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BSH mid-season round table (part one)

It’s time to check in.

Heather Barry / SB Nation

With all of us sitting deep in the bye week and having hit the unofficial midway point of the season, it seemed time for us to all sit down and work through some general thoughts and feelings about the Flyers. How are they doing and how are they hurting us? It’s always a good topic for discussion. Let’s get into it.

First of all, did you have any precise expectations for the Flyers heading into the season? Did they live up to them?

Drew: Though I predicted, quite foolishly, for the Flyers to finish 2nd in the Metro, I at the very least expected them to make the playoffs at the #3 or WC1 spot, which I think they’re certainly capable of doing. These next run of games against Metro opponents will let us know precisely whether or not they’ve hit my expectations, but as of right now, I’d still say yes. They’ve markedly improved their on ice product, and key youngsters such as Carter Hart and Travis Konecny have jumped leaps and bounds.

Brad: Bubble playoff team is what I thought that our reality would be, but just how they are a bubble playoff team this year is not what I expected at all. The Metro is ridiculous, and their record doesn’t scream “bubble team.” They’ve surpassed my expectations, but there’s still a chance that it’s not going to be enough to make the playoffs this year.

Ryan: I, a pessimistic killjoy by nature, was expecting this to be somewhat of a “redshirt” year for the Flyers in Alain Vigneault’s first season as head coach. Despite the fact that Vigneault has taken each of his previous three teams to the postseason in his first year as bench boss, I felt more needed to be done with this group in order to make it stand out in this really competitive Metropolitan Division. So far, though, I’ve been pleasantly surprised. Granted, they’re technically out of a playoff spot at this exact moment, but they’ve played well enough throughout the season that I’m fully expecting them to qualify for at least a wild card spot.

Mike: This is realistically where I expected them to be, and given all that they’ve dealt with this far? Can’t really be too mad with the results. That said, the playoffs are the expectation and the Flyers still somehow have it all out in front of them at the halfway mark.

Kurt: I think they’re about where I thought they’d be. Maybe they’re a touch worse, but barely if so. You can more or less cut the East into thirds this season — contenders, pretenders, and the middle — and it should come as no surprise to us that the Flyers have been in the middle third, and are in a fight for a playoff spot. It feels like it’s worth noting that they’re doing better than the public seemed to think they would — you were hard-pressed to find many outside of our local bubble who had them above 90 points in preseason predictions, and unless something goes catastrophically wrong in these final two months (certainly a possibility!) they should get there.

Kyle: In terms of point totals and overall play, I think they’re about on track for what I expected. I do think they’ll end up being a playoff team, but with the way the Metro is this season I could see them getting screwed over by that. The fact this team is still without a doubt in playoff contention despite Nolan Patrick not playing all season, Oskar Lindblom’s diagnosis, and Shayne Gostisbehere missing time along with having a down year, is impressive. But as Mike said, the playoffs are absolutely the expectation for this team, and I need to see them make it.

Maddie: Honestly, I didn’t really come into this season with any terribly specific expectations. They had a new coach and some new players to work into the lineup, and while I was hopeful that things would gel pretty quickly, I wouldn’t have been surprised if we saw them working through some growing pains. That said, I think my ultimate hope would be that they would be able to take a small step forward and get more solidly back into the playoff mix, and so far, they’ve been able to do that.

Thoughts on Alain Vigneault (and his assistants) so far?

Drew: I was skeptical when the Flyers hired Vigneault, but I think he’s done an excellent job of running this team. I think he’s tailored a system that takes advantage of the great two-way centers the Flyers have at the moment (Couturier and Hayes) and not only are they giving up less goals, but are scoring more as well. As for Yeo and Therrien, the penalty kill is no longer an abomination so credit to Yeo, massive credit. Therrien I am less willing to praise due to the up and down nature of the power play this year. Please just keep Giroux on the left side.

Brad: I loathed the Vigneault hire. Loathed. The same can be said about the Therrien hire, and while I didn’t dislike Yeo, he had just been fired by the team that sat last in the league last year, only for them to win the Stanley Cup after he was replaced mid-season. This trio made me extremely nervous, and pessimistic about this season. But so far Vigneault hasn’t been the same coach that Rangers fans complained about almost daily, as we once did with Dave Hakstol, and Yeo has the penalty kill performing better than it has in a very long time. I, like Drew stated above, am less thrilled with Therrien so far, given how poor the power play has performed thus far.

Though I will say, given that my biggest problem with the power play has been their formation, it’s hard for me to decide how much of that should go on Therrien’s shoulders. As we saw last year when Scott Gordon took over as head coach for Hakstol, the penalty kill became much more aggressive despite the same assistant coach (Ian Laperriere) still in charge of running it. So it’s not all Therrien, you have to assume Vigneault has a hand in the power play as well. And, to be clear, the players also share some of the blame, but I do believe that they, especially Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek, have been used in situations that have hindered their ability to perform at their highest level.

Ryan: I was really surprised by the amount of people who were critical about the Vigneault hiring. While his tenure with the Rangers certainly didn’t end well, he did have a pretty nice run in New York. What really impressed me about AV was what he accomplished in Vancouver. Those Canucks teams were always a lot of fun to watch, and it was really the inability to get over the hump in the postseason that did him in in Vancouver. All in all, I didn’t hate that he would be taking over as head honcho.

The assistants, on the other hand, I wasn’t as crazy about. I was never a fan of either Mike Yeo or Michel Therrien, but so far Yeo has been really excellent with the penalty kill, especially considering where it came from. The power play has underachieved this season, and sometimes I would rather the Flyers just defer the power play and keep the game at 5-on-5.

