The Philadelphia Flyers take the ice in 2016 with a new head coach, a re-energized goalie, and fresh hope.
By Josh Kaz
After a 2015 season that cost Craig Berube his coaching job, the Flyers are ready for a fresh start, and the 2016 season opens with an immediate test: the defending Eastern Conference Champion Tampa Bay Lightning.
Head coach Dave Hakstol headlines one of a few changes under rebuilding GM Ron Hextall; as significant is the turnover along a Philadelphia blue line will be without some of its longest-tenured members. Kimmo Timonen, Braydon Coburn, and Nicklas Grossmann were all traded last season. Andrew McDonald cleared waivers and now makes as much as the rest of his Adirondack Phantoms teammates do collectively.
While he waits for first-round prospects like Travis Sanheim and Ivan Provorov to mature (and for some big-money contracts to expire), Hextall is counting on repeat performances from Michael Del Zotto and Nick Schultz, who earned new deals this off-season. Alternate captain and speedy veteran Mark Streit is back, joined by 33-year-old KHL (Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League) veteran Evgeny Medvedev, who showed skill in preseason play. Radko Gudas (acquired in the Coburn trade) is expected to clear the porch, while frequent AHL call-up Brandon Manning had earned a one-way, one-year deal in the offseason.
- Evgeny Medvedev will bring his smooth skating to a defense that was criticized for its lack of speed last season. The three-time KHL all-star, who was also an alternate captain for the AK Bars Kazan, has an offensive side to his game, having picked up 141 points in 332 KHL games over the course of seven seasons.
- Known for his tough defensive style, Radko Gudas is expected to fill the role previously played by Nicklas Grossmann (obligingly, Gudas has said often that he wants opposing players to know when he is on the ice). The 22-year-old Czech defenseman has piled up 224 penalty minutes in just 126 games.
- Brandon Manning, 25, scored 43 points in 60 games with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms last season, and played the final 11 games of the NHL calendar with the Flyers, where he tallied three NHL points. Manning is a good skater who also has a mean streak to his game, and may be paired with Del Zotto, who signed a two-year, $7.75-million extension in July.
As times last season, the Claude Giroux-Jake Voracek-Michael Raffl line was one of the most productive in hockey. The Flyers will look for secondary scoring from power-play specialist Wayne Simmonds, sneaky two-way player Sean Coturier, and Brayden Schenn, who despite playing a full season in 2015, only mustered 47 points. Grinders Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Ryan White, and Chris Vandevelde will kill penalties and contribute the odd goal alongside veterans RJ Umberger and Matt Read on the third and fourth lines.
To these, Hextall added skilled winger Sam Gagner (from Arizona via the Grossmann trade), and Scott Laughton, who cracked the starting lineup after playing much of last season with the Phantoms.
- Sam Gagner has been a consistent 40-plus-points player in his eight-year career, but was once expected to be more of an impact player, especially when drafted sixth overall by the Edmonton Oilers in 2007. The Flyers are hoping that surrounding the 26-year-old Gagner with more talent than Edmonton and Arizona could, would spark him to become that impact player. Unfortunately, he did not impress Hakstol in camp, and starts the season on the bench.
Dave Hakstol will bring a fresh perspective to a team that has missed the playoffs in two of their last three seasons. Hakstol, who spent his last 11 seasons as the head coach of the University of North Dakota, will look to get the most out of his players through hard work, consistency and confidence. Ian Laperriere, Gord Murphy and Joe Mullen will remain assistants to help the first-year head coach.
Kim Dillabaugh, who won two Stanley Cups with the L.A. Kings, will be the Flyers’ new goaltending coach, replacing Jeff Reese. Dillabaugh will not only get to work with Steve Mason but also newcomer Michal Neuvirth, who will replace Ray Emery as backup. Neuvirth, the 27-year-old Czech, played parts of seven seasons with the Washington Capitals, Buffalo Sabres and New York Islanders.
Conditioning will be very important to Hakstol’s players, as was evident in his first few practices and preseason contests. According to Dave Starman of College Hockey News:
[Hakstol’s] teams go at the net, shoot for rebounds, make plays, and really emphasize the defense being an active part of the offense. His use of weak-side [defensemen]to pinch and extend plays is a huge component to their offensive success, and defensive as well, as they don’t retreat and regroup as much as other teams did. Dave Hakstol built his teams to play with skill, pace, purpose, physicality, and passion.
New NHL Rules
- The newly formatted overtime is the biggest change made to the NHL rules for the upcoming season. In an attempt to avoid shootouts, the NHL is going directly to five minutes of three-on-three play, followed by a shootout, if necessary.
- Another major addition to the rules is the ability for coaches to challenge a play, a la NFL rules. A coach may only challenge scoring plays that involve a possible offsides or goalie interference call. Coaches are only permitted to challenge a play if they still have a timeout available. If the play is overturned, the team keeps its timeout; if the call stands, they lose it. All plays in the final minute or overtime will be automatically reviewed by the league.
For more information on all the rule changes: click here.
- Michael Del Zotto, Evgeny Medvedev, Jake Voracek (5). Brayden Schenn, Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds, Sam Gagner (4).
- Shayne Gostisbehere, Brayden Schenn (3). Simmonds, Michael Raffl (2).
- Jake Voracek, Claude Giroux, Evgeny Medvedev, and Michael Del Zotto (4). Sam Gagner, RJ Umberger(3).
- Time on Ice:
- Mark Streit led the way in average ice time (21:17 TOI) followed by Robert Hagg (21:12 TOI) and Shayne Gostisbehere (20:57 TOI).
- Gostisbehere, Simmonds (2) Umberger led with three PP assists.
- Simmonds (19 in five games) followed by Gostisbehere (12 in three games), Gagner 11 (six games).
- Offense (14 players):
- 1st Line: Claude Giroux centering Jake Voracek & Michael Raffl
- 2nd Line: Sean Couturier centering Wayne Simmonds & Brayden Schenn
- 3rd Line: Scott Laughton centering Matt Read & RJ Umberger
- 4th Line: Ryan White centering Pierre Edouard Bellemare & Chris VandeVelde
- Scratches: Vinent Lecavalier & Sam Gagner
- Defense (7 players):
- 1st Pairing: Mark Streit & Nick Schultz
- 2nd Pairing: Michael Del Zotto & Brandon Manning
- 3rd Pairing: Evgeny Medvedev & Radko Gudas
- Scratch: Luke Schenn
- Goaltenders (2 players):
- Starter: Steve Mason
- Backup: Michal Neuvirth