In 2017-18, the Flyers will look to avoid back-to-back seasons without the playoffs for the first time since 1989-94, when the club suffered five straight postseason absences.
With that, among many other compelling components, this season certainly isn't lacking for storylines (see Fearless Forecast).
Will an infusion of youth and new roles bring playoff hockey back to Philadelphia?
We have answers with a special prediction-themed End to End from reporters John Boruk, Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone, before the Flyers' season opener Wednesday night against the Sharks.
You want the good news or the bad news first?
Let’s begin with the good: The Flyers have one thing clearly working in their favor this season — history. They have not missed the postseason in back-to-back years since 1992-94 when Eric Lindros broke into the league.
Since then, the Flyers have missed the playoffs on four different occasions. On the previous three occasions, they were able to bounce back and reach the playoffs the next season. Will they make it 4 for 4 in 2017-18? I think they will. For starters, they’re a deeper team both at the forward position and on defense, and I think the goaltending duo of Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth will provide stability.
However, this is a Flyers team that has not finished higher than fifth in the titanium tough Metropolitan Division in each of the past three seasons. It may be able to sneak its way into fourth place, but that may be its ceiling.
So, here’s what I see for the Flyers: 42-28-12, 96 points, fifth place in the Metropolitan Division and a spot in the playoffs, where they’ll face the Pittsburgh Penguins in the opening round.
Stanley Cup Final prediction
This will be the season Steven Stamkos stays healthy, Nikita Kucherov is a finalist for the Hart Trophy and the Lightning win the Atlantic Division.
Connor McDavid will win the Art Ross Trophy for the second consecutive season, and the Oilers and Lightning will meet in the Stanley Cup Final, with the Oilers winning it all.
Welp, last year didn’t end well for me.
Anyways, I do see the Flyers getting back into the playoffs this season. They’re deeper at forward with a legitimate top six and a potential 20-goal scorer (Travis Konecny) on the third line. Dale Weise will be the fan’s punching bag this season, which is, well, much better than Chris VandeVelde or Pierre-Edouard Bellemare.
The defense, led by Ivan Provorov, will be better. Robert Hagg and Sam Morin (or Travis Sanheim, or all three?) will have solid rookie years and we’ll see more consistency from Shayne Gostisbehere in Year 3. The goaltending is the big question.
Can Neuvirth stay healthy? What will Elliott give the Flyers? How many games will Alex Lyon see in 2017-18? I think they’ll get solid enough goaltending to make the playoffs — perhaps even win a round, too. No Cup for the Flyers this season.
But playoffs? Sure, I think they can get there. And with Nolan Patrick centering the second line, and a top-heavy first line, yeah, I could see this team winning a series.
As long as it avoids Pittsburgh in the first round.
Stanley Cup Final prediction
Injuries have made this harder for me. Banged up and bruised, I cannot (wrongly) predict, for a fifth straight season, a Stanley Cup appearance for the St. Louis Blues.
I can’t bet against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Two Stanley Cups in less than 365 days. Sidney Crosby is the best player in the world. For now. Phil Kessel, hot dogs and all. Pittsburgh returns for a third straight Cup appearance, proving kings of the East again. It’ll be a tougher road to the Final, but the Penguins get there. Again. Sorry, Philly.
The Penguins become the first team since the Islanders, from 1980 to 1983, when New York won four straight, to win three consecutive Stanley Cups. Pittsburgh beats ...
Edmonton in six games and a Stanley Cup Final the NHL would absolutely hit pay dirt with. It’ll be Crosby against McDavid, the best in the world against the next one. I like this Edmonton team. Think its defense is finally respectable, and with McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, its 1-2 punch at center is ridiculous. Cam Talbot provides steady goaltending again and Edmonton gets into the Final for the first time since 2006.
Think about how different this team is compared to last season's opening lineup.
In 2016-17, the Flyers kicked things off with a third line of Nick Cousins, Bellemare and Weise. The fourth unit: VandeVelde, Boyd Gordon and Matt Read — all three not currently in the NHL. Michael Raffl, who could be in a fight for playing time this season, was on the first line.
The defense featured Mark Streit and Nick Schultz, 38 and 34 years old, respectively, at the time.
