The Philadelphia Flyers may have missed the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but that doesn’t mean their regular season didn’t have its bright spots.
While the goal every year for NHL teams is to make the postseason, most knew heading into the season that the Flyers weren’t going to be contenders. Patience is a virtue, though, as the Flyers made several strides this season that should have you excited for what’s to come in the following years.
Here are 10 positives from the Flyers 2014-15 campaign.
Jakub Voracek is Elite
Consistency at the NHL level is everything. A player may go through a great stretch or have a fantastic season, but if they can’t maintain that level of play, it’s hard to consider them elite. After he broke out for 23 goals and a career-high 62 points in 2013-14, many were excited to see what Jakub Voracek had in store this season. Would he build off his career year or would he take a step back? What he did shocked the entire hockey world. The 25-year-old emerged as one of the leagues’ best player this season, notching 81 points – fifth most in the NHL. His 59 assists were next to only Nicklas Backstrom of the Washington Capitals, while his 11 power-play goals were 11th most in the NHL. After reportedly dropping 10-15 pounds in the 2014 offseason, Voracek entered training camp faster and more agile. He was still impossible to knock off balance this season, using his 6’2” 215 pound frame to shield and protect the puck. Voracek was so consistent this season that he never went three games without recording a point. He was a factor every night and recorded a point on 38 percent of the Flyers 212 goals scored this season. The Flyers finished with the third-best power-play percentage in the NHL, with Voracek playing a huge role. Playing the point on the lethal first power-play unit, Voracek racked up a career-high 33 power-play points, helping the Flyers power play operate a whopping 23.4 percent success rate. Not only was Voracek racking up the points, his energy and personality won over the Philadelphia fan base. Voracek fought twice this season, first dropping the gloves in a fight with Penguins’ Rob Scuderi in January, before taking on Canucks’ Dan Hamhuis in March. Both fights were very spirited, including Voracek lifting his arms and telling the crowd to get off their feet after his tussle with Scuderi. Off the ice, Voracek was everything you could want from your star player. He put on an entertaining show at the 2015 NHL All-Star Weekend, grabbing the Calgary Flames’ youngster Johnny Gaudreau for one of his breakaway attempts. He also acknowledged and met up with the viral “I’m not bud, I’m Voracek” kid. Voracek was one of the best players in the league this season and together with Giroux, they formed one of the league’s best 1-2 punches.
Steve Mason is a Franchise Goalie
After posting a .917 save percentage in his first full season with the Flyers in 2013-14, many were questioning if Steve Mason could maintain that consistent level of play this season. Although he played spectacular in four playoff games against the New York Rangers in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs, one great season is just one great season. After all, the former Blue Jacket was infamously know for posting a phenomenal rookie season that won him the Calder Trophy in 2008-09, before trailing off tremendously in the following years. Those questions about his consistently were answered this season. Ever since joining the Flyers in 2013, Steve Mason has been one of the best netminders in the NHL. Every game he played in this season, Mason was arguably the team’s best player on the ice. He finished with a whopping .928 save percentage – third best in the NHL. His 2.25 GAA was seventh-best in the NHL, which is spectacular considering Mason missed time due to injury and still faced a whopping 1,490 shots. The best takeaway from this past season for the Flyers might just be that they have a franchise goaltender who can give them a fighting chance to win every night. The 26-year-old, who hasn’t even entered his prime, was remarkably consistent throughout the year, allowing over four goals just twice in 51 games played. The Flyers needed a backbone in goal. They need a guy who doesn’t crack under the pressure or suffer epic meltdowns. Mason is that guy. While Mason has proven to be exceptional on the ice, his manner and poise off the ice is another huge positive. Whether it was controversy surrounding the departure of his goalie coach Jeff Reese or the questionable treatment he received from now former coach Craig Berube, Mason never lost his cool. He never snapped or blamed anybody for anything. The Philadelphia media can be a bit much at times and players have lost it. Not Mason. His calm and collected nature makes him a perfect fit in the Flyers crease. The 26-year-old is the goaltender of the present and future for the Flyers.
