Thanksgiving is a wonderful time in the world of sports. Not only is there lots of football on the big day itself, but the World Series is still fresh in your memories and hockey and basketball are hitting their respective grooves. So, why not combine everyone’s favorite two things: food and sports! This Turkey Day, Philadelphia Flyers fans may seem a bit more subdued than usual due to their team’s trying 2015-16 season. But there are still things that Flyers fans can be thankful for this holiday season. I now present to you 5 things that Philadelphia Flyers fans can be thankful for this Thanksgiving.
1. That There Is a Solid Young Core Already Intact
Say what you want about the current Philadelphia Flyers, but it is true that they have a solid young core in place now that is envied by other teams. Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds are only 27 years old, Jake Voracek is 26, Brayden Schenn is 24, and Sean Couturier and Scott Laughton are less than 23 years old. And while these guys haven’t had the successes this year that they are accustomed to, some of it is due to bad luck.
For instance, does anyone really think that Jake Voracek is going to continue to score at a rate of 1.5%, which would be among the lowest totals in NHL history? Does anyone think that Wayne Simmonds is going to remain with 1 power play goal on the season and no deflected/dirty goals (which combined account for roughly 70% of his goals)? Claude Giroux’s 16 points seems low, but his 7 goals put him on a career-best pace. His assist totals are unusually low because all of his teammates are struggling. Again, these struggles are correctable. It’ll only be a matter of time before these guys get going again and you can be thankful that the Flyers have such a super core of players under 28 years old. And if the prospects arrive on time, the core will still be under 30 years old, square in their respective primes.
2. That The Goaltending Has Improved:
There’s no doubt in my mind that the goalie tandem of Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth is the best one the Flyers have had in a long time. Mason is a borderline top-10 goalie in terms of skill, but his porous defense has dragged down his season numbers. He has allowed some soft goals, but overall there’s not much to complain about with Mason. His stellar puck-handling, cat-quick glove hand, and clutch play are all qualities of a future Stanley Cup-winning goaltender.
Let’s not forget about Michal Neuvirth though, and honestly, how could we as Flyers fans? Neuvirth has been the best backup goalie the Flyers have had in many years. In fact, in my lifetime I don’t think the Flyers have ever had such a strong safety net as Neuvirth. His game has been on point in 2015-16, even posting shutouts in his first 2 Flyers starts. He’s a bit smaller than Mason (3 inches in fact), but is just as quick and flexible. Championship-caliber teams have a steady goaltending duo, and the Flyers finally have that with Mason and Neuvirth, with young prospect Anthony Stolarz an interesting wild card in the coming seasons. Be thankful that the days of has-beens, projects, and expensive busts are long gone in the Philly nets.
3. That There Are Legitimate Prospects On the Way
Any self-respecting Flyers fan knows about the prospects on the Flyers’ farm system, but let’s take a look at them individually. Shayne Gostisbehere is already in Philadelphia, and he is making an immediate impact. The undersized defenseman has a huge boost offensively, scoring 2 goals and 3 points in 5 games, while completely rejuvenating the Power Play. While his defense is a work in progress, “Ghost” has found a permanent home in Philly.
But there’s even more to come on the Flyers’ blue line. Ivan Provorov and Travis Sanheim were the Flyers’ last two first-round draft picks; they have a combined 42 points in 41 games as defensemen in the Junior leagues. They are sound defensively and improving by the day. Provorov in particular could be a legit number 1 defenseman on the Flyers one day. They are also joined by Samuel Morin and Robert Hagg, who are currently at AHL Lehigh Valley. Morin was another first-round pick, but he’s a different player than Provorov and Sanheim. Morin is 6’6″ and 202 lbs with a mean streak at age 20. His offense has stalled at Lehigh Valley (2 points in 18 games), but he has a booming slapshot with second Power Play unit potential. Meanwhile, Hagg is in the midst of his second AHL season; he has only 1 point in 10 games but has an even plus-minus, a marked improvement over his -12 mark last year.
But the Flyers’ prospect core also has a couple of strong forwards as well. Travis Konecny was a player the Flyers traded up for at last year’s draft; he has 33 points in 22 games and has made several eye-popping plays. Nick Cousins, Petr Straka, and Danick Martel have impressed at Lehigh Valley as well. Straka is leading the AHL in goals, Cousins has 18 points in 14 games, and Martel already has 7 goals himself. The future is bright in South Philadelphia.
4. That There Is a More Patient Brain Trust At the Helm
This year’s Flyers have a more careful, patient, and overall smarter front office philosophy then ever before. Some of this is the doing of GM Ron Hextall; while he was wild as a player he is a calculating and calm General Manager. This approach is so different for the Flyers, who in the past shelled out large quantities of money to older veteran free agents and weren’t afraid to give up potential (or current) assets in trades. While Ed Snider and Paul Holmgren still have a say in personnel decisions, I think that they have finally realized the importance of developing a team internally after the Blackhawks, Kings, and Red Wings succeeded in doing so and the Flyers failed with their more flashy moves.
Flyers fans should be thankful that the new brain trust in the Flyers’ Front Office is willing to take a down year or two if it means there will be a brighter future. The Flyers of today are not as trigger happy as they have been in the past. This will allow the Flyers of tomorrow to grow and prosper into a Championship squad.
5. That This Will Be A Quick Turnaround
No one ever wants to see their team lose for a prolonged period of time, and the Flyers are seeing their team go through the dreaded rebuilding phase as we speak. But fortunately, they are going about everything correctly right now. It’s tough to watch the current defense the Flyers are trotting out there, their inconsistent offense, and their general lack of cohesion. But changes are coming slowly but surely. Expect to see some more of the prospects begin to trickle in as the year progresses as some veterans are sold down the river at the trade deadline. Coach Dave Hakstol will have a tough first year, but we can all be thankful that within 2 years the Flyers will be a playoff time and within 3 a possible Stanley Cup Contender.