Philadelphia Flyers: 5 Bold Predictions for the Rest of the Flyers' NHL Season
To set the record straight, prognostication is not my forte. My editors would like me to provide some predictions for the rest of the Philadelphia Flyers' season, so I will give it my best shot using statistical evidence as well as my own opinions.
Be sure to check out my prior piece on the "Five Statistics Which Define the Philadelphia Flyers' Season Thus Far."
As I look into my crystal ball, these are five predictions I can make for the way the season will progress for the Flyers...
(Disclaimer: I am not offering my predictions as rumors in any way, shape or form. These are merely my opinions.)
The Concussion Bug Will Bite Again
Since the Flyers have had six victims in 48 games this season, the odds are that another player will suffer a concussion over the remaining 34 games. I certainly hope I am wrong about this prediction, but—as Flyers fans can attest—when it rains, it pours.
Concussions have become the fastest-growing epidemic in the National Hockey League. Each concussion is unique unto itself, and there are no definitive timetables for recovery. They can be debilitating and catastrophic to the player, his family and his teammates.
Players like Keith Primeau can attest that symptoms affect everyday life and can last for years after the initial diagnosis. In his case, he suffered a concussion in 2004. Because of the lingering effects of that concussion, he still experiences head pressure and light sensitivity. Due to these post-concussion symptoms, he was unable to play in the Alumni Winter Classic back on December 31st.
Besides the introduction of Rule 48 into the rulebook, what has the NHL done to prevent concussions? When a superstar like Sidney Crosby has suffered his third concussion in a matter of a little over a year, action must be taken.
Claude Giroux, who also suffered a concussion this season, is now wearing a Bauer Re-Akt helmet, which is designed to lessen blows to the head and, theoretically, reduce the risk and severity of concussions. Giroux recently told USA Today's Kevin Allen, "No helmet is going to completely prevent concussions, but helmets like this one are providing an added level of protection."
Without a mandate on these helmets nor a change to any rules on contact, vicious hits are going to continue. NHL vice president of operations Brendan Shanahan has issued double-digit suspensions for hits to the head. Rule 48 is nice, but it has not been the deterrent that the NHL had hoped. Perhaps the suspensions and fines need to be stiffer.
At any rate, the lesson has not been learned, and there will (unfortunately) be more hits to the head in the second half of the season. As a result, more concussions will be diagnosed. Law of averages may indicate the Flyers should be safe, but as Flyers fans can recount from seasons past, when it rains, it pours.
Bryzgalov Will Have Less Than 2 Weeks to Maintain His Job
Ilya Bryzgalov was supposed to stop the goaltending carousel, as Flyers chairman Ed Snider plainly put it last summer. With a nine-year, $51 million contract in tow, Bryzgalov has struggled. He has posted a 2.99 goals-against average and an abysmal 0.895 save percentage in 33 games played.
Supporters have indicated that Bryzgalov is used to playing about 65 games per year, and he is only on pace to play 56. His detractors have cited his lack of focus, inability to handle the media attention and spotlight in Philadelphia, and his seeming lack of lateral movement.
Whatever the issues, I predict that the Flyers will give Bryz two weeks to find his game. Between January 31st and February 18th, the Flyers will play 10 games. There is only one back-to-back situation in that block.
If Bryzgalov has not shown that he deserves the starting job, the Flyers will make a move. I believe that move is not to Bobrovsky for the future. Instead, I think the Flyers will acquire a goaltender who is an impending free agent and carry three goaltenders.
The Flyers are hoping for a deep Stanley Cup run, and they cannot afford to bring subpar goaltending into the playoffs. Bryzgalov's contract, which includes a no-movement clause, renders him practically un-tradeable.
Sergei Bobrovsky's time may come sooner than expected, but it would unfair to ride him down the stretch of a playoff race this season. He needs to grow into a starter's role, and I believe he needs to begin a season as a starter to do so. The Flyers should keep him because he is an insurance policy.
Nabokov has a 2.38 GAA and 0.919 save percentage for the season. He has been hot of late, allowing 11 goals in his last seven games, including a shutout victory over the Washington Capitals. The 36-year-old native of Russia could prove to be a mentor for both of his countrymen, Bryzgalov and Bobrovsky. His full-season cap hit is less than $575,000.
Ellis, 31, has an impressive 0.911 save percentage this season in 10 appearances. With the exception of his rookie season with the Dallas Stars and last season with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Ellis has maintained a save percentage north of 0.900 for every other season of his NHL career. He is the same age as Bryzgalov, and he is a respected veteran. His full-season cap hit is $1.5 million.
The downside of such a move is that the three goaltenders would leave 20 spots on the active roster instead of the traditional 21. For the Flyers though, they cannot afford to enter the playoffs with such a dynamic offense and a porous, shaken, veteran goaltender along with an inexperienced second-year netminder. Neither Nabokov nor Ellis should cost a roster player. On the flip side, the presence of a third goaltender could ignite Bryzgalov, or the newcomer could get hot himself.
If Danny Brieres Goes on LTIR, the Flyers Will Acquire a Top-6 Forward
Flyers forward Danny Briere suffered a concussion as a result of one or multiple hits administered by New Jersey Devils defenseman Anton Volchenkov on January 21st. He has yet to play since that game.
If Briere cannot play soon, the Flyers would need to consider placing him on long-term injury reserve (LTIR), If the NHL approves the LTIR status for the Briere, the Flyers essentially can allocate the prorated portion of Briere's average annual value towards a new player. His full-season cap hit is $6.5 million.
