NHL 2014-15 preview: Philadelphia Flyers

Training camp did not start well for the Philadelphia Flyers as captain Claude Giroux was injured early and expected to be out for a few weeks.

Counting down the final 30 days to puck drop on the 2014-15 NHL season, Sportsnet previews all 30 NHL teams in reverse order of how we believe they will finish the regular season.

A dozen reporters and analysts from Sportsnet’s hockey brain trust — Doug MacLean, John Shannon, Chris Johnston, Damien Cox, Mark Spector, et al. — submitted a list ranking all the teams in order of how they think the NHL season will shake out. We crunched the numbers and will be unveiling our consensus standings prediction from worst to first.

Philadelphia is our 16th-ranked team.

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Philadelphia Flyers
Division: Metropolitan
2013-14 finish: 42-30-10, 94 points, 13th overall; lost 4-3 in Round 1 to New York Rangers
Leading scorer: Claude Giroux (86 points)
General manager: Ron Hextall
Head coach:Craig Berube
Captain: Claude Giroux
Opening night starter: Steve Mason
Key acquisitions: R.J. Umberger, Michael Del Zotto
Key departures: Scott Hartnell, Steve Downie

Off-season grade: D. The Philadelphia Flyers had a quiet off-season. A lot of that had to do with their salary-cap situation, which held them back from making any real roster upgrades. Because of the need for cap relief, the Flyers dealt reliable power forward Scott Hartnell to the Columbus Blue Jackets for R.J. Umberger. It’s hard to see how that move makes Philly better, but new GM Ron Hextall was happy to shed Hartnell’s contract (five remaining years with a cap hit of $4.75 million per season) and at the same time add speed to the roster with the addition of Umberger. Outside of that, Philly did little of substance. Their most notable signing was UFA defenceman Michael Del Zotto, who received a one-year prove-it deal for $1.3 million after veteran blueliner Kimmo Timonen was hospitalized in Finland with blood clots in his lower right leg and both lungs.

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Greatest strengths: Even after dealing Hartnell, the Flyers are still loaded up front. They have three capable scoring lines and a legitimate star in captain Claude Giroux (who is off to an unfortunate start). Giroux matched a career-high 28 goals last year and was nominated for the Hart Trophy. The Flyers had a 21-2-1 record when Giroux scored. He wasn’t the only piece of the puzzle, as the Flyers finished fourth in the East in goals scored. That number could grow with expected internal growth from forwards Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn, Matt Read and Jakub Voracek.

Greatest weaknesses: While Steve Mason wasn’t a problem by any means, it’s not safe to call him a proven product just yet. Mason is 26 years old and coming off a year in which he finished with a stellar .917 save percentage and 2.50 goals-against average. But considering Philly’s recent history of goaltenders, we need to see more before qualifying the position as a strength. Philadelphia has been a place where goaltenders go to die – not literally, but their statistics — so until Mason proves last season wasn’t a mirage, this remains the biggest question with the roster going forward.

Biggest story line to watch: Without Hartnell, the Flyers created a sizeable hole at the top of their forward group. Hartnell was a strong fit alongside centre Giroux and right winger Vorcaek on the first line, so Berube and the coaching staff must quickly find an adequate replacement. Early reports indicate Umberger could be a fit in that role, but he hardly provides the size and physicality that worked so well with the two scorers. Others in consideration are Schenn, Vincent Lecavalier and Michael Raffl, who all saw time in the role last year.

2014-15 prediction: Despite the Flyers’ strength up front, Philly will take a minor step back without Hartnell and fail to qualify for the playoffs. They don’t have enough on the back end. Philly finishes ninth in the Eastern Conference standings.

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