Hard to believe but it’s that time of the year for NHL training camps to open around the United States and Canada. Our hometown Flyers are once again poised for another playoff berth in 2014/15 as they open camp for the first time under head coach Craig Berube. Last season the Flyers were criticized heavily for entering camp out of shape and unconditioned which resulted in a horrific 1-7 start and ultimately cost former head coach Peter Laviolette his job only 3 games into the season. That awful start left the Flyers in a difficult situation to gain a playoff spot down the stretch.
All indications are that coach Berube held his team accountable to stay in shape during the off-season and it seems the message was heard loud and clear. Reports all summer have shown that the majority of the team has continued to train and stayed well conditioned which already puts them at an advantage as training camp opens. This will be the first full season Berube has as head coach of the Flyers. Last season he did a fantastic job of jumping into the role and leading the team to the playoffs. Most analysts believe now that Berube has the opportunity to open training camp as the coach he’ll have an effect right out of the gate which should allow the Flyers to get off to a much better start than they did last season.
For the most part the Flyers will enter the new season with a lot of the same faces you saw last year. The usual suspects such as Giroux, Simmonds, Voracek and others have been training all summer and are ready to go. One of the new names you’ll see in orange and black will be defenseman Michael Del Zotto who came here to replace injured Flyer Kimmo Timonen who has been dealing with blood clots in his leg. Timonen’s status is uncertain at the time of me writing this. He held a press conference on the eve of training camp opening and let it be known it’ll be a long shot for him to return. For the time being Del Zotto is a much need asset to fill the void. Del Zotto is a former Ranger who had some solid seasons for the blueshirts but lost his way and eventually was traded from NY to Nashville. Del Zotto isn’t a game changer but if he can find his way back to form similar to his early seasons with the Rangers it could be a good pickup.
After a tumultuous summer Vinny Lecavalier will be back with the Flyers. New general manager Ron Hextall explored trade scenarios for Lecavalier but no one bit on any of his offers. In my opinion its pretty clear Lecavalier was misused last season. He’s a former MVP and Stanley Cup winner and it’s inexcusable for a player of his caliber to be dropped to the 4th line and eventually benched in the playoffs. Lecavalier didn’t even sniff the ice during the 2nd and 3rd period of game 7 last season against the Rangers and when he was on the ice it was as a 4th liner. Lecavalier has stated he wants to play center which is his natural position. The problem is the Flyers have such a logjam at center so in order for Lecavalier to be accommodated someone will need to shift to wing or be traded. Time will tell how that scenario plays out but early indications are that Berube plans to keep Lecavalier at center this season and find a way to make him as comfortable as possible so he can regain his former MVP form.
The Flyers come into camp loaded with top defensive prospects in Samuel Morin, Shayne Gostisbehere and Robert Hagg. GM Ron Hextall though has been consistent over the summer stating unless any of these prospects clearly outplays one of the veterans they won’t be on the team this season. I support this notion from Hextall also. As much as I’d love to see one of these defensemen suiting up in the NHL it wouldn’t make sense to just hand out a roster spot unless it was earned. The Flyers need to instill a tough work ethic amongst these prospects in order to make them better down the road.
Steve Mason returns to the Flyers as the undoubted starting goaltender while Ray Emery is back in the fold as the backup. For the first time in many many years I feel really good about the Flyers goaltending situation entering the season and actually believe it’ll be a huge strength for the team. Mason played an outstanding playoff series against the Rangers and showed everyone he can hang in there during the toughest of situations. Meanwhile Emery filled in nicely for Mason when needed and even got a victory while Mason was still recovering from a concussion during the early part of the Ranger series. I’m hopefully Mason will get even better this season and lead the Flyers further in the post-season.
The way last season ended was tough for Flyer fans. The playoff series against the Rangers was exciting from start to finish and in my opinion if Steve Mason had played the entire series they would have won. Game 7 was a heart breaker and what made it worse was seeing the Rangers go all the way to the Stanley Cup final. The way the Rangers lost against the Kings though brought a little bit of a smile to Flyers fans who were stuck watching our rivals from the North go all the way to the championship round. But the fact is the Rangers aren’t that great of a team and their Stanley Cup berth leads me to believe the Easter Conference is wide open once again entering this season. I believe if the Flyers can get their act together offensively and score some goals to support Mason they can win a playoff round this season. I don’t see this team as a Stanley Cup contender just yet but winning a playoff series is a reasonable expectation for this season, especially now that coach Berube has had a full off-season and training camp with the team. Below is my breakdown of how I think the NHL season will play out.
- NY Rangers
- St. Louis
- San Jose
Eastern Conference Finals: Boston vs Pittsburgh
Western Conference Finals: LA vs Chicago
Stanley Cup Finals: LA vs Boston
Stanley Cup Champ: LA
There you have it, a repeat champ in the NHL for the first time since Detroit back in 97-98. Make sure to follow along all season to check if my predictions come true (hopefully not and we’re marching down Broad St with a parade in June). Tune in Wednesday Oct 8th as the Flyers open up at Boston against the Bruins followed by the home opener the following night on Thursday Oct 9th against the NJ Devils.