Sure, Brayden Schenn and Radko Gudas were missing because of suspensions, but these 2017-18 Flyers should be better after some significant maintenance.
Now, you get Jordan Weal for a full season, as well as Valtteri Filppula. Weal is primed for a prominent role, while Filppula legitimizes the bottom six with his experience and ability.
The 2017 No. 2 overall pick Patrick is here at 19 years old, set to start what Flyers fans hope is a prosperous career in orange and black.
Konecny is a third-line option because of the overhaul and depth. Raffl has become a probable fourth-liner, alongside players like Scott Laughton (2012 first-round pick), Taylor Leier (23-year-old AHL All-Star) and Jori Lehtera (33 career playoff games in three seasons with the Blues).
And we haven't even mentioned the possibility of anticipated prospect Oskar Lindblom as a call-up from the AHL at some point.
While on defense, Provorov is a year better, Gostisbehere is healthy with rediscovered confidence, and one or two rookies — maybe even three — will push the youth movement forward on the back end.
The biggest concern is the goaltending (in Philadelphia, you don't say!) because the tandem of Neuvirth and Elliott could be pleasantly formidable or really bad.
Overall, though, it's hard to deny the Flyers' improved makeup. With younger players making the NHL jump, expectations need to be tempered, but this is an important season in the rebuild and for the future of the team's core.
I do see the playoffs coming back to Philadelphia but a hard-fought, first-round series loss being the final result of the Flyers' 2017-18 campaign.
Stanley Cup Final prediction
Shield your eyes, Flyers fans (but don't actually, please keep reading).
The Penguins just have a special feel to them.
The mainstay pieces are still very much in their primes, creating a perfect blend with the team's surrounding youth. I see Crosby and company hoisting a third straight Stanley Cup because the Penguins don't appear to be slowing down yet.
As for their foe in the final, I'm still high on the Blackhawks. The Brandon Saad reunion will pay off largely, youngsters Alex DeBrincat and John Hayden will help, and Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and the rest should be ticked off after being flattened by the Predators buzz saw in last year's first round.
Let's go Penguins in seven games.
Preseason is just preseason, but there are times when you can get at least some type of feel from a team after a preseason.
That's not the case with this Flyers team. I feel like they are just stuck in this state of limbo right now. Could a bounce back fueled by hell-bent veterans and supplemented by eye-popping younger players be in store? Sure it could. Could a total flop happen that sees underperforming pieces, no matter the experience, slog through another season marred by inconsistency and disappointment? Sure it could.
This Flyers team could easily trend in either direction. At season's end, we could be saying to ourselves that was tangible progress or we could have even more questions than from before the season began.
And, to me, when you struggle to get a feel or your finger on the pulse of a team, that's not the sign of a great team. That's not a sign of a team I have confidence in to make a push to the playoffs, especially in a stacked Metropolitan Division that features some of the league's heavyweights in Pittsburgh and Washington, constant thorns in the Flyers' side in the New York Rangers and Columbus, and a spunky, up-and-coming Carolina team that could be a problem this season.
The Flyers' outlook this season, for me, is too murky. Too many variables. Too many unanswered questions. Too many things have to fall into place.
I see the Flyers hanging around the playoff mix, but ultimately coming up short, much like last season. I see them finishing behind Pittsburgh, Columbus, Washington, the Rangers, Carolina and the Islanders in the Metro.
But, I do see more rookie and youthful contributions coming. And while those players will take their lumps, watching them develop will be an exciting storyline throughout the season.
Stanley Cup Final prediction
As for my Stanley Cup Final prediction, well, there's an old saying popularized by Nature Boy Ric Flair that goes a little something like this … "To be the man, you gotta beat the man." And right now, the Penguins are "the man" until proven otherwise. They are just so deep with talent, youth, speed and skill at every turn.
From the West, I'm still a big fan of what the Sharks have put together. Patrick Marleau is in Toronto now, but they are still dynamic with the likes of Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Brent Burns. And Joe Thornton? That guy's a legend. Martin Jones is a rock in net, too.
In the end, likely much to your chagrin, gimmie the Penguins in six games again. The crown is theirs until someone takes it.