The rookies have played well this season, but could they perform at a high level on the second line through the playoffs on a team that is trying to win its first Stanley Cup since 1975?
I believe the Flyers would need to look for help at forward in the event that they need to place Briere on the LTIR.
Potential Second-Line Candidates
1. Ray Whitney, Left Wing, Phoenix Coyotes
Whitney is in the final year of his contract, earning an AAV of $3 million. Even at 39, he is still an effective player. He is playing at a plus-13 clip with 15 goals (five on the power play) and 27 assists in 50 games. He captured the Stanley Cup in 2006 with the Carolina Hurricanes, who were coached by current Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette.
2. Milan Hejduk, Right Wing, Colorado Avalanche
Hejduk is in the final year of his contract, earning an AAV of $2.6 million. He has 12 goals and 17 assists this season with a young Avalanche squad. He, too, would provide veteran leadership on the second line. Hejduk won the Stanley Cup in 2001 with the Colorado Avalanche
3. Tuomu Ruutu, Center/Wing, Carolina Hurricanes
Ruutu is a rugged, two-way player with speed and tenacity. He has 15 goals and 11 assists this season. Laviolette coached Ruutu during parts of the 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 seasons. He carries a cap hit of $3.8 million.
The Flyers Will Win Hardware
I will hold my Stanley Cup prediction until playoff time.
Either Matt Read or Sean Couturier will win the Calder Memorial Trophy.
They have both killed penalties since the outset of the season, and Laviolette trusts them both to be on the ice in a one-goal game or in four-on-four overtime. They both have outstanding offensive and defensive abilities as well as great hockey sense. Couturier co-leads NHL rookies with a plus-13, and Read is equally as impressive at plus-12. Both have had five-game goal streaks this season.
Their stiffest competition appears to come from injured Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the Edmonton Oilers and Adam Henrique of the New Jersey Devils.
Nugent-Hopkins may be the best offensive player of the four at this juncture. He plays on the top line in Edmonton with Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle, who made his first All-Star appearance this season. Unlike the rest of the contenders, Nuge, as he is known, does not kill penalties and his team is mostly likely not going to make the playoffs. Putting up numbers in playoff races should hold more weight.
Henrique's role is offense with the Devils. He now plays with sniper Ilya Kovalchuk. Looking strictly at offensive performance, Henrique has 13 goals in 18:24 average time one ice (TOI) versus 15 goals and 17:28 average TOI for Read. While Read has played in two more games than Henrique, he does hold a higher goals/ATOI ratio.
Ultimately, the fact that Couturier and Read have killed penalties well all season (both average over two-and-a-half minutes per game in short-handed situations) while providing offensive firepower will give them the advantage in the Calder voting.
A Flyers player has never won the Calder Memorial Trophy.
The Flyers Will Acquire a High-Impact Defenseman
Ever since Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren declared that team captain Chris Pronger would miss the rest of the season and playoffs with severe concussion symptoms, the elephant in the room has been the need for a bona fide top-pairing defenseman.
To his credit, Holmgren did not panic, and his veterans and youngsters performed in the absence of Pronger. The Flyers are in fourth place in the Eastern Conference, three points behind the first-place Rangers. Defensive lapses and shoddy goaltending have proven to be their Achilles' heel against the Rangers and the Boston Bruins.
Rookies Marc-Andre Bourdon and Erik Gustafsson have filled in admirably, but are they both ready to withstand the rigors of an NHL postseason as the fifth and sixth defensemen? Also, how many minutes can defenseman Kimmo Timonen play effectively on a nightly basis?
In 2010, the Flyers' ultimate undoing (forgetting Michael Leighton's horrific performances in Chicago as well as the nightmare of a Cup-winning goal that he allowed) was the fact that they played that entire Stanley Cup Final series with four capable defensemen. Surely, Paul Holmgren now knows that he needs at least five defenders who can play regular shifts in order to capture Lord Stanley's Cup.
1. Shea Weber, 26, Nashville Predators
Weber is right-handed, and he plays an edgy game (230 pounds) with a flare for offense. He won the largest arbitration award in league history last summer, at $7.5 million.
Weber has 10 goals and 24 assists (10 on the power play). He averages over 26 minutes per game. He is an impending restricted free agent.
2. Ryan Suter, 27, Nashville Predators
Suter is a smooth-skating puck mover. He has five goals and 23 assists (13 on the power play). He also averages over 26 minutes per game. Suter's cap hit is $3.5 million, and he is set to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1st.
Predators general manager David Poile has indicated that team ownership will begin to commit more money to players' salaries. Since the Predators have never spent close to the cap in their history, one would need to wonder whether his statement reflects posturing and a negotiating ploy.
3. Francois Beauchemin, 31, Anaheim Ducks
Beauchemin is a 213-pound shot-blocking machine who can quarterback a power play. He has six goals and 12 assists. Beauchemin won the 2007 Stanley Cup with the Ducks. Beauchemin recently signed a three-year extension with the Ducks with an AAV of $3.5 million.
From a strictly financial perspective, the Flyers may want him to replace Matt Carle, who is an impending UFA. With the Ducks' recent surge, however, Beauchemin may be unavailable.
4. Hal Gill, 36, Montreal Canadiens
Gill is prototypical stay-at-home defenseman with his 6'7", 244-pound frame. He would provide organization, shot-blocking and penalty killing to the Flyers. The 13-year veteran earned a Stanley Cup ring with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009.
The move for a defenseman may wait until the Flyers have answers about Danny Briere's health as well as Ilya Bryzgalov's ability to maintain his job as the starting goaltender.