This week's edition of the Eastern Edge looks at the 2016 offseason outlooks for the Red Wings and Flyers …
After covering the offseason outlook for the Carolina Hurricanes and Boston Bruins last week, we continue our climb up the Eastern Conference standings. This week will see the spotlight put on the Detroit Red Wings and Philadelphia Flyers, two teams that clinched a playoff spot in the final days of the regular season. The focus will be put primarily on the short-term rather than the long-term future, although the developments of the next few months will certainly have a great impact on keeper leagues as well.
Teams previously covered
This year, the Red Wings continued their amazing string of consecutive playoff appearances and have now been in postseason play for 25 straight years. However, the bigger story is each year the task is getting more and more difficult. This time they were helped in by the Boston Bruins’ late-season slump which yielded the Red Wings a tiebreaker win to finish third in the Atlantic Division.
The team’s ranking in various categories reflects its average showing. The Wings finished 23rd in goals scored, 15th in shots on goals and 13th in power-play efficiency. Meanwhile, they finished 17th in goals against, 17th in shots against and 14th in penalty killing. Sadly, things might get worse before they become better, as many of their key players are getting up in age and are clearly on the decline.
The elephant in the room is Pavel Datsyuk who appears to be on his way to the KHL to finish his hockey career. Johan Franzen, one of the most effective presences around the net of his generation, has been suffering from lingering concussion symptoms and may have also played his last NHL game. While Henrik Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall will return next year, both are 35 years old and have seen severe declines in production.
Aside from Zetterberg, the Red Wings’ top-six looks to consist of Dylan Larkin, Tomas Tatar, Gustav Nyquist and Justin Abdelkader. Tatar and Nyquist are still young in their NHL careers and certainly have room for growth, but their upsides are more limited with star-level guys like Datsyuk and Zetterberg not at the top of their games.
There is much more hope for Larkin, one of the top rookies this year with 45 points at just 19 years of age. The former 15th overall pick is the team’s best hope to develop a star to lead the next generation. He led the team with 221 shots and figures to see an increase on his average of 16:32 in ice time in his second year, especially with the man advantage.
With Datsyuk’s expected departure, the team has an obvious opening in a scoring-line role. With no obvious candidates in the mix and with some cap space to work with, look for GM Ken Holland to acquire a key free agent in July, hopefully a center. Steven Stamkos is a bit of a long shot but the Wings could also turn to David Backes or Frans Nielsen. Alternatively, they could roll the dice on Eric Staal.
With that said, there are some in-house candidates to take a step forward next year. Riley Sheahan, a former first-round pick who is coming off a tough year, had 36 points in 2014-15 and is still just 24. He is a dark horse for next year, especially if the team opts to spend more to beef up its defense. Also, the duo of Teemu Pulkkinen and Tomas Jurco has seen limited ice time but are extremely talented and could surprise if given an extended look in a favorable role.
On the blueline, the drop in Kronwall’s play has been well-documented as he finished a team-worst minus-21 and his 22 minutes in average ice time were his lowest since 2010. Mike Green took over as the team’s most fantasy-relevant option on the back end but has been underwhelming both in terms of health and offensive consistency. He has also averaged fewer than 20 minutes per game in each of the last two years which puts additional responsibility on the rest of the defenders.
Danny Dekeyser showed some good signs of becoming a solid point-producer in his first two NHL campaigns but has taken a step back offensively. His minutes on the power play disappeared with Green’s arrival and he started only 47 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone.
In goal, Petr Mrazek has taken over as the team’s best option. His final numbers were outstanding but he had some growing pains and slumped at the end of the year. As such, backup Jimmy Howard took over the reins and started the first two playoff games against Tampa Bay.
This is going to be an interesting situation to track. While Mrazek is obviously the better and more popular goalie, Howard has a solid track record producing in the NHL. Young goalies often hit speed bumps during their development, so Howard cannot be counted out. Mrazek will see the majority of the starts, but do not be surprised if Howard pushes the 24-year-old for ice time.
Of course, there is a good possibility the Red Wings will try to trade Howard, even if it means eating a large portion of his cap hit. Simply put, Howard’s cost of over $5 million is too much for a backup. Also, moving this contract would help the team clear more cap space to help address other needs.
Andreas Athanasiou leads the crop of prospects ready to make an impact next year. The 21-year-old surprised with nine goals and 14 points in 37 games despite just nine minutes on the ice per game. He may not be ready to spend the full year at the NHL level but he has certainly earned an extended look in a greater role.