Mike: Overall the coaching staff has done a really nice job thus far. As mentioned above there are a bunch of issues that have propped up that have been nearly impossible to deal with and yet Vigneault has his team in playoff striking distance. One main issue has been the power play, there’s just too much talent and proven productivity for it to be as inconsistent and unreliable as its been.

Kurt: My complaints about Vigneault have been minimal so far. Not a spotless record, but minimal issue. Rarely have his lineup decisions left me shaking my head — if the worst it gets is that Phil Myers gets scratched every couple weeks and Chris Stewart plays like once a month, I’ll live. I voiced some minor concerns back in October about how the goaltending responsibilities were trending to that point, but I’ve had zero issues with the goalie management since then. When the team has had some bad runs, they’ve managed to quickly turn them right back around into good ones; that’s not all or even mostly coaching, but it can’t hurt. And it feels worth noting that rarely so far has he come out and said something that I’ve outright disagreed with; win or lose, he seems to have a good grasp for how things are going out there and gives a pretty fair assessment after games of how he thinks his team played as a whole, whether it totally lines up with the scoreboard or not.

Special teams — particularly the power play — have been a problem, one that’s very, very difficult to not tie to coaching. You can probably blame structural/systemic decisions, personnel decisions, and player execution for those shortcomings, and that does shine on Vigneault and Therrien (and whoever else has say in this area) in a not-so-positive way. But at the end of the day, Vigneault’s been good.

Kyle: Vigneault has been a breath of fresh air for this team, relative to who preceded him. Sure, we’ve seen Chris Stewart play some games, but nothing like Jori Lehtera starting over Oskar Lindblom levels of awful. He’s been charismatic, and at the end of the day his evaluations of performances have generally been on par with what the underlying numbers say.

Speaking of a breath of fresh air, Mike Yeo is a damn godsend for this team compared to Ian Laperriere. The aggressive-minded penalty kill has worked wonders, and although they’ve struggled at times, it’s a clear improvement on what we’ve seen the past few seasons.

As for Michel Therrien, there’s a lot left to be desired. Giroux on the right was fine when it was a change of pace from the normal power play, and gave them other looks. But when it became the only option it was clearly the wrong move.

Maddie: It looks like I’m in agreement with most everyone here. I was pretty ambivalent about bringing in Vigneault and Yeo—hopefully those worked out, but we’ll see—but didn’t love there Therrien addition, mostly given what we’d heard about how he’d treated some of his players in the past. But I still don’t really have any major complaints about Vigneault and Yeo, and while we haven’t heard anything questionable about his dealings with the players on a personal level, his work with them on the ice leaves much to be desired. The power play has been a mess through much of the season, and given the amount of talent they have at their disposal, there’s really no excuse for that to be the case. He needs to be better.

What’s been the biggest issue or complaint you have? Air your grievances!

Drew: I sincerely hope that the Flyers re-call Morgan Frost from the Phantoms, because boy does Frost belong in the NHL. I’m a big fan of keeping Giroux on the wing, and if the Flyers were to put Frost at 3C, Giroux could rejoin Couturier’s line at 1LW, which is ideal.

Brad: The power play. The once-potent Flyers power play has been the team’s most glaring issue this season. They sit 18th in the league in power play percentage, which isn’t too bad, and 13th in goals for per minute at five-on-four — pretty good! So what’s the problem? Goals have a strained relationship with future goals, and better indicators of what’s to come suggest that our eyes aren’t deceiving us with just how disjointed the Flyers have looked on the man-advantage this season. Then again, sometimes weird things just happen and you can ride an inflated shooting percentage to greatness. If there isn’t a noticeable difference in the coming weeks, we’ll just have to hope for that to be the case.

Ryan: Their inability to win on the road is infuriating. And the most frustrating thing about it is that it’s really hard to tell just what’s causing them to play so poorly away from home. I recently attempted to break down what’s causing the Flyers’ road struggles, and I really think this could just be a weird mental quirk that the team just hasn’t figured out yet. Maybe creating ideal matchups on the road is an issue as well. But seeing how dominant the Flyers are in South Philly compared to literally anywhere else is just so wild, and if they miss the playoffs, their struggles on the road will be a big reason for it.

Mike: It’s the power play, Brad nailed it above. It has to be better, simple as that.

Kurt: The power play is an easy choice, and is probably the right one, but I’ll mix it up a bit and say the bottom-6 in its entirety. Care of Natural Stat Trick: When at least one of Sean Couturier or Kevin Hayes are on the ice at 5-on-5, the Flyers’ Expected Goals For percentage is around 52.3 percent. With neither of them? 45.6 percent. While I’m sure most teams do better with their top two centers on the ice than they do without them, and while being without Nolan Patrick and Oskar Lindblom obviously has not helped, I’d like to see a team that has repeatedly been praised for its depth of talented young players cobble together something better than what they have this year in terms of the bottom half of the lineup. If only there was a center who played well in limited minutes this year that’s an AHL All-Star that they could call up. If only that was the case. (I reserve the right to retract those last two sentences if this recent experiment that has featured Claude Giroux back at center proves to be a long-term success.)

Kyle: The power play has been awful, but I think I gotta side with Ryan on the road struggles. I’ve never seen a team look so dominant at times at home and then look utterly incompetent on the road. It’s so ironic as well, given the Flyers struggles drawing fans at times this season.

Maddie: The power play and road struggles have been the bigger and perhaps more pressing concerns, but one of the sneaky annoying things for me this season has been the fourth line carousel. I think there’s a balance to be had between recognizing when a thing isn’t working and being willing to change it, and having too quick of a trigger finger. I like that we’re calling kids up from the Phantoms who have earned a look from the big club, but maybe give them a more significant chance to get adjusted and prove they belong before shipping them back out.