Though they haven’t added any of the sexier names that changed teams — guys like P.K. Subban, Artemi Panarin, and Matt Duchene — the Flyers have had a solid offseason.
They added size, improved their defense, signed a No. 2 center, and hired Alain Vigneault, the 12th-winningest coach in NHL history.
Were the offseason moves enough to push them into the postseason? Enough to produce their first winning playoff series since 2012?
Time will tell.
Having Carter Hart, a potential franchise goaltender, from the start of the season — and not having to endure another Year of Eight Goalies — will also work in the Flyers’ favor.
While the Flyers made upgrades and should push for a playoff spot, the teams below them in the Metropolitan Division last season did even better. The teams in front of them, however, haven’t had overwhelming offseasons. Then again, they were ahead of the Flyers for a reason when last season ended.
Here’s how teams in the division look after their makeovers, listed in last season’s order of finish:
1. Capitals (104 points last season; eliminated by Carolina in seven first-round games): The gifted Caps traded experience (Matt Niskanen) for physicality (Radko Gudas) on the back end. The other additions (Richard Panik, Garnet Hathaway) and subtractions (Brett Connolly, Andre Burakovsky, Brooks Orpik’s retirement) don’t improve the Capitals, but another 100-point season is possible.
2. Islanders (103 points; swept by Carolina in second round): Losing a free-agent battle for Panarin to the rival Rangers disappointed the fan base, but retaining Anders Lee helped ease the blow. Semyon Varlamov (2.87 GAA, .909 save percentage), who is solid but unspectacular, has replaced Robin Lehner (2.13, .930), so it’s fair to wonder if the Isles will match last year’s stunningly successful regular season.
3. Penguins (100 points; swept by Islanders in first round of the playoffs): The Penguins lost Phil Kessel (27 goals, 82 points) but gained Alex Galchenyuk (19 goals, 41 points), who will benefit from playing alongside Evgeni Malkin. They appeared to overpay for feisty Brandon Tanev, a 14-goal scorer who got a six-year, $21 million contract, and they dealt shot-blocking defenseman Olli Maatta for forward Dominik Kahun (13 goals, 37 points). The Pens aren’t getting younger and their defense is a question mark.
4. Hurricanes (99 points; swept by Boston in conference finals). They added top-six winger Erik Haula, goaltenders James Reimer and Anton Forsberg (and re-signed Petr Mrazek), and, perhaps most important, matched Montreal’s offer sheet to star center Sebastian Aho. The hard-to-play-against Hurricanes are poised to build on their surprising season, which was fueled by bombastic Don Cherry’s claim that they were a “bunch of jerks.”
5. Blue Jackets (98 points; eliminated by Boston in six second-round games): The Jackets’ cannon will be much more silent this season. Quite simply, they have had an awful offseason and are one of the teams the Flyers should climb past. Gone: Sergei Bobrovsky, Panarin, Duchene, and Ryan Dzingel. In: Gustav Nyquist. Enough said.
6. Flyers (82 points; missed playoffs): The Flyers will be in the playoff mix if Niskanen and Justin Braun, coming off disappointing seasons, return to form and stabilize a young (but potentially dynamic) defense, one that was turnover-prone last season. Adding Kevin Hayes, a solid all-around player, should make Nolan Patrick more effective as he drops to the third line and gets more favorable matchups. The Flyers will try to win games like the Blues did en route to the Stanley Cup — with a sturdy defense and a terrific young goalie.
7. Rangers (78 points; missed playoffs): No Metro team has had a better offseason than the Blueshirts. They drafted right winger Kaapo Kakko with the No. 2 overall pick (they went from No. 6 to No. 2 in the draft lottery), and he figures to make an immediate impact. They signed the league’s top unrestricted free agent, Panarin, and they added Jacob Trouba and Adam Fox, who are expected to be on the first and second defensive pairings, respectively. A playoff spot isn’t out of the question.
8. Devils (72 points; missed playoffs): They got lucky and moved up from No. 3 to No. 1 in the draft lottery and selected Jack Hughes with the top overall pick. Hughes and top-liner Nico Hischier, the No. 1 overall pick in 2017, give the Devils a pair of exciting young centers on the first two lines. New Jersey also acquired star defenseman Subban and signed right winger Wayne Simmonds, the former Flyer who said he plans to prove to other teams that he has a lot left in the tank. The Devils still have defensive holes, but like the Flyers, they are much improved.
Epilogue: It should also be noted that both Eastern Conference wild cards came from the Metro last season, but Florida of the Atlantic Division has made great strides and might grab one of those berths this year. The Panthers, who had 86 points in 2018-19, added a coach, Joel Quenneville, who is a future Hall of Famer, a two-time Vezina Trophy winner (Bobrovsky), Brett Connolly, Anton Stralman, and Noel Acciari to a sound nucleus.