Complete Preview and Predictions for the Philadelphia Flyers in 2015-16

Carol Schram@pool88Featured ColumnistOctober 6, 2015

Complete Preview and Predictions for the Philadelphia Flyers in 2015-16

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    The Philadelphia Flyers are making a fresh start for the 2015-16 NHL season after hiring former University of North Dakota head coach Dave Hakstol to take over behind their bench.

    Hakstol's new position has seen plenty of turnover through the years. According to Hockey Reference, two-time Stanley Cup winner Fred Shero is the only head coach in Flyers history to last in his job for more than five seasons.

    Shero's 554-game run over seven seasons from 1972 to 1978 was more than twice as long as his closest competitor, Mike Keenan, who coached 320 games between 1985 and 1988.

    Philadelphia's outgoing coach, Craig Berube, got the axe after 161 games over two seasons. He guided the Flyers to the playoffs in his inaugural campaign but landed his team 14 points out of a playoff spot in 24th place overall last year, despite All-Star caliber seasons from right wing Jakub Voracek and goaltender Steve Mason.

    As the Hakstol era dawns, here's a look at the rest of the Flyers' offseason changes and their outlook for the year ahead.

Key Roster Changes

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    Tom Mihalek/Associated Press

    Key Departures

    • Nicklas Grossmann (D)
    • Zac Rinaldo (LW)
    • Ray Emery (G)
    • Chris Pronger (D) (on injured reserve—contract only)

    • Craig Berube (Coach)

    Key Additions

    • Sam Gagner (C)
    • Evgeny Medvedev (D)
    • Michal Neuvirth (G)

    • Dave Hakstol (Coach)

    The Flyers will go into the new season with a roster that looks very similar to 2014-15.

    By trading the last two years of Chris Pronger's contract to the Arizona Coyotes, general manager Ron Hextall freed up enough salary-cap space to bring in depth forward Sam Gagner, KHL veteran defenseman Evgeny Medvedev and backup goaltender Michal Neuvirth.

    According to General Fanager, Philadelphia currently has 24 NHL contracts on the books and is over the salary cap by a little less than $300,000.

    One more roster cut will need to be made before the beginning of the season, at which point the team will also be cap compliant.

Projected 2015-16 Depth Chart

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    Adam Hunger/Associated Press

    Forwards

    Michael Raffl - Claude Giroux - Jakub Voracek

    Matt Read - Sean Couturier - Wayne Simmonds

    R.J. Umburger - Brayden Schenn - Sam Gagner

    Chris VandeVelde - Pierre-Edouard Bellemare - Ryan White

     Vincent Lecavalier - Scott Laughton

    Defense

    Mark Streit - Andrew MacDonald

    Nick Schultz - Radko Gudas

    Evgeny Medvedev - Michael Del Zotto

    Luke Schenn - Brandon Manning

    Goal

    Steve Mason

    Michal Neuvirth

Biggest Storylines to Watch

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    Hakstol's New System

    With only a few minor roster changes, Philadelphia's rookie head coach Dave Hakstol will be responsible for engineering different results from essentially the same team that finished 24th in the NHL last season.

    Hakstol's a rare bird in the NHL, making the jump directly to a head-coaching position after spending the last 11 years running the bench at the University of North Dakota.

    Dave Caldwell of the New York Times reports that speed is the key building block of the new coaching system.

    This game starts and ends with energy and work ethic and guys that are good teammates. That’s the baseline. The game is played at a high pace now, and we want to think in this room that we have the ability to get up the ice a little bit quicker, the ability to create a little bit more in the offensive zone and getting everybody involved.

    Team scoring stats dropped off sharply last season after Voracek (81 points) and Claude Giroux (73 points). A more-balanced approach should help the team move above the 22nd-place rank it held in 2014-15.

    Can Steven Mason Stay Stellar?

    Despite the Flyers' ups and downs, goaltender Steve Mason was able to carve out an outstanding campaign last season, posting a career-best 2.25 goals-against average and .928 save percentage.

    Mason is offering tantalizing hints that he could be a difference maker in net. If he can perform to similar levels during the new season while the team in front of him improves, that could translate to a significant move up the standings for the Flyers.

    Blueline Blues

    Philadelphia tied for 21st overall in goals against last season, but that number would have been even worse without Mason's strong play: The Flyers gave up 30.3 shots per game to rank 23rd in the league.

    Five Philadelphia defensemen will make $3 million or more in 2015-16, but the team lacks a standout blueliner on either the offensive or defensive side of the puck.

    Hakstol's working with a virtually blank slate when it comes to establishing solid pairings and balancing the defensive workload to tighten up the back end.

Best and Worst Case Scenarios

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Best-Case Scenario

    If the Flyers buy into Hakstol's program as a team, they'll provide strong support for the top-level talents on their team—first-line forwards Giroux and Voracek and goaltender Mason, who should be ably supported by new backup Michal Neuvirth.

    A lot went wrong in Philadelphia last year. If Hakstol can flip the script and get some of those little things to go right, it could easily translate into wins, points and a move up the Metropolitan Division standings.

    Worst-Case Scenario

    A slew of big-money, long-term contracts won't give Hakstol much lineup flexibility if he determines that the Flyers, as they're structured, simply don't have enough talent to succeed in today's NHL.

    Philadelphia remains saddled with Vincent Lecavalier's contract for three more seasons, according to General Fanager, while winger R.J. Umberger and defenseman Andrew MacDonald will need to pick up their games if they hope to justify their current long-term deals.

    If the present roster can't be successful under new leadership, the Flyers' salary-cap handcuffs could force a lengthy rebuild that will test the patience of even the most loyal fans.

Final Prediction

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    Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

    Dave Hakstol's college coaching record is outstanding, and his fresh approach is being well-received so far in Philadelphia.

    With Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek now in their hockey primes and Steve Mason playing the best hockey of his career, Hakstol's clean slate should ultimately yield a pretty picture in Philadelphia.

    The Flyers will move up the standings, but tough competition in a widely improving Metropolitan Division won't leave much room for upward mobility.

    Look for Philadelphia to finish fifth in the division and end the season in a battle for the last wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.