Michael Del Zotto Has Resurrected His Career
Michael Del Zotto was at a dead-end his career when the Philadelphia Flyers signed him at the end of the 2014 season. After exploding for 41 points and establishing himself as a lethal offensive defenseman with the New York Rangers in 2011-12, Del Zotto went spiraling downwards in the following years, earning the nickname “Del Zaster” in the process. He managed just six goals in the following two years, which included a trade that sent him to the Nashville Predators in exchange for Kevin Klein. Del Zotto was often a healthy scratch in Nashville and found himself going nowhere fast. Considering he had just turned 24-years-old, the Flyers decided to give him a chance. What could wrong in signing a former 10-goal-scorer to a one-year contract worth $1.3 million? It was a decent gamble at a cheap price. Boy did the gamble every pay off. Del Zotto excelled in his first season with the Flyers, finishing seventh in team scoring with 32 points and matching a career high with 10 goals. Never hesitating to jump into the rush, Del Zotto re-discovered that offensive touch that made him so successful in the first few years of his NHL career. MDZ delivered in the clutch for Philadelphia, notching a whopping four game-winning goals – third most among all NHL defensemen. He went from a hated man to a fan favorite in just a year’s time. What a story. What Del Zotto needed was a fresh start. He needed a new team in a new city where the fans and management believed in him. Enter Philadelphia. It was a rocky start at first, with Craig Berube designating Del Zotto a healthy scratch at times earlier in the season, but soon enough, Berube realized the 24-year-old was one of the best defenseman on the team. He was averaging over 24:00 of ice time down the final stretch of the season and has become one of the Flyers’ most trusted blueliners at both ends of the ice. Currently a restricted free agent, it’s expected the Flyers will come to terms with Del Zotto on an extension this summer. With a few promising defensive prospects on the rise and Del Zotto still very young, the Flyers blueline is finally starting to look promising.
Wayne Simmonds is Super Clutch
Every team in the NHL would love a Wayne Simmonds. Just when you think the 26-year-old can’t go any higher, he impresses you even more. If we learned one thing this season it’s that the Wayne Train simply has no brakes. While Simmonds’ 28 goals were an accomplishment in itself, it’s the way in which that he scored them in that makes it all the more impressive. Simmonds scored a career-high six game-winning goals this season and went 4-for-7 on shootout attempts, establishing himself as a clutch hockey player. Some players crack under the pressure. Not Simmonds. He relishes it. Simmonds, who has scored at least four game-winning goals in each of his four seasons in Philadelphia, also potted a whopping 14 power-play goals this season – third most in the NHL. His net-front presence with the man advantage is incredible and a huge reason why the Flyers had the third-best power play in the NHL this season. Enough with the specific stats, though, as Simmonds’ true value lies in the way in which he plays the game. Every night he’s giving it 100 percent. It doesn’t even matter if he’s piling up points, because it’s his energy and hustle that can change a hockey game. There were many nights this past year were the Flyers just didn’t look inspired, but that wasn’t the case with Simmonds. He doesn’t know of an “off night”. If you work hard, the results will follow. During a crucial stretch in early February in which the Flyers were right in the thick of the playoff race, Simmonds scored the game-winning goal or shootout winner in 6 of the Flyers 15 wins (40%). This is a player who comes up big when it matters most. The Flyers are incredibly fortunate to have a guy like this on their second line, providing scoring support behind top-line superstars Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek. His work ethic and never-say-die attitude makes him a leader and an invaluable member of the Philadelphia Flyers. Dominating on the power play, scoring 25-30 goals on the second line every season and working his ass off every night, Simmonds is everything that is right with this team.
