1. How is Dave Hakstol’s first season in the NHL?
When Ron Hextall announced Dave Hakstol as the new head coach of the Flyers, it was a pretty unprecedented move. Hakstol, who has no NHL level coaching experience, will be taking the reigns this season after Craig Berube’s tenure in Philadelphia was ended short. The Flyers never seemed to gel under Berube’s leadership, so it will be interesting to see how Hakstol — who has been heralded for being able to adjust to the roster he’s given — will fare in Philadelphia.
This is one we can't even really begin to answer just yet, of course. Hakstol has started to implement his system in Philadelphia during preseason, and we have some ideas of what it might look like. Here's some of what Charlie O'Connor wrote in the recap of last night's preseason game against the Devils:
Aggressive forechecking is clearly going to be a key aspect of the Dave Hakstol Flyers, and it was on full display tonight. The forwards kept the pressure up in the New Jersey zone even after losing possession, attacking the puck carriers as quickly as possible. When the tactics were at their best (particularly in the second half of the first period and first half of the second period), the Flyers forwards came in waves, totally sapping the Devils of any speed even if they were able to successfully exit their own zone.
Not only were the Flyers able to irritate the Devils' blueliners, they also protected their own defense, which was exposed on Monday night against New York. Craig Berube recognized the weakness of his blueline last season and regularly preached to his forwards the necessity of active backchecking, but the effort was often inconsistent. It also ran counter to the passive neutral zone strategies that Berube's team employed.
With Hakstol, on the other hand, aggressiveness is at the center of his entire coaching strategy. It remains to be seen if the forwards can execute in the regular season against better teams than the Devils, but at least tonight, the results were promising.
The biggest question here in 2015-16 is how an immobile defense will be able to handle these responsibilities. It could get ugly in the defensive end of the ice. But aggressiveness in all three zones is definitely something that Hakstol will push in his first year, and we'll see if the personnel are able to keep up.
2. Will Steve Mason continue his elite play?
This question is a bit of a cop-out as we asked pretty much the same question last year. However, there are some differences -- prior to last year, Mason’s above average play in Philadelphia could have easily been dismissed as a fluke. Now, after giving one of the best season-long performances of his career, we’re a bit more on solid ground in assuming the same kind of play will be there going forward.
Of course, with Mason, there always is the justifiable concern that he’ll return to the woeful stats he put up in Columbus. This season is when Mason can prove whether or not he’s among the NHL’s elite, or is just a dud with some recent luck.
3. What will the defense look like going down the stretch?
Going into preseason, no one was really expecting any of the Flyers defensive prospects to make the roster outright. With Mark Streit, Andrew MacDonald, Evgeny Medvedev, Luke Schenn, Michael Del Zotto, and Nick Schultz all on the Flyers payroll this season, there really isn’t any room for the young guys to fill up.
That’s largely been the story of pre-season, with Ivan Provorov, Shayne Gositisbehere, Samuel Morin, and Travis Sanheim all being sent back to their junior teams or the AHL. However, with the possibility of injuries and trades — Luke Schenn’s name has been floated lately -- it’s entirely possible we’ll see some changes on the blueline by the end of the year, or even sooner.
Will Shayne Gostisbehere make a full time spot for himself on the Flyers? Will Robert Hagg or Mark Alt or even Morin push their way down the Blue Route and into the NHL? Will a trade cause a shake up sooner than later? There are so many questions, but we'd bet that the defense we see on opening night is different, one way or another, from the one we see come the end of the year.