they will advance past the first or second round of the playoffs.