Philadelphia Flyers Could Take a Step Back This Year

Jun 27, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Flyers general manager Ron Hextall announces Travis Sanheim (not pictured) as the number seventeen overall pick to the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round of the 2014 NHL Draft at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 27, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Flyers general manager Ron Hextall announces Travis Sanheim (not pictured) as the number seventeen overall pick to the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round of the 2014 NHL Draft at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Buffalo Sabres

Even though the Sabres finished 17 points behind the Flyers , they are a possible candidate to surpass the Flyers in the standings and wrestle that last playoff spot away from them. The Sabres are further along in their development than the Flyers are when  it comes to having their young prospects ready for  the NHL   The Sabers minor league system has been ranked at the very top of the NHL for the last three years now and a lot of their young prospects are either  ready to play in the NHL now  or have been flipped for young, established NHL players like Evander Kane and Zach Bogosian.

The Sabres have also benefited from picking in the top 5 of the NHL draft and therefore have been able to draft players who are able to make an immediate impact like Sam Reinhart and Jack Eichel. The Sabres also made a big splash in free agency to improve their anemic offense by signing Kyle Okposo. They also bolstered their defense corps by acquiring Dmitry Kulikov from the Florida Panthers. Add all of  this to a team that also has young players like Ryan O’Reilly and Rasmus Ristolainen and the Sabres could be a force to be reckoned with next year.

The Carolina Hurricanes

The Hurricanes finished 10 points behind the Flyers in the standings last year. Like the Sabres, the Hurricanes have some young players like Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin who are already on their NHL roster and who only figure to get better with each passing year. Even though the Hurricanes finished 10 points out of a playoff spot, they weren’t  eliminated from the playoffs until there were only  four games left in the season.

They also traded for Teuvo Teravainen, another young, skilled player who was able to make an impact playing second and third line minutes on a stacked Chicago Blackhawks team. Teravainen figures to get much more playing time for Carolina and therefore he will be able to make a much greater impact with them. His style of play fits right in with Carolina who is a fast, skilled team. If young players like Ryan Murphy and Justin Faulk also continue to improve, the Hurricanes are another team who could challenge the Flyers for that last playoff spot.

The Montreal Canadiens

.After setting the league on fire with their 9-0-0 start, the Canadiens season quickly went south after the injury to All World goaltender Carey Price. Goaltending wasn’t the only reason why the Canadiens season went in to the toilet. The replacements for Price were adequate. But, when you go from perhaps the best goaltender in the world to an NHL back up, there is going to be a drop off in play.

Having a top flight goaltender can have a huge psychological impact on a team too. When a team can play more relaxed because they know they have someone in net who can erase most of their mistakes, they play with a lot more confidence and aren’t afraid to take chances. When a team doesn’t have complete faith in their netminder, they tend to be a little more tentative. So Price’s loss impacted the Canadians in more ways than one.

Goaltending wasn’t the Canadiens only problem though. The team gained a reputation for being soft and for folding when facing adversity. Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin addressed this problem by trading flashy defensman PK Subban to the Nashville Predators  for the more rugged Shea Weber.  The Predators might make out on the deal in the long run since Subban is only 27 where as Weber is 30 but, for the here and now and when it comes to  stacking up the Flyers to the other teams in the Eastern Conference for next year, the deal could benefit Montreal.

The Canadiens  addressed two of their biggest needs in acquiring Weber.  Lack of physicality and lack of leadership. With  Weber being a big physical defenseman who was the Predators captain last year, he  should help in both of these areas. So the combination of having a healthy Carey Price and the acquisition of Shea Weber could catapult the Canadiens ahead of the Flyers in the playoff race.

Do I think it is a forgone conclusion  that the Flyers will miss the playoffs next year? Absolutely not. The Flyers will contend for a playoff spot  and have as good a shot as anyone in the bottom half of the Eastern Conference to make the playoffs. At the same time though, just because the Flyers made the playoffs last year, I don’t think it’s a lead pipe cinch the Flyers will return again next year. There are teams behind them that are making rapid improvements and who could overtake the Flyers for that last playoff spot next year. Even though it may feel like it at the time, it won’t be the end of the world.

Even though the teams mentioned above have made improvements and could surpass the Flyers next year, it doesn’t mean they are in better shape than the Flyers are long term and it doesn’t mean they are closer than the Flyers are to winning a Stanley Cup. A lot of the moves these teams made only make them better in the short term.  Weber for Subban being one example of that. The Flyers are also limited in what they can do because of their salary cap situation and because of the fact that they are still saddled with some bad contracts. So there isn’t a lot they could have done to improve their team for this upcoming season. A team like the Sabers on the other hand has the salary cap room to go out and sign a Kyle Okposso.

This will all start to change soon though. The Philadelphia Flyers are free of Mark Streit’s contract after this year and Matt Read’s the following year. They are loaded with high end talent in their system. When the Flyers start to add some of the high end talent like Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim and Travis Konecny to an already good young nucleus of Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek, Wayne Simmonds, Braydon Schenn, Sean Couturier and Shayne Gostisbehere, they will not only jump back over the Buffalo Sabres, Carolina Hurricanes and Montreal Canadians of the world, they will be ready to take that leap forward and start competing with the Tampa Bay Lightings, Washington Capitals, and Pittsburgh Penguins of the conference.It’s not just about next year Flyers fans. It’s about the big picture.  Slow and steady wins the race.

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