Here is a look at the 2019-20 Flyers, searching for their first Stanley Cup since Gerald Ford was in the White House, as they get ready to start the 2019-20 season Friday against the Chicago Blackhawks in Prague.
There were many changes this offseason, with Chuck Fletcher going through his first full year as the team’s general manager. Did they improve? You be the judge:
Line 1: LW Claude Giroux-C Kevin Hayes-RW Jake Voracek.
Line 2: LW Oskar Lindblom-C Sean Couturier-RW Travis Konecny.
Line 3: LW James van Riemsdyk-C Scott Laughton-Carsen Twarynski.
Line 4: LW Michael Raffl-C Connor Bunnaman-RW Tyler Pitlick.
Projected defensive pairings
Unit 1: Ivan Provorov and Justin Braun.
Unit 2: Travis Sanheim and Matt Niskanen.
Unit 3: Robert Hagg and Shayne Gostisbehere.
G1: Carter Hart.
G2: Brian Elliott.
The Flyers will be younger, even with 21-year-old Nolan Patrick out of the lineup because of migraines.
With Patrick sidelined, Laughton is now the third-line center, and it opened a spot for Bunnaman, one of two rookies starting the season as regulars, along with Twarynski. Fletcher said there could be a “fluid situation” between the Flyers and the AHL’s Phantoms in the first six weeks of the season, meaning players could be shuffled back and forth.
The Flyers had many warts last season but still managed to finish a respectable 11th in even-strength scoring. The addition of Hayes, who was superb in the preseason, could improve that number. Couturier (24), Konecny (20), and Giroux (19) led the Flyers in even-strength goals last season.
The Flyers have a solid first two lines, and if Patrick returns and pushes Laughton down to the fourth-line center, all four units will be extremely balanced.
From here, the Flyers would be stronger with Joel Farabee in the lineup. But the 19-year-old winger is headed to the Phantoms because Fletcher wants to give him some AHL seasoning -- and because he couldn’t fit under the cap.
Power play and penalty kill
The special teams need to make dramatic improvement if the Flyers are going to make the playoffs. The power play was 22nd in the 31-team league as it clicked at 17.1 percent last season. The penalty kill, though improved in the season’s second half, finished just 26th (78.5 percent success rate).
The Flyers hope three newcomers – Hayes, Niskanen, and Braun – will help the penalty kill make strides. Hayes also gives the Flyers their most dangerous shorthanded scoring threat since Mike Richards was with the team.
The power play needs better entries from Gostisbehere and more shooting and less passing. When they had an extra attacker, the Flyers were too preoccupied with setting up the perfect play last season.
Based on the preseason, Konecny will get more time on the power play as new coach Alain Vigneault tinkers with the unit. He also experimented with putting Giroux on the right side some of the time. For years, he set up on the left. Hayes was on the top unit late in the preseason and he should help.
The Flyers allowed an average of 3.41 goals last season (29th in the NHL), so Fletcher made it an offseason priority to upgrade the defense.
Out: Radko Gudas and Andrew MacDonald.
In: Niskanen and Braun.
It remains to be seen how much improvement those moves will create because Gudas won the Barry Ashbee Trophy last season as the Flyers’ best defenseman and he also provided the team with physicality.
The Flyers hope Niskanen and Braun, veterans who shoot righthanded, will stabilize things and provide leadership. They also hope they can help Provorov and Gostisbehere rebound from disappointing seasons.
» READ MORE: Flyers look for better start to this season
Getting Provorov and Gostisbehere to bounce back and getting continued development from Sanheim and Phil Myers (if/when he is recalled from the Phantoms) would go a long way toward securing a playoff berth. Samuel Morin (6-foot-7, 230 pounds), now healthy after an injury-plagued season with Lehigh Valley, is another defenseman who has lots of promise.
The Flyers also need their forwards to do a better job at the defensive end, especially Voracek, van Riemsdyk, and Konecny.
The Flyers’ brass called it a goaltenders duel for the No. 1 spot in the preseason, but anyone who watched last year’s games figured that was just a charade.
Hart was the Flyers’ best goalie last season and he was the overwhelming No. 1 in camp this year.
Hart was superb in three preseason games against NHL competition, compiling a 0.44 goals-against average and .982 save percentage (56 saves on 57 shots). Elliott had good and bad moments in the preseason (3.16, .873), but he is a proven veteran and, provided he remains healthy, should be a solid backup.
Hart is only 21, but this is his team now. He is becoming the face of the Flyers and will be their most important player in 2019-20.