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Flyers season preview

It's hard to imagine the team making the postseason after not making many changes from last season's non-playoff team.

THERE'S A TIRED old saying - perhaps a cliche - that goes a little something like, "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over . . . " OK, you've probably heard it before.

Well, then welcome to the 2014 - err, 2015-16 - Philadelphia Flyers season preview, where nearly the same roster core returns and is likely to produce similar results to last year's group, which finished with 84 points, 14 out of the Eastern Conference's final playoff spot.

So it may be a little insane to think the Flyers are a playoff team, no?

Just don't tell that to captain Claude Giroux, who read an article - which he says he rarely does - before training camp that had the Flyers missing the playoffs. He said it "pissed" him off. And he's not alone. To a man, from the players in the locker room to new coach Dave Hakstol, general manager Ron Hextall and chairman Ed Snider, everyone believes this season will be different than last.

"I think we're better than that," Hextall said in an interview with the Daily News. "But I understand. We're coming off a non-playoff year. We made some changes but not earth-shattering. So I understand where they're coming from, but I believe we're a better team than that."

But without any "earth-shattering" additions to the group, how exactly will the Flyers improve?

"There are players on our roster who can be better players than they were last year, whether it's getting better with age or getting better bouncing back from a tough year," Hextall said. "So I think there's a lot of things. I think structurally we can be a better team. Obviously we made a coaching change. I feel like we're a better team than we were last year."

The Flyers have only four new faces on their 23-man roster in forward Sam Gagner, defensemen Evgeny Medvedev and Radko Gudas and backup goalie Michal Neuvirth. Scott Laughton and Brandon Manning both made the final cut but were already part of the organization and played in games last season.

Of the four newbies, only Medvedev - a talented, two-way defenseman - will see regular time out of the gate. Gudas, and Gagner, with his $3.2 million cap hit, appear destined to open the year as healthy scratches with Vincent Lecavalier, meaning the Flyers likely will have $8.6 million in the press box tonight. That in addition to the money being burned on Andrew MacDonald, who was placed on and cleared waivers earlier this week. He'll make $5 million to play for the Phantoms, though the Flyers received $950,000 in cap relief when they waived him.

At 33, Medvedev was signed to a one-year deal this offseason from Russia's KHL. Out of the 16 Flyers who played in at least four preseason games, Medvedev and fellow defenseman Michael Del Zotto had the most points (five) on the team. In terms of replacing Nicklas Grossmann, the only regular defenseman on the end-of-year roster no longer here, Medvedev appears to be a big upgrade with his offensive ability. Gudas looks to be a solid third-pairing defenseman. And Neuvirth is likely going to be an upgrade backing up Steve Mason compared to Ray Emery.

So if those are the only differences in terms of the roster, the Flyers are putting a lot of hopes on getting more in the secondary scoring department. Giroux and Jakub Voracek - who received an eight-year, $66 million extension this offseason - can be counted on for similar years to last season. So, too, can their linemate Michael Raffl and second-line wingers Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn.

But if the Flyers have any hopes to make the postseason - a longshot, if you're asking Vegas - they'll need bounce-back years from the likes of Matt Read, R.J. Umberger and Lecavalier (if and when he cracks the lineup), as well as more offensive output from now-second-line center Sean Couturier, 22, who also was extended this offseason and is expected to grow into a more prominent offensive role from his previous one as a shutdown, defensive center.

The Flyers also will need Mason to win games at times. Mason, who led the NHL last season in save percentage at even strength, showed up in great shape and looked sharp for much of training camp.

There's another old saying that says, "You can go as far as goaltending takes you."

Where will the goals come from?

The aforementioned secondary scoring department is an area in which the Flyers desperately need help. Voracek and Giroux were among the league's top scorers last season, each placing in the top 15. As a duo, they're one of the NHL's best. They also seem to bring the best out of their linemate, Raffl, who scored 21 goals in his second NHL season.

But secondary scoring is what sometimes separates playoff from non-playoff teams. Thus, without a big uptick in scoring, the Flyers, who had 215 goals last year (21st), aren't likely to crack the postseason.

Many in the organization think the Flyers will get better years from secondary-type players. Umberger and Read, who are expected to be linemates tonight, are both back and healthy and are hopeful they can turn the page on last year's miserable season and get back to old form.

Those two, specifically, say they're in their best shape in a while. Umberger, 33, scored 20 goals in four straight seasons not long ago and then 18 in the season before he was traded back to Philadelphia for Scott Hartnell. He fought through significant pain last season and missed the rest of it after a mid-March abdomen surgery. He says he feels like a "new person" after a dismal, 15-point season.

Read, 29, followed up a 40-point (22 goals) season in 2013-14 by tallying just eight goals in 80 games, most of which he played with ankle pain.

"Obviously, I didn't play the way I wanted to play last season and you just kind of gotta take a step back and realize your importance on this team," Read said. "Every individual has a footstep in this program to make a molding to win a Stanley Cup. Everyone has to pull their weight. And I knew I had a tough year last year and I had to come in with a different mindset this year and work extra hard to make sure I'm ready to help this team."

Simmonds can be counted on for close to 30 goals, something he probably would have done last year if not for getting hurt near the end of the season. It makes sense that another year of experience for Couturier and Brayden Schenn, who are likely to start the season with Simmonds, should produce more offensive output.

The Flyers are probably right in thinking they'll get a little more secondary help than last season. Whether it's enough remains to be seen.

Sizing up the 'Met'

Perhaps the strongest argument against the Flyers making the playoffs is the strength of their opponents in the Metropolitan Division. There are five teams, on paper at least, that should be better than the Flyers. That fact alone will make it difficult for the Flyers to make the cut. But that's why they play the games.