Anthony Mantha followed up a disappointing rookie AHL campaign with a solid sophomore year and earned 10 games in the NHL. He could spend the year in Detroit but is more likely to be an injury call-up as he continues to get seasoning in the AHL while growing into his 6’5 frame.
Tyler Bertuzzi has showed some promise but is more of a long-shot to make the NHL this year. However, should Darren Helm not re-sign in Detroit there is an outside chance Bertuzzi could earn a bottom-six role in the NHL. His appeal is limited to multi-category leagues for the foreseeable future.
On defense, while a lot could change in the summer months, opportunities could be present for a prospect to move up in a depth role. Xavier Ouellet jumps out as the most ready although Robbie Russo and Ryan Sproul are also in the mix. Do not expect either of them to make an impact next year.
After missing the playoffs in 2014-15, the Flyers appeared to be headed for a second subpar campaign before catching fire down the stretch and securing the final Wild Card spot. Some growing pains were expected under new coach Dave Hakstol but getting the opportunity to win a couple games against the Washington Capitals in the first round was a pleasant surprise. Additionally, the Flyers have plenty of hope for the future.
Offensively, the Flyers finished 22nd in goals, fifth in shots on goal and 11th in power-play efficiency. The team as a whole lacked puck luck and the lower point totals should mean some of their key players are ranked lower for drafts next fall. There are plenty of opportunities to buy low, including stars like Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek.
Defensively, the team finished 12th in goals against, 23rd in shots against and 20th in penalty killing. The above-average finish in goals against was aided by solid goaltending from the duo of Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth.
Joining Giroux and Voracek in the top-six are Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier and Michael Raffl. Schenn and Simmonds both had better years than expected and could further benefit from the Giroux and Voracek getting back on track. Couturier is showing some growth as the second center, but with just a secondary role on the power play and just 45 percent of his shifts started in the offensive zone, his upside is more limited.
Raffl has done an adequate job in the top six but has not done enough to solidify his hold on a position. Matt Read could step up and get back on a scoring line, but he has been awful the past two years and will probably not get much of a look. Former first-round pick Scott Laughton is a dark horse to force his way up the roster and put up strong numbers next year.
On defense, Shayne Gostisbehere emerged as a high-end offensive talent in his rookie campaign. With the Flyers having a tendency to roll with four forwards on their top power play unit, his arrival hurts the value of Mark Streit and Michael Del Zotto who are left with lesser roles.
Among the Flyers’ depth on defense are some nice multi-category options including Del Zotto (PTS, hits, blocks, SOG), Radko Gudas (PIM, hits, blocks, SOG) and Brandon Manning (PIM, hits, blocks, SOG).
Additionally, look for Andrew MacDonald to make his return to the NHL full-time next year. While he did spend a lot of time in the AHL this year, he averaged 20 minutes per game in 28 games in Philadelphia and played in all six playoff games. His eight points and 72 blocks in that span are signs of what he can bring to your squad in a depth role. He is not worth a look on draft day but could be a solid in-season pickup in a deep league if he survives training camp and starts the year in the NHL.
In goal, Mason started the majority of the games and although he was inconsistent at times he finished the year strong and led the Flyers to a playoff spot. He has quietly put together three consecutive years of 50 or more starts and a .917 save percentage or better in each of those years. During this time he has a total of 74 wins.
Meanwhile, Neuvirth was actually the better goalie for most of the year but injury trouble took away any chance he had of becoming the team’s primary netminder. He has a year left on his contract and could be a trade candidate, but given how little goalies usually fetch in a deal, it probably makes more sense to keep this duo intact with their combined cap hit of just $5.7 million. After all, goaltending was a strength for the Flyers this year.
In the prospect ranks, there are some exciting newcomers worth tracking. Travis Konecny, the second of last year’s two first-round picks, has made great strides since being drafted and will challenge for a roster spot this fall. If he makes it, look for him to spend some time on the third line while also getting looks in a top-six role. He will be good for stretches but should probably be omitted in one-year leagues. His value lies in keeper setups.
Nick Cousins, who played 36 games with the Flyers this year, has a history of putting up points in the AHL and should stick with the Flyers for a full season next year. However, as the third or fourth center his upside will be limited.
Ivan Provorov is the most likely to carve out a roster spot next year on the blueline. He could be a decent secondary producer out of the gate, as he would challenge Streit and Del Zotto for time on the second power-play unit.
Samuel Morin and Travis Sanheim, both former first-round picks, are long-shots to make the club out of training camp. Unfortunately, this will likely turn out to be a problem with the numbers game as having Gostisbehere and Provorov in the organization makes it difficult for other young defensemen to make the jump.
Follow me on Twitter @DH_EricDaoust.
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