And we’re back! Yesterday we talked a little bit about expectations and impressions, and today we’re back with a bit more, as well as a look forward.
Who has been the most pleasant surprise for you this season?
Drew: Probably the fact that I like Kevin Hayes. He’s been so key in giving the Flyers depth at center, scoring in key moments, and perhaps above all, in being a monster on the penalty kill. He’s been excellent at disrupting play both in his own zone and in the offensive zone, and his contributions go far beyond point totals.
Brad: My real answer is definitely Vigneault, and how the start of the Vigneault era hasn’t been an extension of the Hakstol era, but we just talked about coaches so I’ll go elsewhere. Justin Braun! Before the season started I figured Braun was going to be similar to Valtteri Filppula; a stop-gap veteran who had once been a good NHLer but was no longer. Couple months later, and if we were to rank the defense I’d be putting him either second or third on my list. A rare defensive defenseman that is actually good at preventing dangerous shots, rather than just looking “reliable” by throwing hits and blocking shots. Shout-out to Kelly, who was on the Braun train from day one.
Ryan: Matt Niskanen has been awesome. I was fully expecting him to have one of those “33 and on the decline” type seasons, but he’s turned out to be a really important piece on this team. And the fact that he’s the “Team Dad” makes it so much easier to root for him. I also thought about giving Justin Braun the shoutout here like Brad did, but with Niskanen playing on the top pairing with Ivan Provorov, I gave him the edge.
Mike: Hayes has been really good. The production is there, the effort and compete level has given the Flyers a much-improved penalty kill, and he’s one of the three best forwards every night. Sean Couturier is team MVP, but where would they be without Hayes this year?
Kurt: I’ll also take Niskanen here. The Flyers — by way of trading Radko Gudas for him and taking on about $3.4 million in extra salary this coming season to do so — made it clear that they felt Niskanen was a pretty significant upgrade on the guys they’d lined up on the right side of the defense last year. A lot of us were not sure about that feeling. 50 games in, they sure look a lot more right than the doubters do. Provorov just had maybe his best half-season in his NHL career (up there with his second half in 2017-18 alongside Ghost), and it’s not a coincidence that that’s happened with over 80 percent of his 5-on-5 ice time coming alongside Niskanen (via). Additionally, Niskanen has anchored a Flyers penalty kill that has been so obviously improved from what it was for most of last decade. The Flyers made a “fit trade”, cost be damned, for a responsible right-handed veteran last June — and Niskanen has fit right in.
Kyle: As others have said, gotta go with Niskanen. I was far more excited about Braun heading into this season and thought Niskanen would be more of the weak link between the two, but both have been fantastic. Not only has Nisky played well himself, he’s clearly taken a big load off Ivan Provorov’s shoulders and has helped him have a bounce back season. That in itself was worth the price of Radko Gudas.
Maddie: I agree with all of those, but to spice things up, I’m going to go a little outside the box here (and also probably show my Phantoms bias), and say David Kase. It’s pretty well documented by now that I’m particularly high on him as a prospect and think he could carve out a nice NHL role for himself in the future, but I also figured it would be a bit before we saw him actually get to the NHL. It was nice to see him get a look this season, and looking effective in his handful of games with the team. Just nice to see.
And then who most disappointed you?
Drew: Well ... Robert Hagg, as he has been bad. But we all expected that. Therefore, I’d say Phil Myers. I really, really wanted Myers to take this season by the reigns and carve out a spot in the defense core. He hasn’t done that at all. He’s a young player, and will have ups and downs. However, he’s made more mistakes than one would like to see, and though he’s still better than Robert Hagg at this point (probably), I can see why Alain Vigneault would play Hagg over him.
Brad: Based on my expectations, Shayne Gostisbehere is easily the player that I’ve been most disappointed by. I still don’t think he’s been their worst defenseman this season, but it is way closer than I ever would have anticipated. Only Hagg, who is once again in league-worst territory, has worse on-ice differentials than Gostisbehere at even strength this season, and while his defensive deficiencies had been overblown in the past, there has been real regression in that area of his game this season.
