(Photo: Kate Frese)
The 2018-19 NHL season opened on Wednesday night, but it officially begins for the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday night with their season opener in Vegas.
It's a new year, which means it's time for our staff to take their best shot at what will come from the Flyers season and the NHL season.
The Flyers staff at Sports Talk Philly put together a series of predictions, both on the Flyers and the rest of the league. Here are the results:
What is the Key to the Flyers Season?
Kevin Durso - Goaltending. Isn’t it always? It’s still a little different this year than in past years. Instead of the Flyers having to play the game of platooning netminders or being stuck in waiting, they have their goalie of the future in the pros with 20-year-old Carter Hart starting the season with the Phantoms. The big question is if and when they use him and how much they pin on him. Another season of Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth getting a bulk of the starts could end exactly the way last season did. The Flyers should be a better team on paper up front and the defense will continue to evolve as younger players get more experience, but the Flyers need to get consistency in net. That’s a big ask for two veteran goalies off injury, one prospect goalie off injury, one prospect goalie off nearly a full year recovering from an injury and a 20-year-old in Carter Hart deemed the future of the franchise. No pressure, kid.
Rob Riches - Staying healthy. With younger core players returning for another year, the key is avoiding injury -- and with so many injuries in the preseason already, it'll be tough. Keeping the lineup consistent will help them lock down a playoff spot much earlier than Game 82.
Dan Heaning - While many will point to the play of the goaltenders as the defining key for the team, the development of the young blueliners, namely Travis Sanheim and Robert Hagg, will be vital for the Philadelphia Flyers in 2018-19. If Ivan Provorov can catapult himself into the Erik Karlsson stratosphere then perhaps there will less pressure will be for these sophomore defenders to be great. However, given the current makeup of the defense corps, Sanheim needs to become a true blue number three defenseman on this team as veterans like Andrew MacDonald and Radko Gudas have inherent flaws to their game that make them less than ideal to fill that role. Sanheim has all the tools to become that top second pairing guy with his combination of size, speed and offensive skill. If he can sure up his defensive zone coverage and stay healthy, he should be a pivotal defenseman. Meanwhile, Hagg showed that there is plenty of sandpaper to his game and embraced his role as a stay-at-home defender. On a team that is going to look to score early and often, Hagg will need to round out into a solid third pairing defender that can be trusted to defend leads and kill penalties. If Sanheim and Hagg can go from rookies with potential to filling these specific roles then the Flyers will only have to worry about their inconsistent veteran blueliners.
Jeff Quake - The special teams needs a lot of work this year, but with the addition of James van Reimsdyk will certainly help the power play.
Mike Witmer - The Flyers depth defensively and healthy goaltending. The Flyers cannot repeat what happened at the end of last season with goaltending injuries.
Ryan Black - The key to the Flyers season will be defensive depth or lack thereof. Shayne Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov are known quantities, but the bottom four have a number of question marks. Based on their play last year and in the preseason, Andrew MacDonald, Radko Gudas, Robert Hagg and Christian Folin all seem better suited to 3rd pairing roles than 2nd pairing minutes. But at least one of those guys will need to seriously step up and eat minutes if the Flyers want to alleviate stress on their top pairing and goalie tandem. A long-term injury to either Ghost or Provorov could be devastating.
Players to Watch
Kevin Durso - James van Riemsdyk - With so many forwards providing depth to the top nine, there really are endless options here. As the Flyers big acquisition in the offseason, JVR is a fairly obvious choice for player to watch. Here’s my reasoning though. He’s obviously here to score goals and anything short of 25 seems like a disappointment, but I also want to see him be a more active presence at even strength, not just a power play specialist. JVR got lost in the Toronto lineup last year at times, so with a fresh start in Philadelphia, maybe that takes his play to another level.
Rob Riches - Wayne Simmonds - The 'Wayne Train' will look to rebound from an injury-plagued campaign, and seeing that he just turned 30 this offseason, I'm curious to see if he can shake off the injury bug. He's also entering the final year of his contract, and with his future as a Flyer murky, he'll look to produce the best numbers he can.
Dan Heaning - Ivan Provorov - The sophomore slump hits many second-year players, but it didn't rear its ugly head to Ivan Provorov. Provorov was masterful in his second NHL season and if he can continue his trajectory of excellence then the Flyers may have their Bobby Clarke Trophy winner here. It is typically the third year when blue-chip prospects become great players and when great players become elite. If Ivan Provorov can hit the elite echelon for this season, he can practically erase many of the deficiencies the team has on the back end and goal by himself. On the other hand, if Provorov slumps or is injured for any significant amount of time, the Flyers are toast.
Jeff Quake - Ivan Provorov - The top defenseman for the Flyers is due for yet another remarkable year and could very well be named a finalist for the Norris Trophy this year.
Mike Witmer - Nolan Patrick and Travis Sanheim. For Patrick, a healthy offseason and preseason and upgraded linemates should bring a more productive season. For Sanheim, this time he'll get a full season on the Flyers and it will be interesting to see how he progresses his game from the minors.
