The Philadelphia Flyers are one of the most electric teams in the NHL. Their games are full of big hits and even bigger goals, mostly provided by their forwards. Still though, could their forward lines get any better?
Make no question about it, Philadelphia under-performed last season when it really mattered. Last year's playoffs saw them having an incredible series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, one where they scored 31 goals in only six games. In the Conference Semifinals against the New Jersey Devils, the Flyers were outscored 18-11 in five games and easily lost the series.
Clearly the Flyers are inconsistent, light on players, and even short on talent with their defensemen and goaltending, but Philadelphia lost the series against the Devils because they couldn't beat Martin Brodeur in net, something that their forwards are largely responsible for.
Smoothing out all of the rough areas for the Flyers will be important, but finding a way for their forwards to get it done in the playoffs has to be among the most crucial.
Let's take a look at three steps that the Flyers should take to help improve their forward lines.
Earlier this month I wrote an article on why trading for Bobby Ryan would be good for the Flyers. Fast-forward a few weeks and it isn't being talked about anymore because the Flyers don't have enough to give up and if they found a way to get the deal done, then it would mean that they gave up too much.
Bolstering Philadelphia's forward lines and getting a player of Ryan's caliber fit together perfectly though. A star finds a way to get it done when it matters most. Dustin Brown and Zach Parise are perfect examples of this with how they performed in last season's playoffs.
The problem is that there isn't really anybody for Philly to get. Ryan isn't making his way East, and the majority of big-name players have already signed free-agent deals this offseason.
Philadelphia would most likely have to wait until the trade deadline to deal for a big-name player. If they gave up the right people and if whoever they traded for fit into their system, then it might be something worth looking into.
This is hockey after all—somebody is bound to be unhappy near the trade deadline.
Sean Couturier and Matt Read aren't household names throughout the hockey world, but that doesn't mean that they don't have the skill level to make an even bigger impact this coming season than they did in the last.
Couturier, a 19 year-old rookie, finished eleventh on the Flyers last season with 27 points. At 6'3" and 197 lbs, his mix of size and skill puts him in position to make plays on the ice. Another advantage to having him on the ice is that the team tends to play well when he's out there. His plus/minus last year was plus-18, good enough for second on the team.
Matt Read is a bit of a different story. At 26 years old, he doesn't have the time to develop and mature in the same way that Couturier does. Philadelphia has to be loving that his game is already pretty mature though.
Read lead all rookies in scoring last year with 24 goals. He also posted the fourth-best amount of points among rookies at 47. If you were curious about how his plus/minus stacks up against Couturier's then Flyers fans will be pleased to know that he was third on the team with plus-13. On top of his great stats, he was one of the more clutch players on the Flyers last year, finishing with six game winning goals—tying him for first on the team.
Giving both players more ice time this year should lead to more production. It doesn't necessarily solve their playoff problems, but it certainly helps to get them there.
The Flyers are beating themselves.
Some teams adopt the phrase, "The best defense is a good offense." Philadelphia needs to change that to, "The best offense is having good discipline."
Hockey isn't a game that can be broken down into possessions in the same way that basketball and football can. Hockey moves so fast and the puck goes from team to team so often that looking at a game and analyzing how many possessions a team gets just doesn't work.
What does work is looking at how many opportunities a team is given.
An opportunity in hockey can be looked at in a number of ways, but for the sake of the argument, let's focus on one in particular: Penalties.
Penalties are an opportunity because when a team gets a penalty, it puts them at a disadvantage giving the other team one more player on the ice for a stretch of time. There was nobody in the NHL worse at getting called for penalties than Philadelphia last season. The Flyers averaged 16.1 minutes a game with a man in the penalty box. 16.1 minutes a game!
If nearly a third of the game is being played without all five men on the ice, then the team is missing out on a significant number of opportunities that they would receive by having everyone out there. The opposition gets to control the puck for the majority of the penalty and that limits what Philadelphia can do on offense.
As nice as getting a big name is, Philadelphia's offensive production would still be okay if they didn't make any personnel moves for this season. That's clear based on how they finished tied for second in goals last season. The problem is that they are only tapping into a small amount of their potential when they find ways to literally take themselves out of games.
The city arguably has the most intense and passionate fans in the country. Chances are that some of that rubs off on the team and people understand that in the heat of the moment, things happen. That's still not an excuse and the Flyers need to stop beating themselves to truly have a chance at every opportunity on the ice.
Keeping all five players on the ice will help the team, but it will really help the forwards do what they do best—produce.