Flyers

End to End: 2017-18 Flyers, Stanley Cup predictions

End to End: 2017-18 Flyers, Stanley Cup predictions

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.

Boruk

Flyers prediction/outlook
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.

Dougherty

Flyers prediction/outlook
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.

Hall

Flyers prediction/outlook
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.

Paone

Flyers prediction/outlook
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.

End to End: What is Ron Hextall's next big signing?

End to End: What is Ron Hextall's next big signing?

Going End to End today are NBC Sports Philadelphia's John Boruk, Tom Dougherty and Jordan Hall.

The topic: What is Ron Hextall's next big signing?

Boruk
There are three ways to look at this …

1. The Flyers re-sign Wayne Simmonds, who's eligible for an extension that would take effect in 2019-20.

2. Ron Hextall inks one of his restricted free agents to a team-friendly, lengthy multi-year deal.

3. The Flyers go big in free agency next summer. 

Let’s start with the latter. There are some interesting names that are headlining next summer’s potential UFA class: Tyler Seguin, Tyler Myers, Matt Duchene and Artemi Panarin. 

Who knows which of these players will be re-signed or traded, but I don’t see the Flyers paying big dollars to add another forward now that you include James van Riemsdyk. According to Spotrac.com, the Flyers have $46.5 million (fourth highest in the NHL) committed to forwards, with Travis Konecny due for a pay raise next summer, as well.

With that knowledge, I’m not sure it makes sense for the Flyers to extend Simmonds another four to five years with an AAV of $6-7 million. Hextall has a good barometer of what Simmonds is worth on the open market, which is why term would be the sticking point in negotiations. If he’s willing to look at a three-year deal, it could get done soon, but if I’m Simmonds' agent, I’m trying to maximize the length of any new contract, which very well could be the last one his client signs.

I think the next big contract will be signed by defenseman Ivan Provorov, who’s entering the final year of his entry-level deal. It’s not out of the financial realm to think Provorov could sign a Drew Doughty-type bridge deal similar to the eight-year, $56 million pact the Kings' defenseman signed in 2011 at the age of 21. Doughty was coming off a monstrous 16-goal, 59-point season. Last season, Provorov ripped off 17 goals and 41 points and appears poised to build on that for this upcoming season.

Prepare yourself. Provorov will receive the next big pay day in Philadelphia.

Dougherty
Outside of teaching the Sixers and Phillies how to close a deal, Hextall's only item left on his offseason to-do list is to re-sign restricted free agent Robert Hagg.

During his end-of-season-news conference in April, Hextall said "initially, my thought right now is that we would be open to either long term or short term" with Hagg.

Whether Hagg qualifies as a "big signing" isn't really up for debate. It's not. Hagg is a quality third pair defenseman in the NHL and he proved as much in his rookie season.

But re-signing Hagg is the only move left I envision Hextall making this summer, or at the very least, the next move. A Provorov or Simmonds extension remains possible too.

As Hextall mentioned, the Flyers are open to either a short or long-term deal with Hagg. Both have their upside. That is also likely the holdup right now.

While Hagg wouldn't qualify as a "big" signing, he is next on the checklist. Once his contract is out of the way, then I could see the Flyers knocking out Provorov or Simmonds.

Hall
Hextall tends to get ahead and take care of his own.

When you look at the track record, he's not one to let contract decisions linger, especially when it comes to his core pieces — which makes for good business.

Just like in any profession, stability and happiness are important.

The Flyers' general manager extended Jakub Voracek and Sean Couturier the summer prior to their contract years. 

He signed Shayne Gostisbehere, a restricted free agent last summer, in early June before the expansion draft and free agency opened. 

He even signed Michael Raffl in February 2016 before the role forward was set to become an unrestricted free agent at season's end.

With all that said, my gut tells me Hextall's next big move is extending Simmonds at some point before the start of the season. Simmonds, coming off an injury-ravaged year in which he still managed to score 24 goals, can hit unrestricted free agency following the 2018-19 season. He wants to be back and Hextall values him greatly.

