A New Era Unfolds

Let’s not mince words; the 2016 postseason did not happen for Philly fans.  We calmly and smugly existed (as we so often do) in expectation of our team’s future, plausibly ignoring whatever scumbag team heartbreakingly killed the San Jose Sharks’ and Joe Thorton’s dreams of finally hoisting the cup.  It was Tampa, right?  

This upcoming season, however, is the proverbial beginning of what is expected to become a contending franchise for the foreseeable future.  Gone are the days of trading youth for rentals, overspending on free agents and ignoring every draft pick past the first round.  This season the Flyers will begin to capitalize on an incredible combination of veteran and young talent, a process that has been in the works for multiple years.  And in Philly, our attention spans don’t last that long (RIP Chip Kelly’s reputation).

It’s been a long time and a tough wait,, but there’s something I want to say on behalf of every hockey fan on the correct side of Pennsylvania:

Dear Ron Hextall,

Thanks for being brilliant,

Sincerely,

Who’s Asking?

 

Ron Hextall has announced that rookies Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny are staying with the team for the full season.  Provorov is expected to slot in next to Streit, who could earn every penny in his contract if he can mentor Ivan and help his transition into the NHL.  There’s a lot expected from this young star.  

Konecny, on the other hand, joins an already stable foundation of top-6 talent on offense, led by a whole bunch of names I don’t need to mention because you already know them…. *inhales* GirouxVoracekSimmondsSchennCouturier.

This season, the team will look from more from Scott Laughton and Nick Cousins, who should hopefully be aided by newcomer Dale Weise.  Weise has already played for four different NHL franchises at 28, but excelled in a secondary role in 2014 with Montreal, scoring 29 points (10/19) and going +21 on the season.  Matt Read is another player the team hopes to get more from, especially given that he’s signed through 2018 to a hefty $3.625m cap hit.  The Flyers bottom six is lacking size and will have to contribute through a combination of grit and effort, particularly early in the season while Laughton is sidelined with injury.

Shayne Gostisbehere looks to build on the most promising rookie season in Philly sports since Carson Wentz (….  ….   ….. wait), and will likely be called upon early with Michael Del Zotto sidelined 4-5 weeks and Radko Gudas serving suspension (for a pretty silly mistake, if we’re being honest).  There is plenty of opportunity on the blueline for players to step up, and guys like Andrew MacDonald and Brandon Manning have an enormous opportunity to prove that they belong on an NHL roster.  

And even though our goaltending tandem is only the second best in the state *coughs loudly*, the combination of Steve Mason and Michael Neuvirth gives the Flyers a solid, if unspectacular duo.  Mason is likely the starter, but both netminders are talented and capable, if a little unreliable occasionally.

We will likely see several callups throughout this season as well.  I was gifted with an opportunity to catch the Phantoms play the Charlotte Checkers in the preseason, and spent much of the night expecting Sam Morin to stop playing hockey and start munching on his stick.  If he were to fight a bear, the bear would first insist on being allowed to wear hockey pads.  You get it; the guy is huge.  I thought Taylor Leier looked particularly confident in the game as well.

All in all, I’m incredibly motivated by the young talent joining the team and by last season’s stretch of regular season success after a tough start, but my reasonable hopes for this team are to finish second in the division, for Konecny and Provorov to each have a season in which they learn and adapt to the NHL without struggling mentally, for Voracek to find his game again and to watch the Pittsburgh Penguins franchise fade into obscurity as the new powerhouse of the Metropolitan begins its ascent to power.

But I have only have one major prediction for the upcoming Flyers season, and that is that nobody will throw a beer can at any of our own players, unless it’s Ryan Howard doing so ironically.  

Oh, and also, the top goaltending duo in Pennsylvania is obviously the Lehigh Valley Phantoms combo of Anthony Stolarz and Alex Lyon.  What were you thinking?

Challenge Accepted!

The challenge begins again as the party ends. Thursday night the Penguins raise a banner to close another glorious chapter in the story of the franchise. The biggest surprise of the summer? Finally coming to the realization that, yes, Phil Kessel is, in fact, a Stanley Cup Champion.

This summer has been different than those of the past several. No blockbuster trade. No big free agent signing. And you know what? That is perfectly fine. JR took care of business and brought back (almost) the entire Cup Champion team which is a rarity in the salary cap era.

The main question:

Is the team that won Lord Stanley’s Chalice last season still better than all of the teams that made moves in an attempt to dethrone them?
Injuries are the main concern early in the season.
– Rookie Bryan Rust was injured in the Playoffs and is still rehabbing some nagging injuries. He was a huge factor scoring some big goals.
– Goalie sensation Matt Murray was a World Cup casualty, breaking a finger and will miss a few weeks throwing a bit of wrinkle into an already complicated ‘tender situation.
– And of course the Concussion Kid is out again, but hopefully will get back to being the best in the world shortly.

 

The Penguins are the 2nd oldest team in the league and are looking at a few younger guys to infuse them with some youthful energy. Scott Wilson jumps directly into the lineup looking to pick up where he left off last season. Daniel Sprong will be waiting in the wings of Wilkes-Barre, hoping for a chance to make an impact at the NHL level. High draft pick Derrick Pouliot will be battling for the 6th D-man spot with Justin Schultz. Both play a similar style, with defense and size being their main downfalls.

The crowded crease was the main concern of most after Murray secured 15 wins in the playoffs. How would the Penguins deal with the veteran Fleury and youngster Murray? One fantastic goalie is the envy of several teams in the league. But two?! I expect a 60/40 split in games in Fleury’s favor, with Fleury helping to continue Murray’s development. Murray’s injury, however,  gives Fleury the nod for the first couple weeks of play. The Pens nabbed Mike Condon (Carey Price’s replacement in 15-16) off of waivers to backup Fleury. This is when things get really interesting. There is a fully capable backup in Tristan Jarry, who does not have to go through waivers, that would suffice for a couple weeks and could also use some mentoring from Fleury. Yet the brass decides to send him to WBS.

Conspiracy theory time!

Murray gets healthy. Penguins have three starting goaltenders on the roster (please see 15-16 Calgary Flames). They can risk sending Condon to the minors and losing him on waivers. Now this doesn’t hurt the team since they didn’t give up anything to get him, but you are losing a young, starting goaltender. Sending Murray down to the minors makes no sense. He will only continue his development playing in the best league in the world. This leaves Fleury as the odd man out. Could the Penguins move him early in the season? I am not sure but it is something to keep an eye on. Especially if a team loses their starting goaltender to a longer term injury.

 
P.S.  Auston Matthews….pass the damn puck!

What better place than here, what better time than now?

Two friends. Two teams. One rivalry.

The 2016-17 season seems like the perfect jumping off point as it marks the 50th anniversary of the 1967 NHL Expansion, the time both the Philadelphia Flyers and the Pittsburgh Penguins entered the league.

Separated by 300+ miles, but tied together with an undying love for the game (and contempt for the other team) we look to provide you with a view from both sides of the ice.

Two friends. Two teams. One rivalry.