NHL 31 in 31 Season Review: Philadelphia Flyers
The Philadelphia Flyers season can be defined by a pair of streaks, the ten-game losing streak and then the stretch of games that followed. The team had way too much talent to lose ten consecutive games so the team bouncing back strong was both a testament of character and a regression to the mean. The Flyers were eliminated by the Penguins in the playoffs but considering that the team went on a losing streak that was 1/8th of the season I would be hesitant to call the season a failure and the team is well built for future success.
The Flyers have a great mix of youth and veterans at both forward and defense. We will start this bright spot section with a quick look at the core group of forwards. Of course, the players are Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek and Sean Couturier. The trio collectively scored 85 goals and registered 178 assists, good for 263 total points. All three players played in all 82 games which means the Flyers essentially went into every game knowing at least one goal would be produced by these three players. Giroux was the best of the bunch, his 102 points and 54.1% Corsi rating made him the focal point of the Flyers attack. Voracek and Couturier each had Corsi ratings above 50% as well. Voracek’s was 50.9% and Couturier edged out Giroux with a 54.6%. Expected Goals For is a great metric to gage the players ability to finish when in position to score, it can also be used to show whether a player’s goal output can be reasonable to expect year in and year out. If a player outperforms his expected goals by a high degree I would not expect the player to score as many goals in the next season. In this case none of the three players outperformed the metric by a significant amount. In fact, Voracek underperformed slightly but it was to such a small degree the team should not be concerned. All three players are under contract for the foreseeable future, so Flyers fans have every right to be excited about this trio of talented players.
Now let’s shift the focus to some of the younger forwards. Travis Konecny and Nolan Patrick were each highly touted prospects who each saw close to one thousand minutes of ice time in 2017-2018. Each player plays a unique style of game, so we will take a closer look at each of the two individuals. On the surface Konecny’s 24 goals and 23 assists are impressive enough for a 21-year-old player. Adding the nugget that 44 of those points came at even strength makes the numbers pop even more. As if Flyer fans were not excited enough an even deeper dive into some of his more advanced statistics illuminates the fact that the Flyers may have a special talent in Konecny. He attempted nearly 2 shots from the slot per 20 minutes of ice time and made 8.56 plays that generated scoring chances in 20 minutes of ice time as well. Both of those numbers are fantastic but the area where he really excelled is individual possession time in the offensive zone. Every 20 minutes he was on the ice, he had the puck on his stick for 41 seconds in the offensive zone. At first glance 41 seconds seems like such a small amount of time but when you sit back and think about a period of hockey, how much of the period is spent in the neutral zone? How much of the period is spent chasing after loose pucks? For reference, Jack Eichel did everything for an abysmal Sabres team this past season and his number was 48 seconds.
Patrick is only 19 years old and plays a less physical game than Konecny, so his expectations had to be a touch lower, especially as the season progressed. The fact that he played so many NHL minutes should be considered a successful campaign for Patrick. The Flyers did an excellent job giving him power play time which allowed him to register 13 goals and 17 assists for 30 points. If that is his production in 3 seasons the Flyers will have a problem, but a player selected so high in the draft is likely to develop into quite the player. Next offseason I would expect Patrick to have a longer section in the season bright spots section.
On defense two young players stood out among some of the veterans the team signed to help hold down the fort. Ivan Provorov and Travis Sanheim impressed this season, Provorov played more than 150 5v5 minutes than Shayne Gostisbehere to lead the team in 5v5 minutes by a wide margin. He has a great shot, his .19 goals per 20 is near the top of the league for defenseman. He is a smooth skater as well, he controls entries into the zone and can make a possession driving play every minute he is on the ice. his speed also helps him recover 71.7% of the opponents dump ins. In a perfect world he can recover the dump in and immediately use his speed and skill to turn the puck up ice. He played 208 shorthanded minutes and the Flyers did not try to shelter him at all. His 30.8% offensive zone start percentage is right on par with some of the best two-way defenseman in the league. It looks like he is a young defenseman you could build a defensive corps around.
Travis Sanheim is not quite the player that Provorov is, but the 22-year-old should not be discredited for his contributions either. He is shockingly average but excels in a few key areas and struggles with nothing. If I were a GM I would be more than happy to have 3 Travis Sanheim’s on my team. One thing I did find interesting was the Flyers usage of Sanheim. His offensive zone start percentage was 38% but he only registered 10 points on the year and his according to his advanced metrics he is better in his own zone anyways. He secures possession at a much better rate in his own zone. Perhaps the Flyers would be better off letting him take on more of a defensive role next season.
