Philadelphia Flyers: Figuring Out the Bottom Six

Apr 24, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol talks to his team during a time out in the second period against the Washington Capitals in game six of the first round of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Wells Fargo Center. The Capitals won 1-0. Mandatory Credit: Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 24, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol talks to his team during a time out in the second period against the Washington Capitals in game six of the first round of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Wells Fargo Center. The Capitals won 1-0. Mandatory Credit: Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports /

The bottom two lines payed a key role in the Flyers’ playoff run last season. With some old faces gone, what will they look like this year?

The surprise run to the playoffs the Philadelphia Flyers made last year was a result of many different factors. Shayne Gostisbehere arrived and set the hockey world on fire. Steven Mason and Michael Neuvirth formed a formidable goaltending tandem.  Braydon Schenn and Wayne Simmonds had career best seasons.

With all that went right for the Flyers in their stretch run, it is almost easy to overlook the strong play of some of the bottom six forwards last year. For the first time in a while, there was not a glaring deficiency among the forwards. The Flyers were able to ice four lines that could skate regular shifts and present a legitimate threat to opponents.

So far, the top six forwards looking to be very similar to last year (Giroux, Schenn, Voracek, Simmonds and Couturier will certainly be there, Michael Raffl probably will be as well). The bottom six, however, may have a different look. Before training camp begins, here is an idea of what the two lines may look like.

The Locks

Dale Weise

The Dale Weise signing on the first day of Free Agency turned some heads around the NHL. Ron Hextall had not been a major player in Free Agency in the past two off-seasons so a 4 year, $9.4 million contract came as a bit of surprise. Weise’s signing was viewed as an upgrade over the now departed Ryan White, but it remains to be seen if he will be used as a third or fourth liner. Weise has scored a total of 24 goals in the last two seasons and could certainly add a scoring punch to the fourth line. At the same time, his contract may hint at Hextall viewing him as a piece for the third line, where his numbers may look more pedestrian. Either way, Hextall did not sign Weise for him to sit in the press box: he will be in the lineup opening night.

Pierre-Edouard Bellmare

Bellemare is just about the perfect fourth line player. He’s cheap, he can fore-check, he kills penalties, he is not a possession black hole, he stays out of the box, and he’s good for a few goals.

here and there. Head coach Dave Hakstol was clearly a big fan of the Frenchman’s game, as he had him averaging about 13 minutes of ice time a night during the regular season. Seven goals and seven assists last year is fine production from a player like Bellemare, a fourth liner that every good team needs to have on their team.

Related Story: Bellemare Season Review

The Near Certainty

Scott Laughton

Laughton got his first legitimate look at the NHL level last season and never looked out of place. The 22 year old winger played on a third line that was highly effective towards the end of the season. A gruesome injury in the playoffs ended his season early, but Laughton should be ready to go at the start of the year. The scoring numbers didn’t exactly jump off the page – 7 goals and 14 assists in 71 games is hardly lighting the league on fire.  But he played a key part in helping the Flyers establish a secondary scoring threat as the season went on. As long as he is fully recovered from his injury, Laughton should be in the NHL for the full season this year.

Related Story: Laughton Season Review

Most Likely Making It

Nick Cousins

Nick Cousins‘ first extended taste of the NHL last year was quite the pleasant surprise for Flyers’ fans. Along with Laughton he played an important role on a third line that drastically improved as the season went on. His emergence as a legitimate NHL quality center allowed Laughton to move to wing where he looked much more comfortable. Cousins scored at a solid rate for a third line player as well, chipping in six goals to go with five assists in his 36 NHL games.  Centering a third line that was surprisingly dominant for stretches gives Cousins the inside track to stick with the team at the start of the season. If he can put together a solid camp and build on his success from last season, he’ll be up for good.

Related Story: Cousins Season Review

The Question Marks

Philadelphia Flyers
Jan 7, 2016; Saint Paul, MN, USA; Philadelphia Flyers forward Chris VandeVelde (76) against the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center. The Flyers defeated the Wild 4-3 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports /

Chris VandeVelde

On a better team, Chris VandeVelde‘s constant inclusion in the Flyers lineup last season may have been more difficult to defend. Like Bellemare, Hakstol used him on the penalty kill and he was a decent enough fore-checker on the fourth line.  VandeVelde’s contributions don’t go a whole lot farther than that however. He picked up only two goals and a handful of assists on the year but was in the lineup for 79 games.  Hakstol was clearly a fan of his fourth line, with VandeVelde playing the entire season with Bellmare and Ryan White. With some of the Flyers prospects knocking at the door, however, he may soon have to move on from the 29 year-old veteran. VandeVelde may be in the lineup on opening night, but as the year goes on, look for him to be spending more time in the press box than on the ice.

Related Story: VandeVelde Season Review

Matt Read

There may not be a more polarizing player among Flyers fans than Matt Read. Just two seasons removed from being a 20 goal scored, Read has struggled mightily the last few seasons. After scoring 22 goals in 2014, he has just 19 combined in the last two seasons. Yet the underlying metrics suggest that while Read may have lost his scoring touch, he is still an effective player. His possession numbers are still very solid and he joined Cousins and Laughton on the third line that helped turn the Flyers season around. But Read is now 30 years old and it is hard to expect him to regain his old scoring prowess. At this point in most careers, players get worse, not better.

Related Story: Read Season Review

With that in mind, it feels like the best option may be to try and trade him and see if he can bounce back in another city. But if that doesn’t happen, Read will probably be playing on the third line again to start the season. The results will likely be similar to last year, but that’s the kind of player Matt Read is.

The Prospects

The six names above make up the safest bet for the Flyers bottom six.  Hakstol knows them all and they all carved out some sort of role on last year’s team. There is a chance, however, that a rookie or two could jump into the lineup after a strong camp. Nicolas Aube-Kubel, Taylor Leier, Petr Straka and a few others are all at various levels of NHL readiness.  If Hakstol likes what he sees in camp, he could give one of them a look to start the season.

The Wild Card

Travis Konecny

If Konecny makes the roster, he won’t be on the bottom six for long. Despite being the best forward prospect in the system, Konecny may be destined for another year in the CHL unless he is truly outstanding in camp. Make no mistake, he absolutely has the potential to do just that. For now, however, the more likely scenario for now at least is to let his contract slide another year and bring him aboard when the team is truly ready to make a run at the Cup.

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