2016-17 Flyers evaluation: Part 1 of the forwards

2016-17 Flyers evaluation: Part 1 of the forwards

We continue our series reviewing the Flyers' 2016-17 roster with the third part of a four-part series. You can find our goaltending review here and defensemen review here.

The core forward group for the Flyers -- Sean Couturier, Claude Giroux, Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds and Jakub Voracek -- has been together for six seasons now.

It's sad to say, but it hasn't accomplished anything of significance during that time.

So when fans ask whether it's time to break that core up after a third non-playoff season in five years, it's a legitimate question.

And it's one that general manager Ron Hextall admits he has to think about this summer.

"Pro sports is all about proving yourself year after year," Hextall said recently. "Every one of our players has to prove themselves next year. Will it stay together? I don't know. If we'd have won a couple rounds of playoffs there's obviously a better chance of them staying together.

"Does that mean it's not going to stay together? I don't know what's going to come our way. Am I happy with the team? No. I'm not. How can you be, right? We missed the playoffs and, again, we were capable. I don't know one way or the other whether there's going to be change."

Hextall admitted he was not satisfied with the leadership group, which includes the players above, headed by Giroux, the team's captain.
 
"It's much harder to lead when you're not having a great year because you get a little bit more consumed with your own play because first and foremost you have to perform," Hextall said. "So it does take away. They do tie together.
 
"With G, yeah, there's a little bit of that that happened this year. I'm not singling him out because first and foremost he has to play well for us. He got frustrated by his level of performance. It was up and down. Our leadership can be better, for sure. Again, that's not G, that's our whole group."
 
Here is our look at the forwards (alphabetically) this past season, minus Mike Vecchione, who wasn't here long enough. We will split this up into two parts.
 
Pierre-Edouard Bellemare
Age: Turned 32 on March 6
Stats: 82 GP; 4G, 4A, 8 Pts.; minus-1; 12:58
Cap hit: $1.45 million

A tireless worker on the fourth line and penalty kill, Bellemare was rewarded with a new deal that doubles his salary for next season and was given Mark Streit's "A" when the veteran defenseman was dealt at the trade deadline. Like his teammates, there was a drop-off in offensive production. Yet what is troubling is that his effectiveness with Chris VandeVelde on the PK is gone. They routinely generated a shorthanded scoring chance every night and that wasn't the case this season. The PK -- as a group -- was horrendous. If Vecchione makes the roster in the fall, Bellemare is expected to move to left wing permanently.
 
Nick Cousins
Age: Turns 24 on June 20
Stats: 60 GP; 6G, 10A, 16 Pts.; minus-6; 12:00
Cap hit: $840,000

A feisty player with good hockey sense but average speed and hands. Cousins' enthusiasm makes him the kind of role player you can use on any line, which is exactly how coach Dave Hakstol employed him this season. What Cousins has to watch out for now is that the Flyers have quicker, more skilled forwards coming in the next two seasons. And while his ice time was up two minutes over last season, it nose-dived this year in the second half after he was averaging 15 minutes in February. He's the kind of grit player who accepts his role without complaint that Vegas might find attractive in the expansion draft.

Sean Couturier
Age: Turns 25 on Dec. 7
Stats: 66 GP; 14G, 20A, 34 Pts.; plus-12; 18:26
Cap hit: $4.33 million

It's become redundant at this point to say "Coots" should be more offensive-minded. The waiting game is over. When the Flyers drafted him in 2011, the expectation was that they were getting a bona fide 20-25 goal-per-season player who would challenge for the Selke Trophy because of his all-around defensive play. The second half of that prophecy occurred, but the first half has been put to bed. Couturier will never be an offensive centerman and the only thing the Flyers can do now is either trade him or live with it. Yet $4 million is a lot of money for a guy whose goal production is 15 -- at best. That said, his line with Dale Weise and Schenn came alive when Valtteri Filppula arrived because it created better matchups for the Flyers. Also, Couturier was the only Flyer who significantly went from being a minus to finish as a team-high plus-12.
 