Lastly, there are a handful of players who had solid seasons but did not get a full section to themselves. Shayne Gostisbehere and his 52 assists did not go unnoticed as he continues to be one of the best powerplay defenseman in the game. Forward Michael Raffl was a solid two way forward who was able to eat some minutes against top competition. The mix of youth and veteran players makes the Flyers look like a team that can contend soon if they are able to work out some other minor (and not so minor) issues.
The team lost ten games in a row, surely there must be some disappointments. But I am of the belief that the streak was an anomaly and something like that will not happen in the NHL again anytime soon.
The most obvious disappointment is the goalie situation. There must be a saying somewhere in hockey that goes something like this, “if you have three goalies it really means you don’t have one.” Brian Elliott, Petr Mrazek and Michal Neuvirth each played more than 800 minutes this season. Of course, injuries played a role, but a look at the stats shows that none of the goalies were able to claim the net when given the chance. Petr Mrazek was the weakest of the three, Elliott and Neuvirth had nearly identical statistics but frankly neither of the two were played well enough, consistently enough, to grab a stranglehold on the number one job. With both players still on the roster next season the same battle figures to take place in 2019.
Lastly two older forwards did not play the role they were expected to play. Dale Weise is an interesting case, he has bounced around quite a bit recently but there always are teams ready to sign or trade for him. This year his season was shortened by injury but when he was on the ice he was ineffective to say the least. His Corsi was 44% which is very low, even for a defensive minded forward. He was a solid penalty killer, but his defensive play did not translate well to 5v5. The bottom six forward is changing. The players now must be able to possesses the puck and chip in offensively. An exercise I like to do is ask myself, where would this player play on one of the best teams in the league? In this case I do not think there would be a spot in the lineup for Weise on some of the league’s best teams.
Lastly, assistant captain Valtteri Filppula was on a contract that his performance was not able to meet. This must be taken with a grain of salt because the contract was signed in 2013 so the team had to see this decline coming as he aged. However, he did count $5M against the cap this year and had awful possession numbers. His individual defensive metrics are impressive but a close look at the numbers when measured in per 20 shows that he was not quite the defensive forward that some of his supporters might say he is. With that being said, he provided leadership and killed plenty of penalties, maybe he is the type of player that you have to be in the locker room day in and day out to fully appreciate what he brings to the team.
Up front the Flyers only have three free agent forwards. One is Filppula, who I would let walk. The other two are Taylor Leier and Matt Read. Leier is an RFA which means the team does not have much to worry about. Matt Read is an interesting case. He looks to be a player who could fill the Filppula role very well. He had very similar defensive numbers but was not facing the same level of competition. However, his younger age and cheaper cost (I guess he will earn $1.5M-$2M) makes him a more desirable option.
The team is in a similar boat on the defensive end. Robert Hagg is an RFA, Johnny Oduya is a 36-year-old UFA who will be let go and Brandon Manning is a 26-year-old defenseman who can be brought back with a $2.5M-$3M cap hit if the team chooses to do so.
The team is sitting pretty, as it will head into the offseason with $17M in cap space. However, that does not mean they can just go spend like crazy on July 1st. After the upcoming season Konecny and Provorov will be restricted free agents. Fast forward to that point and that figures to be $10M+ to sign them. The number would be even larger if they opted for long term deals right away. Wayne Simmonds will be up, Michael Raffl will be up, Nolan Patrick will be one year closer to RFA status. Both goaltenders will be UFAs, that could turn out being a blessing but regardless the team will have to sign a goaltender. If Carter Hart is not ready the team will have to sign two.
If I were the GM of the Flyers I would get my feet wet in the free agent pool, but I would not do anything too crazy. The team is solid as is, sure another defenseman would help the cause but signing the best free agent defenseman to a monster deal could handcuff the team moving forward. It may seem strange to look at the Flyers as a team with tons of cap space and picks but if the team manages these next two seasons right they could be set up to let Giroux and their older players end their career with a few deep playoff runs.
Please be sure to check in again tomorrow as we take an in-depth look at the Los Angeles Kings. If you enjoyed this review, please follow us on Twitter, @afpanalytics, and share it with your friends!
Stats have been pulled from NaturalStatTrick.com and Corsica.hockey. Salary info from Capfriendly.com
JUSTIN WHITE is an intern AFP Analytics. Justin is a graduate of St. John Fisher College where he earned his degree in Sport Management and Statistics. He has worked with the Rochester Americans and members of their coaching staff on various analytics and statistics-based projects.