Philadelphia Flyers season preview: Hakstol looks to alter team’s fortunes
Plus: Jakub Voracek parlayed an impressive 81-point campaign into an eight-year, $66 million contract in the offseason. Captain Claude Giroux (73 points) and Wayne Simmonds (team-leading 28 goals) join Voracek as integral players on offense since the trio combined for 35 percent of the team’s 212 goals last season. The three contributed mightily to the Flyers’ third-ranked power play and Sean Couturier (career-best 15 goals) looks for an expanded role after signing a six-year contract.
Minus: Quick question: Can you name Philadelphia’s top defenseman? While the answer is subjective, give yourself a point if you said either Mark Streit, Michael Del Zotto, Nick Schultz or former Kontinental Hockey League blue-liner Evgeni Medvedev — because any of the four probably can stake a claim to the "title". Therein resides the problem for the Flyers, who simply don’t have a stud defenseman on the team.
X-Factor: Coach Dave Hakstol
Hakstol will feel the glare of the Flyers’ faithful as he deals with making the jump from the University of North Dakota to the City of Brotherly Love. Hakstol reached the Frozen Four in seven of the 11 seasons with the collegiate powerhouse, but will take over a team that finished in sixth place in the Metropolitan Division in 2014-15 and watched the playoffs from home. The 47-year-old Hakstol went to great lengths in meeting Voracek in the Czech Republic and Giroux in Ontario over the summer, but whether the rest of the Flyers go the extra mile for him this season will go a long way in determining if the team visits the playoffs.
Prediction: Goaltender Steve Mason (2.25 goals-against average) will answer the bell with another solid season, but the team’s porous defense will prove to be both his – and the team’s – undoing. Philadelphia will waste another set of impressive performances by Voracek, Giroux and Simmonds en route to missing the playoffs for the second straight campaign.