The Philadelphia Flyers have had one bizarre 2015-16 season. After starting off hot, the team lost 7 straight to some bad teams and presumably lost out on any playoff hopes. But after Shayne Gostisbehere was recalled from AHL Lehigh Valley, he has provided a much-needed spark. The team has gone 10-4-4 since his call up, giving the Flyers at least a moderate chance at the playoffs, even with their overall crummy roster. And with Christmas coming in 2 days, the Flyers could use a couple of key gifts from Santa Claus this holiday (honestly, who couldn’t?). Here’s the Philadelphia Flyers’ 2015 Christmas Wish List.
Major Award: An Improved Defense
There’s no doubt that the Flyers need an improved defense to compete for a playoff spot. But keep in mid that the defense that the Flyers are currently icing isn’t the worst in the NHL anymore. Now, new-wave defensemen like Shayne Gostisbehere, Michael Del Zotto, Evgeny Medvedev, and, at times, Brandon Manning have all been pleasant surprises for Philly. Heck, even Radko Gudas and Luke Schenn, presumed slow, stay-at-home d-men, have had a positive impact this season. But while the defense has improved from last season, there remains lots of work to be done.
Mark Streit will be activated from LTIR in the coming days, and he undoubtedly deserves a spot in the lineup. The most logical way to make room for now is to send down Scott Laughton and scratch Nick Schultz. But when the trade deadline rolls around and some bubble teams need some help in the d-zone, the Flyers need to unload their veteran defensemen to make room for their elite prospects. Mark Streit has the most value of any tradeable Flyers defenseman (perhaps a 2nd-round pick and a mid-range prospect?), and Luke Schenn, Nick Schultz, and even Radko Gudas all have some value (3rd-4th rounders) that also clears up precious cap space.
What Santa is providing here is probably more of a rain check, saying that he ordered from a catalog and that your real gift is on back order. But when that gift of a young NHL defense arrives, it’ll be the best gift the Flyers have ever gotten. We’ve already seen a glimpse of the offensive impact that Shayne Gostisbehere can provide. In the coming years, we’ll hopefully see shutdown defenders Sam Morin and Robert Hagg blossom in the d-zone and more complete d-men Ivan Provorov and Travis Sanheim begin to take over the game like top-pairing defensemen. The Flyers have to take inventory first, electing to clear out the excess that they currently have in stock, because a new batch of NHL defensemen is arriving. And when that time comes, they may have a defense corps that rivals some of the top defensemen in the league.
Under the Tree: Better Scoring Depth
While Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek are among the league’s highest scorers annually, there’s no doubt that the Flyers also need better offensive depth. Aside from Giroux and Voracek, who’s actually scoring goals for the Flyers? Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn are quality second-line wingers, but the Flyers are relying on the services of Michael Raffl, Sean Couturier, Matt Read, and Pierre-Eduouard Bellemare a bit too much. Now don’t get me wrong, I love those four players and think that they all can be key cogs in the Flyers’ near future. But those guys all have the offensive skill set of a third-line player (maybe even a fourth liner in regards to Bellemare), yet they are prominently featured in the Flyers’ top-9 group of forwards. Couturier could be the exception of this group; his puck possession and offense have really begun to kick start this year. But the rest are simply overexposed right now.
The best way to combat this is to have a stronger top-six. The reason why some of these players don’t provide that all-important “secondary scoring” is because they are being relied upon too heavily. If the Flyers are able to develop a more balanced offense, players like Read, Raffl, and Bellemare will fall into roles more suited for their play styles and may ultimately be more productive. The Flyers have some quality forwards coming up through their prospect ranks right now, specifically Travis Konecny (C/RW), Radel Fazleev (LW), Oskar Lindblom (LW), Nick Cousins (C), Petr Straka (LW/RW), and Nicholas Aube-Kubel (RW). The Flyers need some of these guys to pan out and become top-six forwards, because they do not have the cap room to orchestrate a trade or sign an expensive sniper in free agency.
A perfect Christmas gift for the Flyers this year would be the development of Brayden Schenn or Michael Raffl into top-line wingers, but a more realistic one might be another rain check. If Santa can turn some of those prospect wingers into legitimate threats, then the Flyers will have the league’s most dangerous offense.
Stocking Stuffer: Trade Partners
So the Flyers’ Christmas list right now mainly focuses on the future, the development of young players and the promise of superstars down the road. But the stocking stuffer is something that the Flyers need right now, and that’s a trading partner or three. For the Flyers to carry out their ultimate plan of icing an elite team by 2017, they will need to cut some salary and hurt some feelings in 2015-16.
Any player that the Flyers do not see helping them in 2017 should be moved before that time, preferably when their value is at its highest. On defense, Mark Streit, Luke Schenn, Radko Gudas, and Nick Schultz don’t seem like obvious long-term fits. These guys can all be moved quite easily at any time, and would clear up some much-needed cap space. For the forwards, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Chris VandeVelde, Matt Read, and Sam Gagner could all feasibly be flipped come deadline time. These players as a whole wouldn’t net a major gain in return, but they would offer up cap space and empty spots on the roster that are primed for prospects to take.
You don’t see the names Vincent Lecavalier, R.J. Umberger, or Andrew MacDonald on the chopping block above for one major reason: they are on Santa’s naughty list. No NHL General Manager worth his salt would take on one of those players in a trade, and thus the onus is on Flyers GM Ron Hextall to pull the trigger and systematically buy out a couple of these players. While there will be long-term salary consequences, it’s still better to be rid of these players than it would be to play them.
The Flyers haven’t ever really been good boys in their history, they may have never been number 1 on Santa’s list. But everyone deserves a Christmas present, and the Flyers will be glad to take one in the form of future success. The team essentially needs to undergo a roster overhaul by 2017, something that can be done when the kids are NHL-ready. The Flyers are a team in transition, but adhering to the aforementioned principles could ease the process as well as speed it up. If the Flyers are able to unload some excess weight on their roster now, the prospects can develop faster, and the Flyers can hoist a Stanley Cup sooner.