Travis Sanheim is Going to be a Stud
Perhaps the best positive from this season didn’t even come from the actual Philadelphia Flyers. Prospect Travis Sanheim had a season for the ages in the WHL, leading all defenseman with a whopping 65 points in 67 regular-season games. He’s been a machine in the playoff as well, leading all WHL defenseman with 18 points in 16 playoff games thus far. Playing for the Calgary Hitmen, the 19-year-old is looking like a rock-solid offensive defenseman who is extremely reliable at both ends of the ice. He knows when to join the rush and when to hold back. His terrific vision allowed him to rack up 50 assists and be a dominant force on the power play. The 6’3, 184 pound blue liner is a terrific puck-moving defenseman who reads the play very well. His plus-52 rating over two seasons with the Hitmen indicates his value goes way beyond piling up points. The 19-year-old is very intelligent and a smooth skater; qualities that make him very good at breaking up plays and odd-man rushes. While he will need to add muscle to his tall and lanky frame, the rising youngster looks to be a key part of the Flyers’ blueline in the future and could contribute greatly to solving the team’s longtime woes on defense.
Claude Giroux is Hilarious…And Good at Hockey
If your team is sucking, they should at least be entertaining, right? When Giroux was arrested on Canada Day during the 2014 offseason for "repeatedly grabbing the buttocks of a male police officer", we had no idea that was a preview of what was to come in the actual season. From wiping his snot on an official to biting the jersey of Panthers’ defenseman Erik Gubrandson, Giroux was weird as hell this past season…and it was hilarious. The incidents occurred during a dull month of December in which the team had just four wins in 17 games. The hockey was boring and the Wells Fargo was quiet. Giroux made sure the fans were still getting some bang for their buck. We’ve learned from this past season that Giroux is an absolute goofball and it’s awesome. From teasing Penguins’ fans to chirping former Flyer James van Reimsdyk, Giroux has been an absolute riot in his time with Philadelphia. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, he comes up with something else. Aside from the funny antics, the 27-year-old had another superb season on the ice, notching 73 points in 81 games – 10th most in the NHL. He fired a career-high 279 shots on goal and was an absolute monster on the power play, scoring a career-best 14 power-play goals – third most in the league. His terrific vision and lethal shot has made him a dynamic two-way threat with the man advantage and he’s arguably become the best power-play quarterback in the NHL. Giroux, who found great chemistry with Jakub Voracek this season, is showing no signs of slowing down, having recorded at least 25 goals in each of his last four full seasons with the Flyers. The 22nd overall pick in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft is a funny and extremely skilled hockey player who can put a team on his back. He’s exactly what you would want out of your captain.
The Flyers Own the Penguins
Even if the Flyers are having a bad season, as long as they beat the Penguins, Philadelphia fans can sleep happy at night. The Flyers dominated the Penguins this season, winning all four meetings, including a nasty, fight-filled affair in Mid-January in which the Flyers racked up 59 PIM -- the most PIM they’ve had in a regular-season game against Pittsburgh since they had 115 on Feb. 16, 1992. Over the last two seasons, the Flyers are 8-1-0 against the Penguins, outscoring them 31-18. As of Thursday, April 30th, 2015, the day this article was published, it’s now been 560 days since Philadelphia last lost a game to Pittsburgh. They simply own the state. While superstar captain Sidney Crosby continued to struggle against the Flyers, Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek took it to the Penguins this season. In his last six games against Pittsburgh, Giroux has nine points, while Voracek has 10 points. Crosby, though, has just two points in his last six games against the Flyers. The Flyers also continued their dominance over the Penguins in their barn, advancing to 13-2-1 all-time at Consol Energy Center. The Flyers own that building. While it may seem overstated to some outside observers how much beating the Penguins means to the Flyers, if you talk to the people in Philadelphia, winning all meetings against Pittsburgh in a season can be considered a successful year. It’s also worth noting in this section how the Flyers managed to defeat some of the best teams in the NHL during the second half of last season. While they suffered 12th straight losses to non-playoff teams at the end of year, they also beat the Blues, Blackhawks, Capitals, Rangers, Islanders, Red Wings, Kings and Canadiens among others in the final months of the season. If beating bad teams is you main problem, the Flyers’ really aren’t looking that bad heading into the 2015-16 campaign.
