Photo by Amy Irvin/38 Photography
As the start of the 2015-16 regular season draws near, several Flyers find themselves at a crossroads for a variety of different reasons. Whether they are looking to prove that they belong in the NHL, looking to redeem themselves after a poor season, or looking to prove that they are an important piece for the future of the club, this season will be very impactful for several players. Although every player has to prove themselves on some level this season, let’s take a look at some of the guys who will have just a little bit more at stake when the puck drops in a couple weeks.
5. BRANDON MANNING
After 3 years as a Phantom, Brandon Manning finally had his breakout last season. Manning’s 43 points in 60 games was good for 7th in the AHL amongst all defensemen despite the fact that he played fewer games than anyone ahead of him on the list. Manning deservedly finished his season in Philadelphia, scoring 3 assists in 11 games with the Flyers. At the conclusion of the season, Ron Hextall signed him to a one way contract to remain with the club.
Now the pressure is on for the 25 year old to prove that he belongs at the NHL level. When it comes to making the opening night roster, Manning certainly has his work cut out for him. While he is likely to begin the season in either the press box or Lehigh Valley, he will probably be one of the first names to be called if a fill-in is needed. When that opportunity comes, Manning will have to prove that he is useful enough to be an NHL mainstay as a third pairing defenseman. If things go well, Manning could find himself playing as an NHL regular as he enters his prime. If things go poorly, the organization might decide that he is simply a player with an AHL ceiling. There’s a lot at stake for Manning, and he will probably have a limited number of games to prove himself.
4. YEVGENI MEDVEDEV
The 33 year old Yevgeni Medvedev, after 7 years of KHL success, is entering his first year of NHL hockey. While hopes are fairly high that his playing style will translate well to North American hockey, it’s tough to know for sure until he begins playing.
It’s fairly obvious what is at stake here for Medvedev. If things go well this season, he could find himself drawing interest from many teams next summer and could finish out his career in the NHL. Ron Hextall already reportedly outbid several other teams for the veteran Russian’s services this summer. If his season in Philadelphia is a success, Medvedev could really see some substantial offers coming from many directions. If things go poorly, he could end up right back in the KHL come next fall. Medvedev clearly has the skills to be a useful player, but he will have to prove that he can adjust his game well enough to be useful in a different league.
3. MATT READ
Simply and bluntly put, last season was a complete disaster for Matt Read. Battling a lingering ankle injury, Read notched a career low in points per game while dragging down his linemates’ possession numbers in the process. A long, frustrating season saw him post career lows in both offensive and defensive impact on possession, leaving Sean Couturier saddled with the difficult task of dragging two possession anchors through difficult minutes.
During his first three seasons as an NHLer, Read had a positive impact on possession stats while developing a reputation as one of the better snipers on the team. This season, a healthy Matt Read needs to prove that he is still capable of contributing positively. If Read’s season goes as poorly as last season went, he could find himself slipping in the lineup or even on the trading block. A bounce back season could reaffirm that Read is a guy who will still be worth having around when the Flyers are ready to contend in a couple years.
2. STEVE MASON
Yes, it does kind of feel like we’ve had this discussion every summer since Steve Mason arrived in Philadelphia in 2013. When analysts said that Mason was one of the worst goaltenders in the NHL, he responded by posting a (then) career high .917 save percentage. When the same analysts said that he was unlikely to sustain that level of play, he responded by posting another career high of .928 last season. It’s safe to say that Steve Mason has proven himself to be a legitimate starter in the NHL.
This season, it’s something entirely different that Mason will be trying to prove: that he is a top tier goaltender in the NHL. While Mason was one of the best in the league last season, he will need at least another season of above average statistics to prove that he truly deserves that label. It’s tough to proclaim that a goaltender who has only topped .920 once in seven seasons is an elite goaltender. If Mason can put together back to back seasons of .925+ goaltending, that conversation changes drastically.
This season could also have a significant impact on Mason’s future. The 27 year old is entering the second year of a three year, 12.3 million dollar contract with the Flyers. If Mason can use the next two seasons to prove that he is an elite goaltender, his price tag could be extremely high when he hits free agency in 2017. If he fails to live up to the last two seasons, the Flyers could even decide to go in a different direction when his contract is up.
1. BRAYDEN SCHENN
Even as the 2014-15 campaign concluded, it was fairly obvious that the next season would see Brayden Schenn at a crossroads with this organization. Ron Hextall’s actions and words throughout the offseason just reinforced that idea.
First, Hextall committed to Sean Couturier, inking a 6 year contract with the center to whom Schenn has constantly been compared during their time in Philadelphia. At the conclusion of that week, which also saw Jakub Voracek sign a long term deal, Hextall spoke about Schenn’s contract situation, telling reporters the following:
“I’ve spoken with Brayden’s agent a number of times over the summer about different things and the subject’s never come up. It’s not something we’re in a hurry to do and I’m assuming they feel the same way”.
These quotes, along with the preceding Sean Couturier extension, speak volumes about Hextall’s perception of the 24 year old Schenn. After a season that saw Schenn constantly bouncing between lines and positions, Hextall simply needs to see more before he will be ready to make a long term commitment. From Schenn’s perspective, he’s got no reason to rush into contract talks either, especially if he thinks he’s capable of showing more this year.
Schenn’s RFA status means that it’s almost a certainty he will return to the Flyers with a new contract next fall. The length and the value of that contract, however, will depend heavily upon his play this season. If Schenn can flirt with the 60 point mark while cementing a spot in the middle under Dave Hakstol, it’s quite possible that Hextall will opt for a lengthier deal much like the one that Sean Couturier got. If Schenn’s offensive production plateaus and he struggles to find a steady position, it’s likely that Hextall will look to sign a shorter ‘bridge’ deal. Given the Flyers perceived depth at center, it’s even possible that Hextall will view Schenn as an expendable piece if he disappoints this season. A lot is riding on this season for the 24 year old forward.