Ryan Black - Travis Sanheim - Sanheim’s got a great pedigree and he showed glimpses of his potential last season, but also committed a number of rookie gaffes and failed to capture the confidence of the coaching staff. If Sanheim can use his puck skills on the breakout and play some smart, positional defense, he can be a very competent #3 or #4 this season, and the entire outlook for the team’s unsettled blue line could be different.
Kevin Durso - Travis Konecny will lead the team in goals.
Rob Riches - Shayne Gostisbehere will solidify himself as a Norris Trophy contender this season. If he doesn't end up as a nominee, he'll be close.
Dan Heaning - The Philadelphia Flyers go to the Eastern Conference Final...and lose.
Jeff Quake - Ivan Provorov will win the Norris Trophy.
Mike Witmer - Mikhail Vorobyev will have breakout year, and be Calder finalist
Ryan Black - GM Ron Hextall breaks from tradition and trades mid-round picks for a decent veteran NHL defenseman on an expiring contract.
|Leading Scorer||Goals by Defenseman||Players with 10+ Goals||Leader in PP Goals||Final PK Ranking||Total Shootout Losses||Date of Carter Hart's Call-up||Metropolitan Division Finish|
|Kevin Durso||Claude Giroux (90)||Shayne Gostisbehere (14)||11||James van Riemsdyk||19th||8||January 3||3rd|
|Rob Riches||Claude Giroux (95)||Shayne Gostisbehere (18)||11||James van Riemsdyk||27th||5||March 15||3rd|
|Dan Heaning||Claude Giroux (88)||Ivan Provorov (22)||13||James van Riemsdyk||25th||8||Next Season||3rd|
|Jeff Quake||Claude Giroux (95)||Ivan Provorov (22)||19||James van Riemsdyk||25th||8||Next Season||2nd|
|Mike Witmer||Claude Giroux (100)||Ivan Provorov (20)||14||Wayne Simmonds||25th||7||Next Season||2nd/3rd|
|Ryan Black||Claude Giroux (89)||Shayne Gostisbehere (19)||13||James van Riemsdyk||27th||6||December 6||3rd|
NHL Division Winners
|Atlantic Division||Metropolitan Division||Central Division||Pacific Division|
|Kevin Durso||Tampa Bay Lightning||Washington Capitals||Winnipeg Jets||Vegas Golden Knights|
|Rob Riches||Boston Bruins||Columbus Blue Jackets||Winnipeg Jets||San Jose Sharks|
|Dan Heaning||Toronto Maple Leafs||Columbus Blue Jackets||Winnipeg Jets||San Jose Sharks|
|Jeff Quake||Tampa Bay Lightning||Washington Capitals||Winnipeg Jets||San Jose Sharks|
|Mike Witmer||Tampa Bay Lightning||Washington Capitals||Winnipeg Jets||San Jose Sharks|
|Ryan Black||Toronto Maple Leafs||Pittsburgh Penguins||Winnipeg Jets||San Jose Sharks|
NHL Playoff Results
|Eastern Conference Champion||Western Conference Champion||Stanley Cup Champion|
|Kevin Durso||Tampa Bay Lightning||Winnipeg Jets||Tampa Bay Lightning|
|Rob Riches||Tampa Bay Lightning||Nashville Predators||Nashville Predators|
|Dan Heaning||Tampa Bay Lightning||Winnipeg Jets||Winnipeg Jets|
|Jeff Quake||Toronto Maple Leafs||San Jose Sharks||San Jose Sharks|
|Mike Witmer||Tampa Bay Lightning||Winnipeg Jets||Winnipeg Jets|
|Ryan Black||Tampa Bay Lightning||Winnipeg Jets||Winnipeg Jets|
|Art Ross||Hart||Vezina||Jack Adams||Maurice Richard||Norris||Calder|
|Kevin Durso||Connor McDavid (EDM)||Nikita Kucherov (TB)||Andrei Vasilevskiy (TB)||Paul Maurice (WPG)||Alex Ovechkin (WSH)||Erik Karlsson (SJ)||Rasmus Dahlin (BUF)|
|Rob Riches||Connor McDavid (EDM)||Nathan MacKinnon (COL)||Braden Holtby (WSH)||Paul Maurice (WPG)||Patrik Laine (WPG)||P.K. Subban (NSH)||Miro Heiskanen (DAL)|
|Dan Heaning||Connor McDavid (EDM)||Connor McDavid (EDM)||Martin Jones (SJ)||John Tortorella (CBJ)||Patrik Laine (WPG)||Ivan Provorov (PHI)||Casey Mittelstadt (BUF)|
|Jeff Quake||Connor McDavid (EDM)||John Tavares (TOR)||Andrei Vasilevskiy (TB)||Mike Babcock (TOR)||Alex Ovechkin (WSH)||Ivan Provorov (PHI)||Rasmus Dahlin (BUF)|
|Mike Witmer||Connor McDavid (EDM)||John Tavares (TOR)||Connor Hellebuyck (WPG)||Paul Maurice (WPG)||Alex Ovechkin (WSH)||Erik Karlsson (SJ)||Mikhail Vorobyev (PHI)|
|Ryan Black||Connor McDavid (EDM)||Nikita Kucherov (TB)||Connor Hellebuyck (WPG)||Paul Maurice (WPG)||Patrik Laine (WPG)||Drew Doughty (LA)||Rasmus Dahlin (BUF)|