Two weeks ago, I wrote about the Flyers' 2015-16 playoff chances, coming to the conclusion that many around the league did -- that there were five teams in the Metropolitan Division better than Philadelphia, and that because of that, the Flyers would miss the playoffs.
In an old world where you just needed to be one of the eight-best teams in the East, maybe the '15-16 Flyers could string some luck together and sneak into the postseason. But in the new world, where you need to be one of the top five teams in your division -- and even that isn't good enough to guarantee a playoff spot -- I just don't see it happening. Washington, Pittsburgh and both New York teams were all playoff teams a year ago and they've all gotten better this summer. The Columbus Blue Jackets probably would have been a playoff team a year ago if not for an absurd number of man games lost to injury, and they've gotten better this offseason.
None of those opinions were really groundbreaking two weeks ago. And yet, here we are.
Yes, it's been two weeks. But the Flyers are right there, and they safely look better than at least three, if not four, teams in the division. The New Yorks and Washington are about where you'd expect them to be, while Penguins fans are imploding over a 3-3-0 start and the Blue Jackets are a laughing stock at 0-7-0. That brings us to today's news:
So what's this all mean for the Flyers now?
Assessing the division after CBJ's bad start
1. The Flyers need to have a chance at the top five of the division if they want to make the playoffs. That's just math, considering the top three in the division make the playoffs and there are two other wild card spots. If the preseason assumption was that NYI, NYR, WAS, PIT and CBJ were the clear top five, that's on its head now.
2. Columbus has the worst PDO in hockey -- a measure of puck luck -- and it's safe to assume it will turn around under any coach, at least somewhat. But they're already so far behind the 8-ball, and there is literally no way to know what changes might come with Tortorella behind their bench. Remember his Vancouver misadventure? It had all the makings of a coach with old ideas -- insert jokes about blocking shots here -- in an evolving game. Has he learned, or is he still stuck in his old ways as a coach? It's not hard to see how things fail even harder in Columbus under Torts.
3. We're still not really sure what to make of Pittsburgh. Their defense is pretty bad, and while they obviously have a ton of scoring talent, they aren't very deep and they aren't very good on special teams. It's not unfair to say that coach Mike Johnston is on the hot seat out there. They are a question mark -- and remember, they almost missed the playoffs last year.
4. The Flyers themselves have looked a lot better than expected in the early going of the season. Yes, it's only been five games, but on the whole, the Flyers look sharper in the neutral zone, borderline elite on special teams (even if they aren't converting on the power play), and not a complete tire fire in the defensive end. I don't think it's a stretch, even at this early stage, to call them a better team than they were a year ago.
5. It's probably a safe bet to assume that the Rangers, Islanders and Capitals will finish in the top three of the Metropolitan Division, assuming health and whatnot. That was the smart assumption before the season started, and it's the same today.
6. But the fourth and fifth spots in the division feel wide open right now. Pittsburgh is probably a more talented team than the Flyers, but those fans are restless out there and who knows what's going to happen if they lose a few more games here in October. CBJ is a disaster with hopes of a turnaround that are nothing more than just that right now -- hopes.
This is all to say that you shouldn't count the Flyers out of the wild card playoff race this year. Many of us viewed this season as a building block year with a new coach and a lot of dead weight remaining on the roster -- and in many ways it is still that.
But if the first few weeks of the season are any indication, the chances of a playoff run seem higher than they did just a few weeks ago. And that possibility alone makes this season a whole lot more fun.