Photo Credit: Heather Barry Images™
The Philadelphia Flyers are 20 games into the season with a current record of 9-9-2.
Although the Flyers only sit 6 points out of first in the metro this early on in this season, the start to the 2018-2019 campaign is a disappointing one when coming off a 98-point season and a playoff appearance.
When the Flyers signed James Van Riemsdyk during the summer, it was a popular move that helped add scoring depth to the roster, which has been a problem with the Flyers roster for previous seasons, but shortly after the season started, JVR was hurt early in the season and missed 4 weeks after taking a puck to the side of his knee.
The Flyers are winning games and showing flashes of a playoff team, but then quickly retreat the following game and question the original thought of being that deadly scoring team that could possibly make a playoff run.
The problem with the Flyers is too many problems. Most of the problems are intertwined because so many aspects of the game are related.
The problems start with management allowing inconsistencies to remain consistent. It is still early in the season, so numbers can span out more drastically as the season progresses, however, what the Flyers are witnessing is one of the worst penalty-kills in the last couple of decades. The fact that other teams are having to make the unfortunate moves of making coaching changes while the Flyers allow the disappointment to continue is a major reason why fans are upset and this is seen through ticket prices.
Going back to 1990, no NHL team has finished a season with a PK at less than 73%
The #Flyers are currently dead last in the league with a 68% “success” rate on PK
Folks, we are talking monumentally, historically, inexplicably bad
Hextall: “Nothing to see here, carry on Ian”
— Dan Silver (@dsilver88) November 19, 2018
The problem can also be related to the coach. A system of perimeter hockey is being implemented by Dave Hakstol and the rest of his coaching staff. The Flyers take most of their shots from outside of the dots and the blue-line. These low-quality shots rely on bodies in front of the goalie for screens and deflections, but the Flyers have trouble maintaining a net presence when playing 5-on-5 hockey.
Dave Hakstol has to understand that this defensive core is not the Golden State Warriors and playing a perimeter system is not a successful formula in the NHL.
Lately, Hakstol has been benching Lehtera in critical moments of the game which is a positive sign for Flyers fans. Although Lehtera has not been horrible, the usage by Hakstol is what can be frustrating for fans at home watching the game.
The Flyers have lazy coverage in their own zone. Their uninspiring defensive zone coverage allows other teams to manipulate the Flyers defensemen and bring them down low to the goal-line and side boards.
After the opposing team successfully lures the Flyers defensemen out of position or wins a battle below the goal line, another opposing player sneaks into the slot and finds open ice to look for a scoring chance.
Offensively the defensemen are not generating enough quality shots. If the main aspect of the offensive game plan is to give the point to the defensemen for a shot, the defensemen needs to make the most of this shot and either create a rebound or successfully get it through traffic. The Flyers defense cannot afford to miss the net and then struggle to get back because at that point the Flyers helped create an offensive breakout for the opposing team.
Even Strength Play
The Flyers are not a fancy and flashy team, and this shows dramatically during 5-on-5 play. The game of hockey is broken down into smaller battles that occur during the 60 minutes of a game. The rushes to dump-and-chase situations, races for loose pucks in the neutral zone and securing the puck in a scrum; all of these situations are aspects in which the Flyers are not successful. Little battles are not won with this team.
Too many mistakes and turnovers in critical areas of the ice are made too consistently. Fancy cross-ice passes through multiple defenders is never a good idea, however, the Flyers try executing these passes way too much. On the power play you can get away with cross ice passes, but not during 5-on-5 and especially when playing a perimeter system.
Special teams is one of the main indicators of a playoff team and the fact of the matter is that the Flyer are not a playoff team. It is a complete failure to have horrific power play numbers when the roster is filled with offensive talent, it is utterly unacceptable.
The penalty kill has been disappointing for multiple seasons and there seems to be no accountability regarding the situation.
Goaltending is becoming more of an issue due to Brian Elliott getting hurt. Elliott seemed to pull his groin when trying to maneuver from post to post last night in the loss against the New Jersey Devils. Alex Lyon was recalled today from the Phantoms.
— Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) November 16, 2018
After this season, Michal Neuvirth and Brian Elliott will be UFA’s and with how things have transpired recently, Ron Hextall would be better off letting these players walk. Calvin Pickard could play himself into a next contract with the team, but that situation will require consistent showings of being able to carry the Flyers to a couple of wins. This is even more important when goalies are getting injured and being rotated within the organization.
Carter Hart is slowly adapting to the AHL, so this situation provides another possible problem. What if Carter Hart is injured? The most experienced goalie on the roster next season would be Alex Lyon if Pickard is not re-signed. It is time for the Flyers to invest in a reliable goalie without spending major money, this move could be done by acquiring a veteran with a contract ending soon.
Another dilemma that the front office is going to be faced with tackling is the Wayne Simmonds contract. It was apparent that when JVR was signed, Wayne Simmonds was probably not in the future plans for the Philadelphia Flyers, especially since JVR got a similar term that Simmonds was looking for.
Simmonds is a quality player in the NHL and does many things right for a team. To say the Flyers cannot get anything for Wayne Simmonds is asinine. Even with a team having to re-sign him or get him to commit to a verbal agreement to an extension, Simmonds will bring back something decent in a trade.
It would seem logical for this team to want to get younger and move forward but then have four players who are 30-or-older making at least seven million a season. Trading Simmonds needs to be revisited because Ron Hextall cannot lose him for nothing after the season.
Simmonds could bring in talent now and also help with allowing more money to be spent on goalies and blue-line depth.
Ron Hextall is being tested more than he would probably like to be. Will Ron go goalie hunting? Is he satisfied with Lyon and Pickard? Does he trade Simmonds for needs?
The season is still young and there are a lot of different scenarios facing the Flyers that have an impact on the immediate future of the franchise. It will be interesting to see how the next couple of weeks pan out.