How Philadelphia Flyers Stack Up with Each Division Rival
All in all, the Philadelphia Flyers' roster for the upcoming 2014-15 season is awfully similar to last year's squad.
Nine of the team's top 10 point producers from a season ago are set to return, while Steve Mason and Ray Emery are both back between the pipes providing Philadelphia with a stability in goal the Orange and Black haven't enjoyed in years.
Fan favorite Scott Hartnell was dealt to the Columbus Blue Jackets for former Flyer R.J. Umberger, and Nick Schultz was inked as a depth defenseman on Philly's back end. Otherwise, the roster remains largely the same as a year ago.
But that's not such a bad thing.
After failing to qualify for the postseason following the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, the Flyers responded last year with 42 wins and 94 points en route to a sixth-place finish in the Eastern Conference. What's more, Philadelphia finished third in the newly formed Metropolitan Division and posted a 15-11-4 mark against division opponents.
But while the Flyers remain largely intact heading into the upcoming season, there's been considerable change throughout the rest of the Metropolitan Division this summer. Here's how Philadelphia stacks up against its division opponents heading into the 2014-15 campaign.
Vs. Carolina Hurricanes
Key Additions: F Jay McClement, D Tim Gleason
Key Departures: F Manny Malhotra, F Brett Sutter, G Justin Peters
Carolina is still strong down the middle with the Staal brothers, Eric and Jordan, but Philadelphia is stronger with Claude Giroux, Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier and Vincent Lecavalier.
Eric Staal, Jeff Skinner and Alexander Semin form a dynamic top line for the Hurricanes, but the offense dries up rather quickly after that.
Cam Ward isn't the same goaltender he was five years ago and will likely split time between the pipes with 28-year-old Anton Khudobin. The two combined for just 29 victories in 66 appearances last season.
The Flyers were winless (0-2-2) in four outings against Carolina last season but should fare considerably better in their five head-to-head meetings this year.
Vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
Key Additions: F Scott Hartnell
Key Departures: F Derek MacKenzie, F R.J. Umberger, D Nikita Nikitin, D Nick Schultz
Advantage: Blue Jackets
Columbus is one of the top up-and-coming teams in the NHL today.
Twenty-two-year-old Ryan Johansen is a blossoming superstar, while fellow forwards Nathan Horton, Artem Anisimov, Brandon Dubinsky, Boone Jenner, Nick Foligno and Cam Atkinson provide a strong under-30 supporting cast.
The Blue Jackets' top-four blueliners (James Wisniewski, Jack Johnson, Ryan Murray and Fedor Tyutin) are a solid mix of offense and defense, while goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky has been nothing short of spectacular in two seasons since being traded from Philadelphia to Columbus.
The Flyers and Blue Jackets split their four head-to-head meetings a season ago, with the home team winning each time out. Expect similar parody in their five get-togethers this season, with Columbus likely holding a slight edge over the Orange and Black.
Vs. New Jersey Devils
Key Additions: F Mike Cammalleri, F Martin Havlat, G Scott Clemmensen
Key Departures: D Mark Fayne, D Anton Volchenkov
With 197 goals last season, New Jersey had the least productive offense in the Metropolitan Division and has done little this offseason to address its goal-scoring deficiencies.
Cammalleri (26 goals in 63 games last season) should help, but he's not a game-changer. Havlat, on the other hand, has dressed in just 127 games over the past three seasons and has managed just 27 conversions during that time. At 33 years old, he's not getting any younger, and neither are Michael Ryder (34), Dainius Zubrus (36), Patrick Elias (38) or Jaromir Jagr (42).
The Devils allowed the fifth-fewest goals against (208) in the Eastern Conference last season but lost both Fayne and Volchenkov to free agency this summer. Goaltender Cory Schneider should continue to give New Jersey a chance to win on most nights, but he can't do everything.
The Flyers and Devils split their four head-to-head meetings last season, with the road team capturing each outing. Expect home-ice advantage to return in their four get-togethers this year and Philly to capture at least five points against its division foe.
Vs. New York Islanders
Key Additions: F Cory Conacher, F Mikhail Grabovski, F Nikolai Kulemin, G Jaroslav Halak
Key Departures: G Evgeni Nabokov
The Islanders finished last among the eight teams in the Metropolitan Division last season but probably would have realized a very different fate if captain and offensive dynamo John Tavares hadn't suffered a season-ending injury at the Winter Olympics.