The Flyers have some Hungry and Gritty Depth Players
What do Ryan White, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Chris VandeVelde have in common? They all had a pretty great season in the bottom-six for the Flyers. White, who was signed as a free agent during the 2014 offseason, notched six goals in 34 games with the Flyers and established himself as a gritty third or fourth-line guy who bangs bodies and goes hard to the net. The 27-year-old was a great energetic force who delivered a whopping 108 hits despite averaging just 11:43 of ice time per game. The Flyers will need to ink the pending free agent to an extension, but ideally, White is a solid fourth-line winger who can contribute the odd goal and be a physical force every night. Bellemare, meanwhile, also scored six goals in his first season with the Flyers. The 30-year-old, who came to the Flyers from the Skelleftea AIK of the Swedish Hockey League, made a great first impression with the team. Bellemare became a crucial part of the Flyers penalty kill, often sacrificing his body and putting himself in the shooting lane. He dished out 121 hits and blocked 61 shots, establishing himself as a warrior and a gritty bottom-six depth forward. He scored five goals at the Wells Fargo Center and racked up all 12 of his points at even strength. While he won’t tear up the scoresheet, it looks like Bellemare can be a hard-working fourth-liner who can play a key role on the penalty kill. VandeVelde, on the other hand, scored nine goals in 78 games with the Flyers and became a nice fit on the fourth line. The 28-year-old, who will need to be re-signed by the Flyers, has a terrific shot and potted 18 and 16 goals respectively in his last two seasons with the University of North Dakota before entering the NHL in 2010. He isn’t a top-six forward, but he can be a reliable third or fourth line player who could potentially contribute 10-15 goals.
Draft Picks in a Very Deep Draft
The Philadelphia Flyers hold the seventh overall selection in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. When you look at the list of players in the draft and there various skill-sets, it seems very evident that years from now, you’re going to look back and realize that a lot of great hockey players came out of this first round. While this article won’t break down all the various prospects believed to be drafted this year, it will look at how the Flyers can use this draft as a huge stepping stone for the coming years. They currently have one other first-round pick in the draft; a pick they received in a blockbuster deal at the trade deadline that saw veteran and longtime Flyer defenseman Braydon Coburn dealt to the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for a first-round pick. While I won’t get into specifics, the pick is expected to fall anywhere between 22nd overall and 30th. Two first-round draft picks in a draft of this caliber is reason enough to get excited. The Flyers also traded away veteran Kimmo Timonen this season, which got them a second-round pick from the Chicago Blackhawks. While Timonen will forever be a fan favorite in Philly, a second-round draft pick for an aging 40-year-old defenseman isn’t a bad deal at all. In total this season, the Flyers lost Timonen and Coburn, while gaining a first-round pick, a second-round pick, a third- round pick and a conditional fourth-round pick. When you look at all the talent is this year’s draft, there is lots of reason to be excited if you’re a Flyers fan.
Michael Raffl Can Score
While lots of focus was on Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek this season, Raffl had a great season, potting 21 goals in 67 games. His goal-scoring pace translates into 26 goals over a full 82-game season. That isn’t bad at all, especially when you consider the 26-year-old averaged just 26 seconds of power-play time and scored 18 of his goals at even strength. Some might say that was due to the skill of Giroux and Voracek, but Raffl didn’t always play with the two superstars last season. He’s got a great shot and isn’t afraid to throw his body around, making him a solid top-six forward. Calling him a top-line left-winger is pushing it a bit. Or is it? Raffl was finding twine consistently last season and we never saw him going through long stretches with no production. He’s got just two NHL seasons under his belt and continues to improve, so when you consider he hit the 20-goal mark in just his second NHL season and is only 26-years of age, there is reason to be quite optimistic about what Raffl will bring to the Flyers in the coming years. While it would be ideal to get an elite left-winger to play on the top line with Giroux and Voracek, settling for Raffl may not be that bad of an option.
Follow me on Twitter @BradyTrett for everything Philadelphia Flyers, including coverage of Jakub Voracek, Michael Raffl, Claude Giroux, Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier at the 2015 IIHF World Championships.