A slow start last season ultimately led to the Philadelphia Flyers missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second time in three seasons. Philadelphia finished 12th in the Eastern Conference, 14 points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins for the second wild card from the Eastern Conference.
The Flyers will have a different coach this season; Dave Hakstol was hired on May 18 to replace Craig Berube. Hakstol spent his entire coaching career at the collegiate level, experiencing plenty of success over the past 11 seasons at the University of North Dakota. He now has the task of getting the Flyers to play more consistently, something Berube was unable to accomplish last season.
Here are three questions facing the Flyers this season:
Will Vincent Lecavalier bounce back? Philadelphia thought the forward had a lot left in the tank when he signed a five-year contract in 2013. Lecavalier, now 35, went from 20 goals in 2013-14 to eight last season. Flyers general manager Ron Hextall would trade Lecavalier if he could, but with three years remaining at an average annual value of $4.5 million, that's going to be difficult. Instead, the Flyers likely are going to have to hope Lecavalier can have a bounce-back season. If he does, the chances of them getting back to the playoffs will increase.
"I'm going to work out hard like I do every summer and be ready for next year," Lecavalier said at the end of last season. "I've had a lot of ups and downs this year, but I believe in what I can do."
Can the Flyers keep up in the Metropolitan Division? With the exception of forward Sam Gagner, the Flyers essentially have the same roster returning from last season. Several teams around them in the Metropolitan Division, particularly the Columbus Blue Jackets (Brandon Saad) and Penguins (Phil Kessel), added key players this offseason. It will be important for the Flyers to get off to a good start if they hope to keep pace in what should be a pulsating race.
Philadelphia won 12 of 30 games against division opponents last season. It's hard to fathom it can be a playoff team if the results are remotely similar.
Can their defense hold up? The Flyers have less than $600,000 under the NHL's $71.4 million salary cap for 2015-16, according to war-on-ice.com, mainly because of their expensive, veteran defensemen. The defense is anchored by Mark Streit, who turns 38 in December and has two years remaining on his contract at an AAV of $5.25 million. Streit is still a valuable asset offensively (he had 52 points last season), but it may be unfair to ask him to average the 22:22 of ice time that he did last season.
Andrew MacDonald, who struggled last season, has five years remaining on his contract at an AAV of $5 million, and Michael Del Zotto signed a multiyear contract worth a reported AAV of $3.875 million July 16. Luke Schenn, Nick Schultz and Yevgeni Medvedev, who is 32 but has never played in the NHL, should play key roles for a defense that allowed 234 goals last season, a statistic that must improve if the Flyers hope to compete for a playoff spot.