Philadelphia Flyers training camp is under way and the competition for NHL jobs is expected to be fierce.
Rebuilding teams often have roster openings. The Flyers are no different. Flyers’ prospects are well aware of what’s out there for them. We’ll see if this is their time.
Briere talked about what a successful season would look like at a news conference Tuesday.
“It’s about the future,” Briere said. “It’s about the development, it’s about how we come together as a team.
“That’s how we’re going to judge success. We feel again that Torts [coach John Tortorella] did an amazing job with that last year, creating the culture that needs to be in place to win.
“He’s going to keep going in that direction and keep building that structure. That’s how we’re going to evaluate, more than on-ice success.”
As we head into training camp, there are three things I know and three things I don’t know about the Flyers’ camp and how it will shake out.
While we don’t know the end result, we hope the journey through camp and into the season is worthwhile.
3 Things I Know
1. Penalty Killing
This will be better. This is almost a given. It was poor last year. The Flyers’ penalty-kill was 26th in the NHL with a 74.7 percent success rate. The league leader was Boston at 87.3 percent. That’s quite a gap.
The return of Sean Couturier and Cam Atkinson from injury will provide immediate penalty-kill relief. Maybe some of their experience and savvy while shorthanded will rub off on their younger teammates.
Noah Cates had a strong season and should continue to improve on the penalty-kill. Special teams are the ticket to NHL success.
2. Power Play
Even worse than the Flyers’ penalty-kill was their power play. Philadelphia was 32nd in power-play efficiency at 15.6 percent. The NHL leader was Edmonton at a remarkable 32.4 percent, fueled by two of the league’s best players in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.
Going out on the limb here, but the Flyers’ unit will improve. The Flyers eventually are going to find a cohesive unit and stick with it. Owen Tippett improved from last year and could be a factor.
Morgan Frost had a strong second half of the season and could add creativity and spark to the power play. Gotta believe Tyson Foerster will work his way into the power-play picture before too long. Of course, a healthy Couturier will help.
Defenseman Cam York is the key. The Flyers need a power-play quarterback running things from the point. What they wouldn’t give to see York step into that role.
3. Stunning Roster Move
There will be a well-known veteran who will not make the opening night roster because a young player will take his place. Maybe two.
The lean is toward defense. There are several defensive prospects who have improved from last year and have caught the eye of the Flyers’ coaches and management.
The question is the risk. Do you play a young player over a veteran, knowing the chance for errors is greater with the younger player?
If you’re rebuilding, you do. If a young player is close in talent to a veteran, go with the youth. I truly believe the Flyers are going to do this. I think they are willing to sacrifice some steadier, headier play to develop a younger player they believe is ready to play in NHL intensity.
3 Things I Don’t Know
1. Backup Goaltender?
I don’t know who the Flyers backup goaltender will be. The Flyers are loaded at the position — Carter Hart, Sam Ersson, Felix Sandstrom, Cal Petersen. And that’s just in North America.
Briere said on Tuesday: “Carter is our No. 1. Carter has proven he’s a No. 1 goalie in the NHL. After that, it’s fair to say it’s wide open and we’ll see who steps up.”
Ersson impressed the Flyers enough last season that they signed him to a two-year extension over the summer. The Flyers must have bigger plans for him.
The competition for Hart’s backup will be intense.
2. Youth Movement?
While I write optimistically about one (or two) of the young players knocking a veteran off the roster — and I believe the Flyers are OK with this — there is another big question.
Are these young players good enough to play in the NHL right now?
Would the Flyers being doing them a disservice by playing them in the NHL prematurely? Briere said the other day that wouldn’t happen.
“We’re going to read the situation and make sure they can swim and survive,” Briere said about the prospects.
Briere was thrilled that several young forwards got an opportunity last season and they stepped up. He mentioned Owen Tippett, Morgan Frost and Cates.
Will management be ready for an influx of youth among the defensive corps? Briere and Jones said they would like to see that happen.
3. Health of Couturier, Atkinson?
In any given hockey season a team will have injuries. For the Flyers, they lost these two valuable veterans all of last season. That was ridiculously bad luck.
Going into camp there is optimism. Both are healthy and back on the ice.
But for how long?
No one knows that answer.
Couturier and Atkinson will provide skill on the ice and depth in the lineup. Along with Marc Staal, they will ooze leadership at practice, in the locker room, on road trips. For a young team, that kind of experience is invaluable.
Losing Couturier and/or Atkinson again will hurt in the day-to-day operations of the team — penalty kill not as efficient; more faceoffs will be lost; a game that looks like a win will turn into a loss; their big minutes have to go somewhere.
Losing them will hurt even more in the team’s big picture and development. And that might be more important.