With 41 games down in the 2015-16 Philadelphia Flyers season, it's a good time to sit down and assess the performance of the team as whole. To that end, the writers at Broad Street Hockey bring you a roundtable discussion, as we provide our opinions on the key topics from the season's first half.
Over the next two days, we will break down four specific questions. Participating in the roundtable are myself, Travis Hughes, Kurt R., Al K., Brent G., Mary Clarke, Kelly Hinkle, Collin Mehalick, Ryan Gilbert, Allison J., Kevin Christmann, and Andrew D.
Earlier on Thursday, we graded Dave Hakstol's performance in his first NHL season. Next up: the season's biggest surprises and disappointments. [Ed. note: any stats included in this article were prior to Wednesday night's game.]
Which player has been the biggest pleasant surprise thus far for the team? Who has been the biggest disappointment?
Andrew MacDonald has been a pleasant surprise, since he's not on the team. That's a very big surprise and it's very awesome.
Disappointment has been Jake Voracek. I know there are obviously extenuating circumstances here, given that his luck has been terrible. He's not going to shoot at 3.4 percent forever. He'll almost certainly turn it around, and we have seen signs of that since he was taken off the fourth line. But no matter how you slice it, four goals through 40 games has been a big disappointment.
I feel like the safe choice in terms of pleasant surprise is Shayne Gostisbehere, but I’ve got to go with Sean Couturier, here. As Charlie (who stinks) pointed out the other day, Couturier has been playing lights out this season, and really deserves at least a strong consideration to be crowned the best defensive forward in the league. We all knew he was good, but this good? I just don’t think so.
As for disappointment, I have to go with Sam Gagner. Sure, maybe not all of this is his fault, but I never expected him to be playing in the AHL this season. Maybe I expected a bit too much, but I think it’s fair to say the fact that he’s contributing literally nothing to the Flyers right now is a disappointment.
The biggest pleasant surprise to me, and it’s really not close, is Radko Gudas. When he was acquired in the Coburn trade, I was expecting a slightly more sane Rinaldo but on the blue line. Instead, what we’ve gotten is someone who pairs perfectly with Del Zotto. He's a big physical presence who might not possess Del Zotto’s offensive and puck moving abilities, but is able to use his physicality in a way Rinaldo almost never did - with a level head, clean (the hit which gave him a suspension aside) and most importantly to the benefit of the team through creating turnovers. After he causes the turnover, MDZ takes over. The two complement each other beautifully. Neuvirth comes second here, as he’s turned in an excellent season so far, and Ghost gets a mention here since as we had an idea he’d be pretty good, but to be this good this early is certainly very nice.
On the other end of the spectrum, Sam Gagner… I just don’t know what to make of him. I don’t know if he’s a victim of Hax’s personnel decisions, his system, or if there’s something up with Gagner himself, but I was expecting a 40ish point season out of him like he did in each of his other eight seasons in a lead role in the top-nine somewhere, and now he’s in Allentown. Yikes. Umberger gets a mention here since we thought last year was due to injuries and he has still been ineffective (no goals yet this year and exactly one point for each of my dog’s legs since opening night). He’s playing his way into getting bought out. Voracek’s results may be disappointing, but his performance hasn’t been. He’s still helping the team, and helping it quite a bit even if his goal total so far is below his standards.
The trade of Braydon Coburn at the deadline last season may have brought back a haul of assets, but it left the squad without anything remotely resembling a first-pair NHL defenseman. Someone was going to have to step up into that role, but I can't say I expected it to be Michael Del Zotto. Despite a reputation as a puck-mover, Del Zotto was dumped by two offensive minded coaches (Alain Vigneault and Peter Laviolette) and ended up in the scrap heap before the Flyers scooped him up in August 2014. While his scoring returned in his first year as a Flyer and earned him an extension, Del Zotto has completely reinvented himself this season. He's receiving the most ice time on the blueline, playing in all situations, yet still driving possession (+4.65% Corsi Relative). Even when MDZ was at his best in New York, he was just a break-even Corsi player, relying on his offense to carry him. So far this year, Del Zotto has looked the part of a two-way, tough minutes defenseman. Just two years ago, that was unthinkable.
Most of the players on the Flyers who have underwhelmed either have positive underlying statistics (Jakub Voracek, Steve Mason, Matt Read) or are players who I didn't have very high expectations for in the first place (Nick Schultz, R.J. Umberger). But I did believe that Scott Laughton would hold the third-line center position and show more of a two-way game, as the organization seemed intent on giving him every chance to succeed this season. Instead, Laughton has struggled and been bumped down to the fourth line. He's been at his worst in the defensive zone, prone to turnovers and poor performances in puck battles. For a player compared to high-end defensive forwards like Mike Richards and John Madden as a prospect, Laughton has looked far more like a future sheltered scorer than a player who can take the tough minutes.
Pleasant surprise has to be Radko Gudas. Not sure it's even close. Pre-season, I saw him as a sixth/seventh D and thought it was as likely that he'd get waived at some point this year as it was that he'd be a legitimately good second-pair defenseman. But he (with the help of frequent partner Michael Del Zotto) has been exactly that. He plays the aggressive style that Dave Hakstol likes, he's been more responsible than I expected, and while he makes some mistakes, they've been outweighed by his positive work in the neutral zone. His overall possession numbers (best of any defenseman on the Flyers!) don't lie. The "throw-in" on the Braydon Coburn trade has been anything but that, and I'm interested in seeing what he'll make this offseason.