And the GM made it clear that when the Flyers signed van Riemsdyk to a five-year deal, it meant nothing to their situation with Simmonds.

"We like Wayne Simmonds," Hextall said July 1. "This doesn't change anything for Wayne. This is a left winger; this is a different player than Simmer. We're excited to have James, and certainly, we would like to have Simmer for a long time, too."

I expect that to be the next major check on the agenda.

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Another Oskar Lindblom? Marcus Westfalt has footsteps to follow with Flyers

Another Oskar Lindblom? Marcus Westfalt has footsteps to follow with Flyers

Ron Hextall knows how these things can work out.

He remembers plucking Oskar Lindblom in the fifth round of the 2014 NHL draft. Not much was made of the pick, barely even a peep, because, well, the 138th overall selections don't typically draw heaps of praise.

Lindblom quietly slipped back to Sweden. Three summers later, Flyers fans couldn't stop talking about him.

"Oskar went away, no one knew who the hell he was, fifth-round pick, over there getting better and better and better and bang," Hextall said last July. "He's the SHL Forward of the Year."

One has to believe Lindblom's name popped in the general manager's head when the Flyers saw Marcus Westfalt still available and the clock ticking on their 2018 seventh-round pick. At 205th overall, Westfalt became the Flyers' final selection, making for eerie similarities to Lindblom, who forced his way to the big club in 2017-18.

Westfalt plays for the same Swedish junior team (Brynäs IF J20) and SHL squad (Brynäs IF) as Lindblom did when he was taken by the Flyers. Both prospects are from Sweden and dropped in their respective drafts. Lindblom, a left winger, stands 6-foot-1, 191 pounds, while Westfalt, a center/left winger, comes in at 6-foot-3, 203 pounds.

Another Lindblom in the works?

"Hopefully, that's my dream, of course," Westfalt said three weeks ago at Flyers development camp. "But he's a really good player, he's got a lot of skill. But, yeah, hopefully."

The 18-year-old was well aware of Lindblom. It was hard to not hear or see his fellow countryman transform from fifth-round pick to ballyhooed Flyers prospect. In 2016-17, when Lindblom really took off with Brynäs IF and won Swedish Hockey League Forward of the Year, Westfalt witnessed the rise.

"I watch him a lot," Westfalt said. "His last year in Brynäs before he got here, I watched him a lot. He's a [role model] because I think he's really good, he's good with his hands, his speed, he uses his body well. I watch him a lot."

In his draft year, Lindblom played only four SHL games compared to 43 for Brynäs IF J20. For Westfalt, it was a bit different. He appeared in 39 SHL games, including playoffs, while playing 26 contests at the junior ranks, where he put up 27 points (12 goals, 15 assists) and a plus-19 rating.

Westfalt's goal for 2018-19 is to play the whole season in the SHL. Lindblom did a bit later than Westfalt, but once the jump was made, he impacted games.

"Try to get more ice time," Westfalt said. "Bigger role in the game.

"[Brynäs IF] told me that I have some things I need to work on and if I do that, I can get to play."

Westfalt, who had four points (one goal, three assists) in those 39 SHL games, said he tries to be "a smart, two-way centerman," and feels his "play in the D-zone is better than the offense."

"I'm strong without the puck and with the puck," he said.

While the goal is to stick in the SHL, he's uncertain which level will be best for his on-ice growth at this stage of his development."

"When I play in junior, I get more ice time, I get to play a lot more with the puck, I get to play the power play and stuff like that," he said. "I want to play in the juniors, too, because I want to work on my skills, but my big goal is to do the same thing I do in the juniors in the SHL."

Lindblom eventually did, carving out his path to the Flyers at 21 years old.

"I just think about it by myself, like fifth-rounder, I just felt like I can play and I can be on this level," Lindblom said last summer.

With Westfalt, there is no chip on his shoulder as a seventh-round pick.

"No, for me, I'm just glad that I'm here," he said. "It's a great organization. It's fun to go earlier [in the draft], but I'm just happy to be here."

And eager to climb like Lindblom.

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