Before that crushing loss, the former first overall pick back in 2009 was enjoying his best season at the NHL level, having already produced 66 points through the season's first 59 games. New York's offense should be significantly better in the coming year with a full season from Tavares coupled with the additions of Grabovski and Kulemin and the continued development of Kyle Okposo, Josh Bailey, Brock Nelson and Ryan Strome.
The Islanders still don't have any game-breakers on the back end and boast a largely mediocre defense corps, but they improved their goaltending situation with the addition of Halak.
The Flyers were a very impressive 3-0-1 with 19 goals scored against the Islanders last season, but their four head-to-head showdowns should be considerably more competitive this year.
Vs. New York Rangers
Key Additions: F Tanner Glass, F Lee Stempniak, D Dan Boyle
Key Departures: F Brian Boyle, F Benoit Pouliot, F Brad Richards, D Anton Stralman
The Rangers and Flyers finished just two points apart in the Metropolitan Division standings last season, but New York's advantage in team speed, overall depth and battle-tested goaltending became apparent in their opening-round playoff showdown.
New York's offense may take a slight step backward with the loss of Pouliot and Richards, but Stempniak should be able to capture much of that vacated production. And the key offensive components for the Rangers (Rick Nash, Martin St. Louis, Mats Zuccarello, Derek Stepan, Chris Kreider, Carl Hagelin and Derick Brassard) are all set to return for the Blueshirts.
Meanwhile, Boyle joins Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi and Marc Staal along a New York blue line that remains the class of the Eastern Conference. Oh, yeah, and their goaltender isn't bad either.
The Flyers and Rangers split their four head-to-head meetings a year ago, with the Orange and Black failing to capture a regular-season victory at Madison Square Garden for the first time since February 2011.
The two teams appeared as even as can be during their seven-game playoff showdown last year, but in the end, the better team won. Four months later, not much has changed.
Vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
Key Additions: F Steve Downie, F Patric Hornqvist, D Christian Ehrhoff, G Thomas Greiss
Key Departures: F Jussi Jokinen, F James Neal, F Lee Stempniak, D Deryk Engelland, D Matt Niskanen, D Brooks Orpik
It's been an offseason of change in Pittsburgh.
Ray Shero and Dan Bylsma are both out. In their place, Jim Rutherford has assumed the role as Pittsburgh's new GM, while Mike Johnston is the 21st head coach in the team's 47-year history.
The Penguins will also look different on the ice.
Salary-cap constraints forced Pittsburgh to trade former 40-goal scorer Neal to the Nashville Predators and prevented the team from attempting to re-sign free-agent forwards Jokinen and Stempniak and defenders Niskanen and Orpik.
Pittsburgh's top-six forwards still rival that of any NHL squad, but the offensive depth is extremely limited thereafter.
Ehrhoff may have been the steal of free agency, but he's an offensive-minded defenseman joining a roster that already features Kris Letang and Paul Martin. That doesn't provide much comfort and support in front of the enigmatic Marc-Andre Fleury.
The Flyers were an impressive 3-1-1 against the Penguins last season and continued their dominance at Consol Energy Center, claiming all six available points in Pittsburgh's home building. Expect another tight and feisty season series, with stable Philly holding a slight edge.
Vs. Washington Capitals
Key Additions: D Matt Niskanen, D Brooks Orpik, G Justin Peters
Key Departures: F Mikhail Grabovski
After allowing the second-most goals against in the Eastern Conference last season, Washington desperately needed to upgrade its defense this summer. The Capitals may have paid top dollar, but they definitely upgraded with the acquisition of Niskanen and Orpik via free agency.
It's fair to criticize newly appointed Washington GM Brian MacLellan for the $40 million doled out to Niskanen or the five-year pact offered to Orpik, but regardless of where those agreements put the Capitals three years from now, the bottom line is they make Washington a better hockey team for the here and now.
With Alex Ovechkin leading the charge, the Capitals are still one of the most dangerous offenses in the NHL. Now they have a well-rounded defense corps that can hold up their end in the other zone.
Still, the Flyers appear to be deeper offensively and just a more well-rounded team overall.
Philadelphia went 3-1-1 against Washington last season and appears well positioned for success in its four head-to-head meetings with the Capitals this year.