Another Flyers season has arrived.
The team kicks off its 2021-22 campaign Friday night at the Wells Fargo Center against the Canucks (7 p.m. ET/NBCSP).
Will the Flyers bounce back from last season's letdown? What surprises could be in store, good or bad?
Buckle up, we'll get you ready.
Here's our Flyers Fearless Forecast, featuring projections for how the team will finish and a random assortment of bold predictions from NBC Sports Philadelphia's Jordan Hall and Joe Fordyce.
Flyers prediction/Cup prediction
General manager Chuck Fletcher said it "felt like there was a malaise around the team all year" last season.
It's remarkable how the Flyers (25-23-8) actually had more wins than the Canadiens (24-21-11) in the 2020-21 regular season. Montreal ended up making a Cinderella run to the Stanley Cup Final. The Flyers, on the other hand, had a demoralizing and dreadful year on the heels of a promising 2019-20 season. They missed the playoffs last season by surrendering the NHL's most goals per game (3.52), having the league's worst save percentage (.883) and owning the 30th-ranked penalty kill (73.1 percent).
Those figures called for changes. They called for new life. To Fletcher's credit, he owned last season and made significant changes because of it. And undoubtedly, there's a sense of newness to the Flyers. It feels a lot like the beginning of 2019-20 in that regard.
With seven additions to the big club roster — five of them alternate captains on their respective former teams last season — the Flyers should be a better, more experienced club in 2021-22. The acquisition of Ryan Ellis will be the most pivotal. He doesn't get the star love among some of the top NHL defensemen, but he's the type of player that changes a team in every facet. The Flyers sorely missed a player of his caliber last season.
The changes in personnel should go a long way in addressing the PK and goal-prevention woes. But the Flyers are older, and with age comes the concern of injuries. The Flyers will have to stay healthy (they're already banged up) and there will be pressure on their goal scorers to produce consistently.
Balanced scoring up front is fine if you play the right way. The Flyers must get back to that wear-you-down, forecheck-oriented style — and a team must be healthy and deep to sustain that style.
The changes and track records point to the Flyers being a playoff team again. Of Alain Vigneault's 12 career playoff berths, nine of those teams advanced past the first round. We'll say he gets the Flyers to the second round, but they'll fall short there, setting up for massive expectations in Year 4 — and a huge offseason for Fletcher with seven notable players who will be pending unrestricted free agents.
For the Stanley Cup, we'll go with a fun contrast in styles: the high-powered Avalanche against the ultra-structured Islanders. Barry Trotz and the old-school Isles will get over the hump.
How Swede it is
From a strength and conditioning standpoint, Oskar Lindblom looks like the player he was pre-cancer diagnosis, if not even stronger.
Lindblom has been hungry for this season since the day last season ended. He badly wants to get back to the way he was playing in 2019-20 before his life and career were rocked by a shocking battle with Ewing's sarcoma.
It won't be easy, given Lindblom will be needed much more on the penalty kill than the power play, but the 25-year-old Swedish winger will score 20 or more goals — a new career high and crucial depth production for the Flyers.
Patience with Sanheim
Travis Sanheim will have a quiet season. There's no reason why it can't be quietly effective. But it seems like so many fans want him to be a stud because he's a big, mobile, 2014 first-round pick.
The 25-year-old's full maturation could take time. He's not there yet and the Flyers loaded up their back end with experience, so he won't have a hefty plate of responsibilities.
Not sure we'll see career-changing steps in either direction for him this season. If he's solid at 5-on-5 and killing penalties, the Flyers will absolutely take it.
Flyers prediction/Cup prediction
I believe the Flyers will reach the playoffs. However, it will be a quick first-round exit. I think the pieces are in place for future success, but I’m not sure this team is ready for that just yet.
I also think Carter Hart needs to get a “regular” 82-game season under his belt, something he’s yet to have. The Flyers also play in a tough division with teams that are already good, and then there are up-and-coming teams like the Rangers and Devils.
I believe the Stanley Cup Final will be historic, in that I’m picking the Toronto Maple Leafs to win it over the Colorado Avalanche. It would be the first Cup for Toronto since the 1960s and end the long suffering of one of the league’s most loyal and passionate fan bases.
The Flyers have plenty of new faces and I think that will translate to the ice. My first bold prediction is the Flyers will have a top 10 power play in the NHL.
The additions of Cam Atkinson, and more importantly Ellis and Keith Yandle, will bring a much-needed infusion of consistency to a unit that struggled to find any last season.
In the preseason, while it didn’t necessarily show up on the score sheet, the vision of both Ellis and Yandle from the quarterback position on the power play was evident. Each player’s willingness and instinct to get the puck on net quickly from the point will create opportunities low in the zone for guys like Sean Couturier, James van Riemsdyk and Atkinson, who despite his small stature, does his best work near the blue paint.
There goes that Cam
My second bold prediction is that Cam York will be playing regularly by midseason. The age of some of the Flyers' defensemen combined with the ability of the Flyers' 2019 first-round pick make it a matter of time before York simply cannot be kept out of the lineup.
I believe one of these seasons Justin Braun will no longer be an everyday player. Plus, based on health, I’m not sure that the Flyers won’t be carrying an extra defenseman once we get into the meat of the season.
If York is with the Flyers, he won’t be the extra defenseman; that will be someone else. With the emergence of young defensemen around the league — Adam Fox (NYR) and Ty Smith (NJD) to name a couple in the Flyers' division — the best way for York to develop is learning on the fly.
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