Valtteri Filppula
Age: Turned 33 on March 20
Stats: 20 GP; 5G, 3A, 8 Pts.; minus-2; 17:07
Cap hit: $5.0 million

There's still some good tread left on this Finnish centerman's tires. A lot of people had a hard time understanding this move, but Hextall made a convincing argument that Filppula's presence in the middle would create better road matchups that would benefit Giroux and Couturier, and the evidence was there for the choosing in the final weeks of the season. Filppula buys time for the Flyers to get a young center out of the minors or Europe -- perhaps German Rubtsov -- with a steep one-year price but the Flyers were looking short term here and he fits the bill, even though the days of him scoring 20 goals are over. His line with Jordan Weal and Simmonds was excellent. Given his no-movement clause, Filppula has to be protected in the expansion draft.
 
Claude Giroux
Age: Turns 30 on Jan. 12
Stats: 82 GP; 14G, 44A, 58 Pts.; minus-15; 19:07
Cap hit: $8.275 million

Giroux's offseason abdominal and hip surgeries -- much like Shayne Gostisbehere -- ruined his season. He wasn't able to move the way he should. He had no burst of speed, no recovery speed. He made a calculated mistake not admitting his injury held him back until March and allowed himself to become a target of the fans' wrath when he should have been honest up front. Hextall admitted he expected better leadership from Giroux. Some point to Simmonds as the de facto captain. Yet Giroux cares deeply about this team. He was embarrassed at being a minus player this season, too. It's a legit concern that his offensive production has dropped off a cliff since 2011-12, but his salary makes it virtually impossible to trade him in a salary cap world. And there is no indication that Hextall has even considered moving him. Giroux went the entire season without a set line. In fact, Hakstol used him on eight lines. You can't have your No. 1 center playing with that many different linemates. Giroux needs to settle in with steady wingers.

Travis Konecny
Age: Turned 20 on March 11
Stats: 70 GP; 11G, 17A, 28 Pts.; minus-2; 14:05
Cap hit: $894,167

Konecny was Hakstol's personal whipping boy this season, perhaps more so than Gostisbehere. For a coach who staked his reputation on handling young players well and having genuine rapport, this was the complete opposite of what you'd expect. Hextall defended Hakstol in being tough on Konecny because it was about the larger issue of turnovers that were killing the club and skilled players such as Konecny were making too many of them. Give the kid credit. He came through without being terribly scarred and should be even more mindful of what he's doing with the puck next season. Konecny had the talent to score 15 or 20 goals this year regardless, so 11 goals represent a letdown. Yet you see the promise in the kid even if you're not quite sure where he belongs. He was on four different units in the second half of the season. Konecny took 133 shots but had 50 missed attempts. He has much better accuracy than that.
 
Roman Lyubimov
Age: Turned 25 on Jan. 6
Stats: 47 GP; 4G, 2A, 6 Pts.; minus-2; 9:34
Cap hit: RFA who earned $925,000

Whatever it was that impressed the coaching staff in training camp about this Russian import -- perhaps the fact he plays a heavy game -- it wore off quickly with Hakstol. He sat 12 straight games after late February and didn't even dress for the season finale against Carolina. He was slotted on the fourth line and that's where he played when given a chance. Despite good size, the Flyers likely feel they have a quicker, more versatile player in Vecchione, who was signed out of college in April. If the club re-signs him, Lyubimov goes to the Phantoms. If not, he likely goes back to Russia.
 
Michael Raffl
Age: Turns 29 on Dec. 1
Stats: 52 GP; 8G, 3A, 11 Pts.; minus-7; 13:15
Cap hit: $2.35 million

A bad MCL sprain to his left knee suffered against Colorado on Feb. 28 put a premature end to Raffl's season. Interestingly, he could have returned in early April but the club chose to keep him on injured reserve until season's end. What has to be answered, however, is what happened to Raffl offensively from the midpoint of the season -- Game 41 on Jan. 7 -- until he was injured. Over those next 21 games, Raffl didn't have a single point. Then his season ended. Recall, he had 21 goals three years ago in 67 games. Raffl gets a pass because he was just one of many players who had a terrible year. His gung-ho attitude and aggressive nature on the ice sets him apart from others in the dressing room. He could be exposed in the expansion draft and he's one versatile European player who can play anywhere in the lineup, so it wouldn't surprise anyone if Vegas chose him.