Ryan: I’ll go with Travis Sanheim here. I definitely like Sanheim and I still think he’s a hugely important piece on this team, but I was expecting a really, really big leap from him this season. Perhaps that was me being a little bit too hopeful. Regardless, he’s a good young player that’s still getting used to playing in the NHL. He’ll get his game figured out.
Mike: Put Ghost, Sanheim, and Myers on a board and throw the dart: can’t go wrong with any of the three.
Kurt: Yeah, I’ll have to go with Gostisbehere as well. The guy came into this year with two very good NHL seasons and two less good NHL seasons to his name, and this one has probably been as bad as either of the less good seasons. And while all the talk in Bad Ghost Seasons tends to be about his defense, it’s felt like he’s been just as underwhelming if not more so in the offensive side of the game. Ghost doesn’t have a primary assist at 5-on-5 all season, and Provorov (for better or worse) has supplanted him on the top power play. Maybe the injury he’s going through now will give him a bit of a chance to reset, because if it doesn’t, well ... well, the Flyers shouldn’t take him out of the lineup, because he’s still better than Robert Hagg, but I think we all had higher aims for Shayne Gostisbehere than a sixth defenseman.
Kyle: Easily Gostisbehere. It isn’t just that he’s been bad, but it’s the fact he’s been bad for the same reasons. We know he’s a guy who gets flustered easy, but the hope was with acquiring help on the blue line that he’d have a stable partner and we’d see the old Ghost. Instead, we saw the same Ghost that struggled to do much of anything last season. Sure, he was with Robert Hagg for a few too many games this season, but even when he got Justin Braun to play with he looked clueless on the ice. It’s extremely frustrating to see a guy who we know can be one of the most dynamic and game-changing defensemen in the league, play so poorly.
Maddie: Yeah, it’s Gostisbehere for me too. I don’t have much else to add other than I hope he bounces back here and then we can feel less bad about all ganging up on him here. But it’s been a tough start, for sure.
What moves or changes would you like to see them make between now and the trade deadline?
Drew: Of the 20 players on TSN’s trade bait board (that aren’t our own Shayne Gostisbehere), there aren’t a lot of guys the Flyers could take on given their current cap situation. If I could make any of those moves work, I would undoubtedly make a trade for the Rangers’ Chris Kreider. His cap hit of $4.63 million would be quite the obstacle for the Flyers to handle, and I’m not sure that the Rangers would want to retain salary in this case. Tyler Toffoli and Jean-Gabriel Pageau are other names I would be pleased to hear announced by Lou Nolan, though yet again, the salary cap becomes the biggest obstacle in any trade.
Brad: I’d like to seem them add a defenseman, especially if they decide to trade Gostisbehere. The Canadiens may have just acquired Marco Scandella this month, however he is on the trade bait board, and could be a good complimentary defender to play alongside either Myers or Braun on the third pair. Maybe even a better play would be Brenden Dillon of the San Jose Sharks. They could re-unite Braun and Dillon, a pair that was fantastic by the numbers last season, and continue to let Sanheim and Myers’ chemistry grow.
Ryan: I honestly need to see what happens in the next few weeks before I decide what I want the Flyers to do at the deadline. If nothing changes between now and February 24, I’d prefer to see Fletcher stand pat and work with what he has. But if the Flyers get hot in the next few weeks and start to climb the standings, I wouldn’t hate seeing a trade for a center. Of course, making a trade won’t exactly be easy considering their current cap situation, so making a move will probably require shipping away a roster player (like Shayne Gostisbehere).
Mike: Given that we have no idea if/when Nolan Patrick plays again (ditto Oskar Lindblom), Chuck Fletcher should go out and get frisky on the market. Give the old employer a call and see if they want to do a deal for a forward (Jason Zucker) or a scenery swap on defense (Matt Dumba/Ghost).
