As one of seven teams with a new head coach entering this season, the Philadelphia Flyers have one of the biggest question marks behind the bench. General manager Ron Hextall went outside the box and hired University of North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol. Hakstol is the first coach to make the jump from college to the NHL since the late Bob Johnson in 1982. Flyers fans are hoping Hakstol can bring them a Stanley Cup like he did with rival Pittsburgh and not have the failure of Ned Harkness, who lasted 38 games with Detroit in 1970-71.
Hakstol comes to a team that has one of the top scoring duos in the league in Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek. they combined for 154 points last season, 10 points off the top 1-2 combination in the NHL (DAL- Jamie Benn/Tyler Seguin).
Giroux and Voracek biggest need is a left winger who can score. Giroux and Voracek has the ability to rack up points because they benefit by setting up players around them. That’s why second-liner Wayne Simmonds led the team in goals last season; they were missing a forward on the left who can find the scoresheet with regularity. Could Michael Raffl keep his spot on the top line? It depends if he can show more consistency than he did over the season, as he went goal stretches without a goal last season.
As for the other forwards, Vincent Lecavalier is the big question mark. He was one of the top scorers in the league when he played with Tampa Bay, which led to a five-year deal in 2013. He slid from 20 goals in 2013-14 to eight last season. He’s going to need a comeback season, as his salary situation (three years remaining at an average annual value of $4.5 million) will make it difficult for him to be traded. Sam Gagner is a welcomed new addition for Simmonds with Brayden Schenn sliding to center. The second line could be just dangerous as the first, especially on special teams. Their 23.4 power play success was the third-best in the NHL last season. Not bad for a team that missed the playoffs.
On defense, they don’t have a lot of depth for a last of a better word. The veteran defenseman they have are aging (Mark Streit) and it’ll be quite the task to ask him to return to equal form he had last season. On the flip side, they have a 32-year old (Yevgeni Medvedev) who has never played in the NHL so his forecast is unpredictable. They have others who are prone to turnovers and mistakes like Luke Schenn and Michael Del Zotto. Ivan Provorov is in the pipeline, but how realistic for an 18-year-old to crack the lineup if he can still be sent down to juniors? They were 26th on the penalty kill, which is tough to swallow.
In goal, Steve Mason is the incumbent as he had a 2.25 GAA and .928 save percentage last season. His backup is Michal Neuvirth, meaning there’s a high chance Mason is the clear No. 1.
It’s been over 20 years since the Flyers missed the playoffs in consecutive seasons. For that to be avoided, Hakstol has to have a lot of things go right from Day 1 of training camp. If he can get the defense to play better and see improvements from the second and third forward lines, they could contend for a playoff spot. If there’s any key injury, they could be on the outside looking in with regards to the playoffs.