In case you missed it yesterday, the Philadelphia Flyers were officially eliminated from Stanley Cup contention after losing Game 6 of their opening round playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins by a score of 8-5. Flyers forward Sean Couturier put together a remarkable performance scoring three goals and five points and later revealed that he had played the team’s final two games with a torn MCL in his right knee. Ouch.
Unfortunately for Couturier and the Flyers, they simply weren’t able to contain the surging Pens in the third period who stormed ahead thanks to a remarkable four unanswered goals from sophomore Jake Guentzel. Then there’s the whole missed tripping call on Kris Letang… but we digress.
Less than a full 24 hours later, the autopsy on the 2017-18 Flyers season has already been conducted and archived. Philly.com reporter and Flyers insider Sam Carchidi speculates that general manager Ron Hextall will have his work cut out for him this offseason when it comes to improving his team’s roster. Sure, the team has established stars like Couturier, Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek and emerging young talent like Travis Konency, Ivan Provorov and Nolan Patrick, but Hextall will need to make several difficult decisions on some pending free-agents and shoe up some of the team’s deficiencies via trade or free-agency, as well.
The biggest question mark, is what does the team do with Wayne Simmonds? The soon to be 30 year old winger has a year left on a contract that pays him just $3.975 annually. Based on his production over the past five seasons, he’ll be looking for a substantial increase in pay. But, with Konency taking over Simmonds role on the top like this season, and with Simmonds production taking a slight dip (46 points in 75 games in 2017-18, compared to 54 points in 82 games in 2016-17), how much is too much for the Flyers? Would a four year, $20 million deal be enough to get the job done? Are the Flyers paying more money on a shorter term deal? Lots to be decided here.
The other big question mark in Philly, as is tradition, is the team’s goaltending.Youngster Carter Hart is clearly the team’s future, but he’ll likely need some AHL seasoning. Veterans Brian Elliott and Michael Neuvirth are both signed to digestible contracts for next season and it’s unlikely that Petr Mrazek even receives a qualifying offer from the club. Carchidi speculates that Hextall could use his cap space to bring in another stop gap veteran to help platoon the crease with Elliott and Neuvirth, but who? This upcoming free-agent crop doesn’t have many appealing goaltenders. Do Kari Lehtonen, Jaroslav Halak, Cam Ward or Jonathan Bernier inspire much confidence?
Then there’s the issue of the team’s other pending free-agents. And what do they do with Jori Lehtera’s nightmare contract? From Carchidi:
The Flyers will look much different next season. Lots of decisions will have to be made because Val Filppula ($5 million cap hit this season), Matt Read ($3.625 million), Brandon Manning ($975,000), and Johnny Oduya ($1 million) are unrestricted free agents. It wouldn’t be surprising if none of them are back. In addition, Jori Lehtera ($4.7 million) might be bought out.
Interesting. It’s clear that Hextall and the Flyers will have some money to play with this offseason, upwards of $10-$15 million even. While there’s still lots to be excited about in Philadelphia, the best may still be to come. This will certainly be Hextall's most pivotal season as Flyers boss.