Kurt: Do I get to cure Nolan Patrick’s migranes? No? Then call up Morgan Frost. Maybe maybe maaaaaaaaybe I could be talked into making a deal for a depth defenseman if Ghost’s injury drags on or if he just continues to stink it up, but as much as this team wants to win right now I think there’s benefit in learning more about what you currently have down the stretch.
Kyle: Jeff Carter? Jeff Carter! But seriously, I’m with Brad and the acquire a defenseman train. I’d love another goal scorer to add to the forward core, but the smarter move now and in the future might be getting more help on the back end.
Kurt: WAIT. CRAP. NO. NEW ANSWER. Change the goal song. I mean, what are we doing here?
Maddie: Maybe this is lame but I kind of don’t want them to make a big move at the deadline. If anything, I’d like to see them call up Morgan Frost, but that’s about the extent of it. I think this group is good enough to get them into the playoffs, but this isn’t the year that they’re making a very serious playoff push. I think, at this point, more important is using this time to take stock of what the team is and what it needs, and then using that to build in the off-season when you don’t have to pay the trade deadline time premium.
And finally, prediction time: where does the team go from here? Do they make the playoffs? Do the have a deep run in them?
Drew: As I said earlier, I think the Flyers will ultimately make the playoffs at the 3 or WC1 seed. They’d likely play either the Bruins or the Penguins in that case. If they play the Penguins (as the 3 seed) I think they give Pittsburgh a run for their money. Heck, I’d take the Flyers in a best of seven series. They’d then make it to round two, but I think they’d struggle to make it to the Eastern Conference Final. If the Flyers were the WC1 and played Boston, I think Boston would win. The Flyers have played them close, but that Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak line in the playoffs is going to be awfully scary.
Brad: This is tough. The best way I can describe the Flyers is that they’re a team that I would be equally surprised by a six game winning streak as I would be by a six game losing streak. Just when you think they’re clicking, they hit a lull. So I don’t feel confident saying yes or no here, at all, but I’m going to say that the Flyers do make the playoffs, because it’s what I want. I personally wouldn’t bet on them making a deep run, because I don’t like their potential first round match-ups.
Ryan: I hate doing this, because I’m wrong almost 100 percent of the time, but I’m going to throw caution to the wind and predict the Flyers are going to make the playoffs as a wild card team. I think they have enough talent to make a nice run. So long as they don’t get absolutely decimated by injuries like they did in the first half of the season, they should be okay. I’ll even predict they’ll win a playoff series. How ‘bout that, eh?
Mike: I think they’ll end up just missing the playoffs in the end. Given everything that has gone wrong at points, a key injury down the stretch will do them in. They’re just not deep enough to survive many more many games lost at this point.
Kurt: There is literally no outcome the rest of the way that would surprise me. 105 points and home ice in the first round? Sure! Flame out and end up with 86 points and the 12th pick? Bring it on! But I ... will say ... that ... they ... make it. I dunno. You can tell I’m brimming with confidence here, but I just don’t think Elvis Reincarnated in Columbus is going to keep playing like a fucking worldbeater nor do I think they have the offensive firepower to really stay on the pace they’re on, and ... who knows. Something else good will happen. It’s an even year and these things are cyclical for this team. Let’s get weird. As for what happens if they get there? Again, anything seems on the table, but the smart money has them probably bowing out in the first round again.
Kyle: I think Kurt summed it up pretty well. The Metro is ridiculous this season, and the Flyers might need some team to go on a massive losing streak just to assure them a spot. While they are helped out by the fact they’re done on the West Coast for the season, the injury bug has hit this team hard and will play a factor the rest of the way.
Maddie: Like the some of the guys have said, with how volatile things have been this season, ultimately no result for this season would surprise me. That said I do think that they have it in them to get back into the playoffs. Could they win a round? Potentially! But I don’t think they’re locks to make a deep run, and that’s okay. I just want a small step forward, and getting back into the playoffs would be that.