With a few weeks until NHL training camps open, we’re winding our way through the divisional opponents that the Columbus Blue Jackets will face in the upcoming season. Each has their pros and cons heading into the 2014-15 season. Where will they eventually end up when the music stops on the regular season and there are only a finite number of chairs left for the playoff dance?
We’ve taken a look at the Carolina Hurricanes, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders and New York Rangers. Now, it’s time to look at the team from the City of Brotherly Love.
Today: Philadelphia Flyers
We can’t look forward without looking back at where the Flyers were just eleven short months ago. They started the 2013-14 season in not-so-good fashion, seeing their head coach, Peter Laviolette, get the axe just three games into the campaign.
Assistant coach Craig Berube took over behind the bench. He guided the team to a 42-27-10 record, clinching a playoff spot in the process. They met the New York Rangers in the first round of the playoffs, ultimately falling after taking the series to seven games.
Shortly thereafter (May 2014), it was announced by the club that general manager Paul Holmgren had been promoted to the role of president. Former Flyer goaltender Ron Hextall was promoted from assistant general manager to general manager of the Flyers.
Unlike previous years, the Flyers have some stability in goal, with both Steve Mason and Ray Emery taking up residence between the pipes. Between these two net-minders, they helped the team rack up a 15-11-4 record against their Metropolitan Division foes.
The big news out of Philadelphia this offseason was the trade of fan-favorite Scott Hartnell to the Blue Jackets in exchange for one, slightly-used R.J. Umberger, himself a former Flyer.
With the roster donning the Orange and Black largely unchanged from last year, the Flyers have the potential to finish in the top three within the division. The monkey wrench that has been thrown into the mix in Philadelphia is how Flyers captain Claude Giroux, and the rest of the team, will fare without Hartnell. He was a motivating force for the club and a veteran voice.
The lack of moves on the Flyers part was not because they didn’t want to make any moves, but because they are hard up against the salary cap and have very little room to maneuver. As of this writing, they are almost $5M over the cap.
The elephant in the room for Philadelphia is the contract they signed with Vincent Lecavalier. They are paying him $4.5M each of the next four years. That contract got them 20-17-37 last year. $4.5M per year is a bit steep for 37 points, no?
With Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn set to reprise their roles as key players again this year, they look to be in decent shape. The club added defenseman Michael Del Zotto since the revelation that Kimmo Timonen has blood clots in his right leg and lungs. After a midseason trade from the New York Rangers to the Nashville Predators last year, Del Zotto is back in the Metropolitan Division and could very likely replace Timonen.
A key component for the Flyers as they ready themselves for training camp is who will occupy the spot on the wing of Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek? It’s most definitely up for grabs with training camp mere weeks away. The two front-runners will likely be Brayden Schenn and Michael Raffl.
All-in-all, this Flyers club might not be the "sexiest" club to ice a team, but they do know how to make up for that in determination and grit. They split the season series with the Blue Jackets last year and watched the team that bested them in the first round of the playoffs advance to the Stanley Cup Finals.
And yet, there is that salary cap albatross hanging over the heads of the front office that will hamper any moves they might want to make. Shedding salary has to happen for this club to move forward. Stability is something that has been in somewhat short supply the last few years in Philadelphia. Maybe this year they got it right? Only time will tell.
Look for the Flyers to make a push for a playoff spot, just like every other team, although nothing is guaranteed within the Metro. It’s shaping up to be a battle from start to finish, with only the strongest coming out on top.