Biggest disappointment ... it feels like a cop-out, but I'll go with Mr. 1,000 himself, Nick Schultz. He would've been a solid contender for the pleasant surprise honor last year, and even though I thought he was being a bit overrated at that time, I'd have been content to see him replicate that effort this year. Instead he's been markedly worse, and his struggles have arguably been the biggest drag on a defensive unit that's played as well as anyone could've anticipated. It's true that Hakstol's asked him to play a fairly defensive role, but that doesn't come close to explaining the full extent of Schultz's struggles. That he's managed to avoid the healthy scratch roulette that four other guys have been on makes his struggles all the more frustrating to watch. Schultz just gets the pick here over a handful of forwards (Raffl, B. Schenn, even Voracek) who have not been where most hoped they'd be.
Everyone's probably said Shayne Gostisbehere here for their pleasant surprises, haven't they? I feel like Gostisbehere is more of spectacular surprise than pleasant, since no one really could have predicted his offensive talents would translate to the NHL game this well. I feel like I should nominate Radko Gudas as well, as crazily enough, the defender has the fourth highest CF% on the team at 54.1 according to hockey-reference.com. I've certainly been pleasantly surprised by how effective he's been in that regard. Though he still makes mistakes and will always be used more as a hard hitting, physical defenseman, I've just been surprised at how not awful he's been. Says something about this team that I'm pleased that a defenseman qualifies as "not awful".
As for disappointments, it pains me to say it, but Jake Voracek has underwhelmed this season, at least from a statistical point of view. He's still leading the team in shots, but to only have four goals on the season is disappointing for a player who was lighting it up at the top of the league last year. I am by no means calling Voracek a bad player, but his situation this season has been less than ideal and it's tough to watch him struggle game in and game out. Voracek is second on the team in points with 26 -- just four behind Giroux -- but it would be nice to see him crack the stat sheet and stay there for awhile.
For me, the biggest pleasant surprise has been Radko Gudas. I didn't expect much from him more than a little Zac Rinaldo-style heart/guts play but he's been pretty solid. I'm not mad at him. My biggest letdown, I think, is Jake. Don't get me wrong, he's still awesome, but I certainly expected more than four goals out of him by this point.
After only 41 games under Dave Hakstol, Sean Couturier's taken a huge step forward, and everybody's beginning to notice. As it currently stands, he could be considered the team's number one center by a variety of metrics, and he's been pegged as a potential Selke front-runner. There's hardly any holes in his game, and while most fans believed (or hoped) he'd take a step forward this season, I don't think anybody believed he'd have this big of an impact on the team's performance this early. He's an absolute joy to watch.
As for the biggest disappointment? Scott Laughton was supposed to take another step forward this season, perhaps aided by a little more responsibility and talent around him. While he still hasn't had much of the second, he's certainly been given some added responsibility -- and he hasn't looked good by almost every metric and microstat available. It's gotten so bad where most are at the point where they believe he'll be re-loaned to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms to open up more space for potential transactions on the Flyers' side of things.
Radko Gudas has been the biggest pleasant surprise thus far. He was viewed as a throw-in to the Braydon Coburn trade and has been playing tough minutes alongside Michael Del Zotto (who was a close second) on the top pairing. Gudas' went from maybe a third pairing guy to a guy that you can pencil in on the top pairing.
The biggest disappointment thus far has to be Jakub Voracek. The underlying numbers are there but the goal scoring is not. I expected huge things from him this season after his breakout last year, but it has yet to be seen. However, I trust that he will turn it around and won't be the biggest disappointment after the whole season is complete.
For biggest surprise, I’d have to say Sean Couturier. That isn’t to say that I didn’t think he was capable of such sustained offensive performance. But for him to turn it on when the Flyers needed it most? In the midst of a massive secondary scoring drought? It was incredibly surprising! I’ve been so conditioned to expect the worst possible outcome in any given scenario. So yeah, I am ultra-pleased with Coots right now. As is anyone else with eyes or ears or a heartbeat.
As for biggest disappointment, mostly everyone has been living up or exceeding my expectations. I guess I’d go with Scott Laughton? I haven’t seen a lot of improvement the way I wanted to with Scott. He’s not playing a ton of minutes, but it’s rare that I notice him on the ice. I mostly just wish I could say I saw more of an impact from him. It wouldn’t matter if it was offensively or defensively, but I was just hoping for a bit more.
I’d have to say Radko Gudas has been the most pleasant surprise. Frankly, I expected a sixth/seventh defenseman that resembled a Nicklas Grossmann-type. He’s shown he’s far more mobile and adept with the puck (for the most part) than I expected him to be.
The biggest disappointment would be Laughton for me. He hasn’t been bad really, but I was really hoping he’d take a step and become a real high-quality third liner.
I'll eat some crow and say Del Zotto is my most pleasant surprise this season. I really didn't see him fitting into a top-pairing, big minutes role this well. Biggest disappointment has to be Scott Laughton, who seems unable to play himself out of a 4th line role.