The Biggest Question for Each Philadelphia Flyers Star in 2014-15
The start of the 2014-15 season is less than two months away, and rosters for the 30 NHL squads are coming into focus following the draft and free agency.
For the Philadelphia Flyers, this year's edition of the orange and black will look largely similar to the squad that Philly fans enjoyed throughout the 2013-14 campaign.
Fan favorite Scott Hartnell was shipped to the Columbus Blue Jackets in order to bring R.J. Umberger back to Philadelphia, and Nick Schultz and Michael Del Zotto were both inked to bolster the defense, but otherwise, it's the usual suspects back on Broad Street.
But despite the roster consistency, there's still a host of questions surrounding the Flyers for the coming year.
Here's a look at the biggest question (and a predicted answer) for each of Philadelphia's stars for the 2014-15 season.
Question: Will Giroux eclipse the 100-point mark this season?
After a sluggish start which saw Philadelphia’s captain manage just seven points through his first 15 games last season, the dynamic Giroux produced a resounding 79 points through his final 67 regular-season contests.
In other words, the 26-year-old pivot averaged 1.18 points per game from November 9 on, which projects to a 97-point campaign over a full 82-game season. In short, he’s nearly there.
His career high of 93 points came during the 2011-12 season when Philly’s top line of Giroux, Jake Voracek and Jaromir Jagr was as dynamic as any in the NHL. The captain’s superb chemistry with Voracek remains, and Brayden Schenn should fill the right wing position in the coming year, presenting even more scoring opportunities for the game-changing Giroux.
It won’t be easy, but the Hearst, Ontario, native sees so much ice and is a part of everything Philadelphia does offensively, so it’s hard to believe he'll fail to get there.
Question: Will Voracek score 30 goals for the first time in his NHL career?
Voracek’s 22-goal performance during the lockout-shortened 48-game 2012-13 season had many believing the crafty 24-year-old winger would crack the 30-goal plateau last season.
It didn’t happen, though, as Voracek managed just 23 goals despite suiting up in all 82 regular-season contests.
Like Giroux, he got off to a dreadfully slow start. Voracek didn’t tally his first goal until the 10th game of the season and produced just three conversions through his first 29 outings.
But even if his offensive production stabilizes in the coming year, a 30-goal season just doesn’t seem likely, given Philadelphia’s balanced attack.
The Flyers featured an NHL-best seven 20-goal scorers last year. All but Hartnell are set to return, while Umberger (18 goals), Sean Couturier (13) and Michael Raffl (nine) stand to see increased goal production in the coming year.
Expect Voracek to improve upon his career-high 23 tallies from a season ago, but it’s unlikely he’ll get as high as 30.
Question: Will Simmonds lead the Flyers in goals again this season?
With two goals in the regular-season finale last year, the 6’2”, 175-pound power forward not only set a new career high with 29 conversions but also passed Giroux for the overall team lead in tallies.
It was all part of a breakout year for Simmonds, who also set career highs in assists and points and established himself as one of the pre-eminent power forwards in the game today.
Still, it seems almost impossible today to predict who will be leading the Flyers in goals eight months from now.
Like Voracek, Simmonds’ goal production in the coming season will be impacted by Philadelphia’s balanced offensive attack. He’ll almost certainly be in the mix, but so too will be Giroux, Voracek, Schenn and maybe even Matt Read or Vincent Lecavalier.
Philly rolled four lines last season and got contributions up and down the lineup. That will remain the game plan this season, making it just too much of a wild card to see Simmonds atop the goal-scoring chart again a year from now.
Question: Will Schenn break out this year?
Prediction: Sort of.
For the purposes of this question, breaking out for an offensive player and projected top-six forward like Schenn will be defined as 25 goals and 65 points over a full 82-game season.
Last season, the former fifth overall pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft amassed career highs in goals (20) and points (41), but he has yet to really erupt at the NHL level following 88 and 99-point campaigns in his final two seasons with the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League (WHL).
But the stage appears set this season for Schenn to eclipse those recently established career highs and start to realize the massive hype surrounding his early-round selection five years ago.
With a plethora of centers on the roster, the Flyers will likely place a versatile player like Schenn on the wing, which could land the 22-year-old forward on Philly’s top line alongside the team’s most dynamic offensive weapons.
The Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, native has missed just one game over the last two seasons, so the minutes will certainly be there for Schenn to produce. Now, alongside Giroux and Voracek, the scoring opportunities will be there too.
A 24-point increase might be a bit of a stretch, but it’s not at all unrealistic to expect 26 goals and 55 points from the blossoming Schenn next year.
Question: Will Timonen play at all this season?
Timonen and the Flyers were dealt a crushing blow when it was announced the 39-year-old blueliner had been diagnosed with blood clots in his lower right leg and both lungs.
The seven-year Philadelphia defender is being treated in his native Finland, and the Flyers have said his return to play is yet to be determined.
Unsure if he would even return for a 16th NHL campaign, Timonen was less than two months removed from signing a one-year, $2 million pact with the Flyers for what many believed would be his NHL swan song.
The 5’10”, 195-pound blueliner will no doubt do everything he can to return to the frozen surface, but Timonen’s long-term health and quality of living far outweigh any production he could provide to the Flyers this season.
Maybe the question shouldn’t focus as much on whether Timonen will play this season but whether he should. In either case, the answer should be the same.
Question: Will MacDonald be worth his $5 million cap hit?
This prediction will likely surprise many, as the prevailing theory is MacDonald was grossly overpaid when he signed a six-year, $30 million extension after just 19 regular-season outings with the orange and black following his acquisition at the trade deadline.
But the reality is the Flyers need MacDonald.
The 27-year-old blueliner paced all NHL defenders with 242 blocked shots last season, and no defenseman has blocked more shots over the last three years than MacDonald (550). With streaky defenders like Braydon Coburn, Nicklas Grossmann and Luke Schenn on the roster, Philadelphia could use some stability on the back end, and it will get just that from MacDonald.
The five-year veteran logs a boatload of minutes, plays in all situations and is a model of durability, having missed just seven games over the last three seasons.
He won’t contribute a ton offensively but should be good for a handful of goals and 25-30 points over a full season.
MacDonald may not be worth the $5 million cap hit five years from now, but he’ll be worth it next season.
Question: Will Mason best his 33 wins from a season ago?
Mason matched his personal best with 33 victories last season, but with even just a little bit of help, he could have easily established a new career high.
The 26-year-old netminder lost 13 games last season (0-9-4) when he posted a .900 save percentage or better. What’s worse, the Flyers produced just 19 total goals in front of Mason in those 13 contests.
And yet, despite Philadelphia’s inconsistent offense, Mason still managed to secure 33 wins last season and appears set for even more this year.
Unlike last season, the Flyers’ crease belongs to Mason from Day 1. Ray Emery was signed to a one-year contract to back up the former Calder Trophy winner but shouldn’t expect anywhere near the 28 appearances he enjoyed a year ago.
And if Mason can produce ballpark approximations of his 2.50 goals-against average and .917 save percentage from last season, he could easily be in line for 36-38 victories this time around.