Parker Michaels continues his NHL Season Preview series in reverse to first order according to his projected standings. Be sure to bookmark our Season Previews home base here where links to all 31 teams will appear as they’re posted. Today at No. 16, the Philadelphia Flyers.
Two seasons ago, it was the Ottawa Senators who I had the most difficulty analyzing in the preseason as I felt they could be a dark horse contender, or finish in the bottom five of the league. All they did that year was make it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals despite finishing in the bottom-third of the league in almost every statistical category. Not confusing, at all.
Last season, that team for me was the Philadelphia Flyers who were coming off a year where they missed the playoffs and finished sixth in the Metropolitan Division with 88 points. They had a few top-end stars and several interesting young pieces with brilliant potential but lacked any kind of depth and had huge questions in net. It made for an intriguing mix where I could not decide if the team was strong enough to be a dark horse contender or if they would fail miserably and finish in the bottom-third of the league. So much, that I tried to avoid betting their games early in the season. As the season wore on, their top-end stars were having career years and the mix of young talent were getting better and better. After an amazing 10-game losing streak in November, Philly became a play-on team for me yet the market never caught back up and the Flyers ended as my sixth-most profitable team on the season with nearly +10 units gained, including an 8-2 record when betting on them.
A big part of the early season confusion was due to several moving pieces within the lineup. Top-six center Brayden Schenn had been traded and their top center, Claude Giroux, was moved to the wing. Sean Couturier, entering his seventh NHL season yet only 24-years old, was moved to top line center while the No.2 overall draft pick from that summer’s draft, 19-year old Nolan Patrick, was slated to pivot the second line. It could have ended in disaster, but head coach Dave Hakstol made it work and was much shrewder behind the bench with his decision making compared to his first two seasons.
Moving Giroux to the wing turned out to be the most genius move of all, as the captain responded with a career-high 34 goals and 102 points, finishing fourth in league MVP voting. His 68 assists also led the NHL and helped the Flyers to a third-place finish in the Metro. Their 98 points were the highest since the 2011-12 season when they last advanced past the opening round.
A great young core developed with Travis Konecny being added to the top line which became one of the most dangerous in the league. Sophomore Ivan Provorov paired with Gostisbehere to form one of the best top defensive pairs in the NHL. Combined with one of the deepest and talented pipelines in the league and it is easy to see why excitement has returned to Philadelphia and why fans are optimistic after being the most consistently mediocre team in all major pro sports over the past five seasons.
After a sloppy first-round playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins where they were outscored 28-15 in six games (and 25-6 in the four losses), General Manager Ron Hextall set out this summer to fill a couple of key holes. Top-six winger James van Riemsdyk was signed on July 1 to fill the need of another goal-scoring forward. On July 5, defenseman Christian Folin was signed to fill the need for a right-shot on the blueline. As much as anything, they were moves to show the team was serious about moving into the contender bracket rather than a team still slowly rebuilding.
At the June Entry Draft, Hextall held two first-round selections which he kept. Joel Farabee at No.14 and Jay O’Brien with the No.19 pick. Farabee has been brought up in the US National Team Development Program and has the potential upside of a future top-six winger. He will move on this year to the NCAA with Boston University. O’Brien was with the USHS-prep school system and put up a jaw-dropping 80 points in just 30 games last year. He will move on to play with Providence College this season and is a project still a few years away but has huge upside potential as a top center.
After the free agent additions of van Riemsdyk and Folin, Hextall was quiet the rest of the summer. The Flyers are in good shape with their salary cap, having just over $10 million available which will give them some flexibility at the trade deadline this year if they are interested in making a move.
In terms of losses, the Flyers elected to not bring back depth forwards Valtteri Filppula and Matt Read, defenseman Brandon Manning and rental goaltender Petr Mrazek. Relatively minor subtractions who have been replaced with better options.
