After a disappointing 2012-13 season, in which they failed to make the playoffs, the Flyers came into the 2013-14 season hoping to prove that they are still a tough competitor in the new Metropolitan Division. Following a rough start, with a lackluster training camp and a 0-3 start, the Flyers made what GM Paul Holmgren referred to has a “gut feeling” decision, and fired head coach Peter Laviolette, replacing him with assistant coach Craig Berube.
With the team sitting at 1-7 to start the season captain Claude Giroux made a bold prediction that the team would find a way to make the playoffs. On November 9th the Flyers held a 4-11 record and Giroux had only register 7 assists. Giroux scored his first goal of the season in that game. This was no doubt the turning point of the Flyers season. After November 9th the Flyers went 36-23-7, led by their captain who had 79 points in that span. On top of that the Flyers had an NHL best seven 20-goal scorers, highlighting their depth at forward.
The Flyers ultimately finished with a 42-30-10 record and captured the third spot in a very competitive Metropolitan Division. The Flyers would not get past the first round of the playoffs however, losing a tough series to the Rangers in 7 games. Here are some positives, and negatives to take away from the Flyers season:
STABILITY IN GOAL:
The Flyers instability in net has been well documented for some time. At the end of the 2013 season they made a trade for troubled, former Calder Trophy winner Steve Mason, and bought out Ilya Bryzgolov’s massive contract. They also signed Ray Emery as a veteran backup. Steve Mason started the first game and immediately showed why he still deserved to be a starting goalie again in this league. He was playing so well that on November 12th the Flyers signed him to a three year contract extension worth $12 million.
Mason did struggle a little bit mid-season, but quickly regained top form. He went on to tie a career high in wins with 33 and posted a .917 save percentage and a 2.50 goals against average. Those numbers however, are skewed, as the defense in front of him was terribly inconsistent. Mason was especially spectacular in three playoff appearances registering a 1.97 goals against average and a .939 save percentage. One thing is for sure; the Flyers seem to have finally found the quality goaltender they have lacked since the days of Ron Hextall.
GIROUX IS STILL A SUPERSTAR:
When Claude Giroux was named captain prior to the 2013 season many questioned whether he could handle the pressure. Giroux had a solid year with a respectable 48 points in 48 games. However, some people still questioned his play, due to poor starts and stretches of inconsistency. Giroux again struggled out of the gate in 2014 notching only 7 points (all assists) in the first 15 games.
After scoring his first goal however, he seemed to come alive, and went on to score 79 more points, finishing third in the league with 86 total. He was also one of the top power play producers, registering 37 points on the man advantage. Whenever the Flyers needed to come from behind to win a game, Giroux was often the facilitator, leading the team with seven game winning goals. His play seemed to grow ever stronger as the season progressed and in the month of March he notched an impressive 21 points in 14 games (a span in which the Flyers went 9-4-2) and was named the one of the NHL’s Three Stars of the Month.
Those who still questioned Giroux’s talent, and leadership at the start of the season were silenced by the end of the season. The Flyers would never have been able to overcome their mediocre start if it was not for the performance of Giroux. For his efforts he was named a finalist for the Hart Trophy as league MVP, a well-deserved honor.
CRAIG BERUBE CAN COACH AT THE NHL LEVEL:
When Peter Laviolette was fired just three games in to the season, GM Paul Holmgren decided to replace him with assistant coach Craig Berube, and not on an interim basis. Prior to this, Berube had never been a head coach on the NHL level and some may have questioned whether it was smart move. Berube had previously been the head coach of the Flyers AHL affiliate for several years and was well-liked by the Flyers’ players.
Holmgren’s gamble paid off and after a few weeks, the players began to buy into the system Berube installed. His first priority was to make the players a harder skating, and better-conditioned team. He wanted the team to play an improved defensive strategy, fore check more aggressively and “get pucks deep”. The players bought into his system and much of the credit for the striking turnaround in the season is given to Berube. Though he may not be a finalist, he must certainly be a candidate for the Jack Adams Trophy.
THE FLYERS NEED HELP DEFENSIVELY:
Despite having one of the highest paid blue line units in the NHL, the Flyers lack a true number one defenseman. A lingering concussion issue effectively ended former captain Chris Pronger’s career in 2011, leaving a giant, gaping hole. Kimmo Timonen has done his best as their number one defender, but he has nowhere near the overall capability of Pronger. Brayden Corburn, Luke Schenn and Nick Grossmann all showed signs of good defensive play, but were all sadly inconsistent. Grossmann and Schenn are both relatively slow skaters and were often victims to the speed of other skates.
Veteran Mark Streit came in and had a decent season for the Flyers, but is not a true shutdown defender. At the trade deadline the Flyers brought in Andrew MacDonald in an attempt to shore up the blue line as they made a push for the playoffs. MacDonald played well ,moving the puck and actually elevated the defensive play of his partner, Luke Schenn. MacDonald played well enough for the Flyers to sign him to a 6 year $30 million extension, a large amount of money for someone that was a 2nd or 3rd pair defender.
However, none of these defenders, with the exception of arguably Kimmo Timonen, are all star caliber defenders. The Flyers have some solid defensive prospects in the 6’7” Sam Morin, Robert Hagg, and the 2014 Frozen Four Most Outstanding Player, Shayne Gostisbehere, but it is not clear whether any of those would be the star caliber defenseman the Flyers so desperately need. Most the top teams in the NHL have at least one stud defenseman. If the Flyers want to win the Stanley Cup, they are going to have to find a way to get one. Their current group, as it is, simply won’t cut it. With an aging Kimmo Timonen’s future in doubt, the Flyers are going to have to address this urgent need in the offseason.
FLYERS HAVE SOME QUESTIONS AT FORWARD:
Despite having seven 20 goals scorers on their team, the Flyers could still use some upgrades at forward. Vincent Lecavalier, who was brought in to be a secondary scoring option, did not have a stellar season and often times appeared sluggish. Lecavalier, due to his age and large contract ,will probably be difficult to move.
Scott Hartnell is a gritty forward that will score greasy goals and plays with passion, but is not a superior skater. Brayden Schenn, though he had a career year, was plagued by inconsistent play and did not quite meet the high expectations the Flyers had for him. As a pending RFA the Flyers will have to decide just how much the young forward is worth.
The Flyers could use at least one faster, more agile skater as they were often out-skated by quicker teams. They could also use a top goal scorer to play on the top line with Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek. Hartnell did a reasonable job on that line, but he is not known for his scoring ability. It is well-documented that Giroux and Voracek are good playmakers, but they just need to have a true “sniper” to play with.
With youngers like Jason Akeson and Scott Laughton looking to compete for a top 6 forward position next year, along with limited cap space, it should be interesting to see what the Flyers will decide to do in the offseason.
When all is said and done the Flyers have a lot to look back on and be proud of. They went from having an abysmal start where they were one of the lowest scoring teams to third place in the Metro Division, and one of the highest scoring teams. Regardless of how the season ended, to be able to overcome early season troubles as they did is truly impressive. They never quit throughout the season, posting a franchise record with eleven third period comebacks.
The Flyers have a young and talented core group of players, and that, along with several promising prospects, should make fans excited about the future. It will be fun to see what kind of changes this team makes in the off-season.