The Flyers missed the playoffs last season but brought a potential superstar into the NHL in goaltender Carter Hart. Their front office has been rebuilt, and their roster has seen changes in every area.
So here goes with predictions for the Flyers and the NHL for the 2019-20 season:
Record: 42-29-11, 95 points. Their defense is much improved, center Kevin Hayes is a valuable addition at both ends of the ice, Carter Hart is with the team from the start, and proven winner Alain Vigneault gives the Flyers a presence behind the bench. Put it all together and you have a team that will make a 13-point improvement over last year’s turbulent season.
Where they will finish in the East: eighth.
Where they will finish in the Metropolitan Division: fourth, behind Washington, Pittsburgh, and the Islanders.
Playoffs: They barely will sneak in but will make a first-round exit, leaving them without a playoff series win since 2012. But if Hart gets on a roll …
Points for Claude Giroux: 79. Two seasons removed from a 102-point season, Giroux isn’t getting younger, but he’s still a very effective player.
Points for Kevin Hayes: 57. Excluding goalies, Hayes was arguably the Flyers’ best player in the preseason and seems primed to set a career high in points.
Goals for Sean Couturier: 30. Is there a more underappreciated two-way player around the NHL? The Hockey News didn’t list him among its top 50 players, and the NHL Network didn’t list him among its top 20 centers.
Plus-minus rating for Ivan Provorov: Plus-12. Having Matt Niskanen as his partner -- and not having a contract hanging over his head -- will help Provorov (minus-16 last season) get straightened out.
Stats for Carter Hart: 2.56 GAA, .919 save percentage in 54 starts.
The Carter Hart era is here. Enjoy, folks.
Turnaround team: Keep an eye on Florida, which added some major pieces – including goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, winger Brett Connolly, and coach Joel Quenneville, a future Hall of Famer. Look for the Panthers to make vast improvement over an 86-point season and maybe, just maybe, win their first playoff series in 24 years.
Calder (rookie of year): New York Rangers right winger Kaapo Kakko. He has the size and talent to make an immediate impact and beat out a talented field that includes Colorado defenseman Cale Makar, who had six points in 10 playoff games last season, and New Jersey center Jack Hughes.
Norris (top defenseman): Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay. The five-time all-star has finished in the top three during the last three seasons and won the award in 2017-18.
Hart (MVP): Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado. He will put the Avs on his back and carry them to a division title.
Vezina (top goalie): Ben Bishop, Dallas. He’ll win his first Vezina after finishing second twice (including last season) and third another time.
Jack Adams (coach of year): Joel Quenneville, Florida. He will lead his team to a turnaround and pick up his second coach-of-the-year honor in his first year with the Panthers. His Chicago teams won three Cups, but his only Adams award was with St. Louis in 1999-2000.
Metropolitan: Washington. The Caps are loaded down the middle, and goalie Braden Holtby should have a bounce-back season.
Atlantic: Tampa Bay. The Lightning tied the all-time NHL record for wins in a season (62), then imploded in the first round of the playoffs. They’ll be on a mission.
Central: Colorado. The Avs were already a very good all-around team, and adding second-line center Nazem Kadri could push them to the top.
Pacific: Vegas. Having right winger Mark Stone for a full season should make a big difference, assuming ageless goalie Marc-Andre Fleury doesn’t slow down.
Eastern Conference final: Tampa Bay over Washington. And I still can’t believe Tampa was swept in the first round by Columbus last season. That will serve as motivation all season.
Western Conference final: Dallas over Vegas. Center Joe Pavelski will make a huge impact for the Stars this season, but defense and goaltender Ben Bishop will key their Stanley Cup run.