Stanley Cup: +2600 (Bovada)
Eastern Conference: +1200 (Bovada, BetOnline)
Metropolitan Division: +600 (Bovada)
Regular Season Points: 98.5 (-105, -115) (Bookmaker), 97.5 (-125, -105) (Bovada), 96.5 (-130, +110) (BetOnline)
Make Playoffs: YES -285, NO +225 (BetOnline), YES -280, NO +220 (Bovada)
Current odds as of September 27, 2018
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
*Individual Player Ratings represent how many points in the standings each player is directly responsible for over the course of the full season and is called Point Shares. It involves the base formula created by Justin Kubatko at hockey-reference.com. An explanation of how I further use his methods can be found here with a more detailed methodology by Kubatko himself, here. The average value for a forward is 3.5 and a defenseman is 4.4 Point Shares
*Salaries in green denote entry-level contract
NHL RANK: T-19
The top-six is set with Sean Couturier and Nolan Patrick who will look to build on last season’s second half success. Couturier suffered a knee injury on August 10 while playing in a charity benefit game and has been held out of the preseason to this point. The injury is to a different spot than the torn MCL he suffered in Game 4 against the Penguins and played through in Game 5 and 6. Couturier did not need surgery for this latest injury but is expected to wear a knee brace when the season begins which may limit his full movement. Hakstol said they hope to get him into a preseason game this weekend and be ready for opening night.
The bottom-six has been nothing short of interesting during training camp. After Hextall raved about Jordan Weal all summer it seemed as if the third line center role was all but filled, but Weal has not stood out in camp and while it is unlikely the Flyers will risk losing him to waivers, he may be relegated to an extra forward slot with not just one – but two – prospects outplaying him.
Mikhail Vorobyov has done nothing but impress in the preseason. He was very good at driving 5-on-5 play in the AHL but was not an offensive force, putting up just 29 points in 58 games. For that reason, he does not get a great translation projection since prospects ratings are mostly driven by offense. All indications suggest he has earned the third line spot and could bring more value than the 1.2 Point Shares currently projected. I am skeptical he stays with the team past the nine-game audition phase, but he has certainly earned at least that much with his play.
The fourth line could belong to Corban Knight who has stood out in camp. Corbin is 28-years old and not really a prospect after playing 20 games with the Florida Panthers in 2015-16 and spending the past two seasons with Lehigh Valley in the AHL. He is a versatile player but does not seem to offer much upside and I would imagine Weal reclaims his spot somewhere in the bottom-six at some point.
NHL RANK: T-4
NHL RANK: 5
NHL RANK: 19
NHL RANK: 16
Andrew MacDonald sustained a lower-body injury during an off-season workout and was expected to be sidelined for all of training camp and the first two weeks of the season but progressed faster than expected and suited up in a preseason game earlier this week. With the Flyers lack of right-handed shots on the blueline, MacDonald’s place in the lineup is important as a lefty who plays the right-side (the same as Gostisbehere). Gudas, the only natural right-hander before the addition of Folin this summer, is a below average defender and having to bump him up to the second pair would be a significant blow to the Flyers defense.
NHL RANK: 29
(Starter – 29, Backup – 36)
The Flyers goaltending is the number one reason holding them back from being a 100-point threat this season. Brian Elliott is a well below average starter who finished with just a .909 save percentage along with a -4.22 GSAA*, placing him 44th out of 69 qualified goaltenders last year. Michal Neuvirth posted above average numbers with a .915 save percentage and 1.52 GSAA but only appeared in 22 games due to injuries and that is how he will start this season, as well. Neuvirth was recovering from surgeries on both hips this summer, but it is believed a groin injury has limited him in preseason. He is doubtful to suit up for the season opener which means the Flyers will already be looking at option 2b.
That 2b option would have been Alex Lyon before a lower-body injury sustained in camp will sideline him for the next few weeks. Lyon saw action in 11 games last season with Philadelphia and went 4-2-1 despite just a .905 save percentage.
Option 2c is now between Anthony Stolarz and future franchise goaltender Carter Hart who may be fast-tracked into the NHL. Stolarz was in line to seize a major role last season before a serious knee injury cost him the bulk of the season. After returning in March to play three games in the ECHL, Stolarz played just one game in the AHL before re-injuring his surgically repaired knee. Now he gets another chance as others deal with injuries and has looked good during camp, showing no limitations in his movement. It is expected he will start the season as the backup, but the play of Hart could still have something to say about that.
