Flyers’ outlook: Aiming high and hoping to ‘make that next step’

Nolan Patrick

Six seasons, zero playoff series wins.

That’s the longest postseason drought in Flyers’ history.

While the local hockey team has made it to the first round in three of the past half-dozen campaigns, they have nothing to show for it.

Three other seasons of not even making the playoffs speak for themselves.

The team’s veterans have been through all the frustration – misses in 2013, 2015 and 2017.

Opening series losses to the New York Rangers in 2014, the Washington Capitals in 2016 and the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2018 have been equally vexing.

Jake Voracek, along with sidekick veterans Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds and Sean Couturier, know the upcoming 2018-19 competition could be a crucial one.

While all but Simmonds have multiple years left on their contracts (Simmonds has one year remaining), one can’t be sure how patient owner Comcast will view matters if the dry spell of playoff failures reaches seven.

That is, if the Flyers make the playoffs.

In fact, that’s something else the Flyers haven’t been able to do going back to the 2010-11/2011-2012 seasons: Get to the playoffs two years in a row.

So while the Flyers almost to a man will tell you their goals right now are short term, i.e., just making the playoffs, they are still aiming high.

And why not?

They’re coming off a 98-point season and if not for one bad period at the end of Game 6 against the Penguins last year, they had a decent chance of making it to the second round.

They’ve added a big piece to their puzzle by bringing back a 36-goal scorer in James van Riemsdyk, they could have a budding young star in Russian forward Mikhail Vorobyev and a healthier Simmonds could return to his 30-goal form.

There shouldn’t be any excuses when play gets underway in a game at the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday.

Voracek turned some heads just prior to training camp by making this bold statement.

“Every year you have a disappointment (going out in the first round to the Penguins), you try to learn from it,’’ Voracek said. “We’re not looking to make the playoffs this year, we’re looking to do some damage.’’

At the end of last season, Voracek, ever the realist, suggested if the core veteran group (Giroux and Simmonds are 30, Voracek 29), doesn’t achieve some success pretty soon, changes could be in the wind.

Coach Dave Hakstol, about to start his fourth year and scheduled to become the Flyers’ second-longest tenured coach ever (behind only Hall of Famer Fred Shero) by the end of the 2018-19 campaign, acknowledges his team has aspirations but wants the focus on the here and now.

“Long-term goals are in place, I will tell you that,’’ Hakstol says. “Focus is short-term now. I’m not going to sit here and talk about what’s going to happen six months from now.

“We have a lot of work to do. (Right now) you have to turn one hundred percent of your focus to the battle of the regular season. And there’s no easy going there, no easy pathway.

“First and foremost, to achieve some of the latter goals is success and consistency as you move through a tough regular season. That’s going to first on my mind.’’

Are the Flyers a better team than they were at this point last season?

“We have to answer that,’’ Hakstol says. “On paper, I believe we’ve improved. Until you prove it as a team, you really can’t make a judgment on that. You have to prove you’re a good team. And a good team isn’t made up by the names on a piece of paper.

“It’s how that group of guys gels together and gets the job done. The proof is in how you do it and what the results are.’’

Captain Claude Giroux, now trailing only Hall of Famer Bob Clarke for most games ever by a Flyer wearing the “C,’’ is coming off the best season of his career and has high hopes for this team.

“I think when the season starts, you want to give yourself a goal,’’ he says. “I think Jake said it well there, obviously making the playoffs in this league is not easy, but when we make the playoffs, whoever it is the first round, we want to make that next step.

“But there are a lot of teams who say that, who want bigger goals than the year before and they don’t make the playoffs. So we’ll take it one step at a time and start with making the playoffs.’’

A scouting report on the 2018-19 season:

FORWARDS: First-liners Giroux, Couturier and Travis Konecny are all coming off the best seasons of their careers. Hakstol’s second line of Nolan Patrick centering JVR and Voracek showed a lot of promise in preseason games.

A third line of Vorobyev centering Simmonds and Oskar Lindblom gives the Flyers more scoring depth. And a possible fourth line of Jordan Weal centering Scott Laughton and Michael Raffl (with Dale Weise, Jori Lehtera and possibly Taylor Leier waiting in the wings) looks a bit stronger than recent No. 4 units.

DEFENSE: Not much has changed here. Brandon Manning (free agent) essentially was replaced by another free-agent signee, Christian Folin, late of the Los Angeles Kings.

A full season together should see bigger things from the first pairing of Shayne Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov, who tied for the NHL goal-scoring lead among defensemen with 17.

Veterans Andrew MacDonald and Radko Gudas could be paired in some fashion with second-year players Robert Hagg and Travis Sanheim.

First call-up, if needed, might be Philippe Myers, who is just about NHL ready.

GOALTENDERS: Can be summed up one word: Health. If Brian Elliott (core, hip surgeries) and Michal Neuvirth (Mr. Anatomy Book) can remain upright, the Flyers should be OK in this department.

Once Alex Lyon returns from a lower-body injury, the Flyers have good depth in the organization with Lyon, Stolarz and rookie hotshot Carter Hart itching to get into NHL action.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Power play will be better with van Riemsdyk on board and Simmonds closer to a hundred percent. The penalty kill, consistently in the NHL’s bottom five the past year or so, has to get better. Possibly adding Konecny and Patrick to the mix could help in this area. The Flyers need to do a better job clearing pucks and, yes, taking fewer penalties so as not to wear out their PK units.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wayne Fish
About Wayne Fish 378 Articles
Wayne Fish has been covering the Flyers since 1976, a stint which includes 18 Stanley Cup Finals, four Winter Olympics and numerous other international events.

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