Our series concludes Wednesday with our second part examining the forwards.

Flyers' Sean Couturier, Travis Konecny added to Team Canada roster

Flyers' Sean Couturier, Travis Konecny added to Team Canada roster

Team Canada will definitely have a Flyers feel to it this spring at the IIHF World Championships in France and Germany.
 
General manager Ron Hextall and Hockey Canada officially announced their first 18 players on Wednesday afternoon and it includes two more Flyers: Travis Konecny and Sean Couturier.
 
Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds confirmed their participation last week. So that's four Flyers going to Europe for coach Jon Cooper and his assistant, who happens to be Flyers coach Dave Hakstol.
 
"It’s always special when you get to represent your country, and you can see it from the quality of our initial list of players who will join us at Worlds," Hextall said.
 
"Between them, these players have made 17 appearances at this very event, including nine players who've come away as gold medalists for Canada, and they can play a big role in helping set the tone for this team.
 
"Our coaches have a lot to work with, and we will be ready to ice a competitive team in Paris for our opening game on May 5."
 
The remainder of the first group announced so far: Eric Comrie, Calvin Pickard, Tyson Barrie, Calvin De Haan, Jason Demers, Michael Matheson, Josh Morrissey, Alex Killorn, Nathan MacKinnon, Brayden Point, Mark Scheifele, and Jeff Skinner.
 
Team Canada will play the Swiss in a pre-tournament game May 2 in Geneva, Switzerland. Its first tournament game is May 5 against the Czech Republic in Paris.

Instant Replay: Hurricanes 4, Flyers 3 (SO)

Instant Replay: Hurricanes 4, Flyers 3 (SO)

BOX SCORE

The Flyers hit the ice one final time Sunday night and suffered a 4-3 shootout loss to the Carolina Hurricanes at the Wells Fargo Center.

And in doing so, Dave Hakstol's club avoided a very dubious record. Had the Flyers won, they would have been the third team in NHL history to obtain 56 points at home during a regular season and not make the playoffs.
 
Vancouver did it in 2005-06, and the Los Angeles Kings matched it in 2014-15.

The Flyers finished the season 39-33-10 with 88 points.

Brock McGinn scored two goals and tallied the game-winner in the shootout.

Dale Weise had two goals for the Flyers. Weise finished the season with six goals and 10 points in his final 13 games after scoring just two goals in his first 51 games. He had eight goals in 64 games in his first season as a Flyer.

Debut
Robert Hagg made his NHL debut on defense and was paired with Shayne Gostisbehere. As the game went along, he was moved up to a pair with fellow rookie Ivan Provorov.

Hagg impressed in his first NHL game, playing 21:19, nine shots -- five on goal -- four hits and three blocked shots. He did not get a shift in overtime.

Notable goals
The spin move by Gostisbehere at the blue line to retain the puck and then feeding Wayne Simmonds in the slot for a backhander -- Simmonds' 31st goal of the season -- gave the Flyers a 3-2 lead. It was a pretty goal.
 
Goalie report
Anthony Stolarz made his final start of the season. He appeared in seven games this season and came into this one with a 2-1 record and a 1.93 goals-against average and .932 save percentage. He had an excellent outstretched right leg save in the second period on Elias Lindholm to keep the game tied at 1-1.

Stolarz finished the game with 32 saves.
 
Power play
The Flyers didn't get one until the very end of the second period and had one good scoring chance from Jakub Voracek in the slot. The Flyers were 0 for 1.
 
Penalty kill
Hagg generated a scoring chance on the Flyers' first penalty kill off the rush, but Carolina goalie Eddie Lack made a glove save. The Flyers did allow a power-play goal and were 2 for 3 on the PK on Sunday.
 
Scratches
Forwards Matt Read (broken right arm), Michael Raffl (left knee), Chris VandeVelde (healthy) and Roman Lyubimov (healthy); defensemen Radko Gudas (concussion) and Brandon Manning (healthy); and goalie Michal Neuvirth (sinus infection/concussion).
 
Up next
The season is over. The Flyers will hold their breakup day on Tuesday at Flyers Skate Zone in Voorhees, New Jersey.