I will be perfectly honest with my feelings here – Carter Hart is going to be an NHL God and I will not be swayed to think otherwise. The first goaltender in the history of the Canadian Hockey League to win goaltender of the year twice, a three-time Western Hockey League goaltender of the year and reigning WHL player of the year. A gold medal for Canada at the World Juniors last December with a .930 save percentage. Hart has all the tools to be a cornerstone to build around for the Flyers and despite looking fantastic in camp this season, long-term thinking would probably be best served to start him in the AHL at just 20-years of age. With the goaltending situation already in chaos though, Hart will likely see time at some point this season.
*GSAA (Goals Saved Above Average) – An advanced stat metric created at hockey-reference.com. Like any advanced stat, GSAA has its flaws, but does an excellent job of equalizing goaltender performance across the league and, in my opinion, aligns much better with actual on-ice performance and results than the GSAA found at Corsica.hockey. Of the past 17 Vezina winners dating back to the 2000-01 season, 12 winners have been the leader in hockey-reference GSAA at the end of the regular season and finished second in three other years.
Per the hockey-reference definition, GSAA is “the goals this goalie prevented given his save percentage and shots faced vs. the league average save percentage on the same number of shots. Min. 4 shots faced per team game needed to qualify.”
Philadelphia looks like a team on the verge of breaking through into the top tier of NHL contenders, but they may still be a year or two away. The issues holding them back last year are still present now, with a lack of bottom-six depth and goaltending being the main issues.
The addition of van Riemsdyk brings an already impressive top-six into the NHL elite category, placing fourth in the league behind only the top-six power of Boston, Winnipeg and Pittsburgh. Unfortunately, the bottom-six projects to be the fifth-worst group in the NHL, although to be fair, the projection for Vorobyov could be significantly underrated and I personally think Oskar Lindblom could be better than his low 1.1 projection. That third line is going to be a key for the Flyers this season as to how much pressure they can take off the top-heavy six.
On the backend, Provorov and Ghost are projected to be the third most valuable top pair in the NHL behind only Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis in Nashville and Jake Muzzin and Drew Doughty in Los Angeles. After that, the defense falls off a cliff though, especially with the third pair of Hagg and Gudas who currently project to be the second-worst third pair in the league ahead of only Anaheim. With a shaky group of goaltenders, the defense is going to need to outperform their projections for the Flyers to threaten the top of the Metro Division.
My point projection of 96.8 is in line with current odds from offshore sportsbooks who range from 96.5 to 98.5 overall. I do not see enough of an edge to consider playing anything there and while the “To Make Playoffs” is a touch higher on “NO” at +225 than I think is warranted, considering I have the Washington Capitals below Philly and then nearly a 5-point gap between them and the closest wild card threat, I am not interested in anything there.
Current Stanley Cup Futures list Philadelphia on average from 10th to 12th overall, a significant bump to where I have them placed at 16th, despite the point total falling in line. With the Metro appearing to be an easier road to the Conference Finals than the Atlantic, taking a stab at any of the top three teams could be a good bet, although I would like to see more value than the current best number I see of +2600 right now. The Flyers are a team I would keep an eye on though and if it appears Carter Hart could threaten to steal the starter’s role, a Cup Futures bet would then be of great interest.
Regarding prop bets for awards, seeing Claude Giroux tied as the ninth favorite for the Rocket Richard Trophy is comical when you realize he broke the 30+ goal plateau last year for the first time in his career. Pass. Giroux as the eighth favorite for the Art Ross is a little more plausible but again, anyone not named Connor McDavid should not draw much interest here. Giroux was fourth in Hart Trophy voting last season and appears as the 13th-best odds on this year’s list at +2200. This would be the best bet of them all if you are inclined to bet Giroux for something, but it does not interest my appetites.
The Norris for best defenseman, which was pulled at Bovada after the Seth Jones injury news, should open again before the season begins. Ivan Provorov made an interesting appearance on the original list as the ninth favorite at +2000 odds. While Provorov should absolutely be considered among the elite defenders in the league, this award almost always goes to an offensive defenseman and while Provorov did put up 41 points last year, is viewed as more of a shutdown defender. His partner, however, is a strange omission from the list after a 65-point breakthrough season. Gostisbehere would be my preferred choice in this category if looking at a Flyers defenseman so we will see if he is listed when this re-opens.
Salary numbers from capfriendly.com, stats from hockey-reference.com and naturalstattrick.com