It’s been a long, disheartening summer for long-suffering Philadelphia Flyers fans.
More injuries. Few moves. No marquee additions.
But enough with the management-created negativity for a change. Today is a day to look at five reasons why the Flyers will improve on their 61-point season. Hey, it would be difficult not to get better, right?
- Sean Couturier and Kevin Hayes are back after injuries limited them to a combined 77 games last season. Not many teams can survive with their top two centers missing so much time. Having them in the lineup will bolster an offense that finished next to last in the league, averaging 2.56 goals a game.
- John Tortorella is the new bench boss and he will hold the players accountable. His defense-first approach will also add some much-needed structure to a team that allowed 3.59 goals per game last season, 27th in the 32-team NHL. Tortorella, by far the Flyers’ biggest off-season addition, guided some less-than-powerful Columbus teams to the playoffs.
- The power play will be much better than last year, when the Flyers clicked at 12.6 percent, the second-worst mark in franchise history. Couturier and Hayes will help the unit. So will newly acquired defenseman Tony DeAngelo, who likely will quarterback the power play.
- This should be a breakout season for Owen Tippett, the right winger acquired from Florida in the Claude Giroux trade. Tippett scored 113 goals in his last 165 OHL games, then had 25 goals in his last 58 AHL games. The potential is there, and this will be his first full NHL season. He showed glimpses of success with the Panthers and Flyers and, at 23, seems on the verge of a breakthrough.
- There will be no pressure on the Philadelphia Flyers, who open training camp with on-ice activities Sept. 22. No one views them as a Metropolitan Division contender. Expectations are low. This team can play loose. That can lead to some surprising results, right? Epilogue: I’m predicting modest improvement to, say, 75 points, but that number will be higher if defenseman Ryan Ellis recovers from a pelvic injury and can play at least 60 games. There will be baby steps this season, for sure. But they will be important steps if some of the young players — guys like Tippett, Morgan Frost, Cam York, Noah Cates, Tanner Laczynski, and Wade Allison — make significant strides in their development.