Philadelphia Flyers’ Path to the 2025 Stanley Cup Playoffs – The Hockey Writers – Philadelphia Flyers

The easy thing to do would be boiling the Philadelphia Flyers’ 87-point season in 2023-24 despite rebuilding down to overachieving. Missing the postseason on the last day of the season after it looked like destiny, they regressed to the mean at the final hour. However, for a multitude of reasons, there should be some optimism that they get over that hump in 2024-25.

Assuming the Flyers don’t make any major changes to their roster, which they have not indicated they plan on doing, the Orange and Black can end their four-year playoff drought this upcoming season. Below are five ways they can do that, plus a scouting report for every team in the Eastern Conference that stands in their way.

The Michkov Effect

Matvei Michkov is going to play for the Flyers in 2024-25, and he should help their offense that ranked 27th in goals last season. While just 19 years of age, it’s not an outrageous claim to say that he is already the Flyers’ best pure offensive talent. His hockey IQ, pretty easily, is the best that the Flyers would have—this kind of mind can transform an offense instantly.

Related: How Matvei Michkov’s Early NHL Arrival Would Impact the Flyers

Sure, Michkov could have some defensive struggles and probably won’t be an instant point-per-game player, but he should be a night-and-day upgrade over someone like Cam Atkinson who previously held a top-six role on the right wing. What are some areas where the teenage star can be especially helpful?

For one, the Flyers are coming off the worst power play percentage (12.2 percent) recorded by any team since the 2020-21 season. With the NHL’s worst power play for three seasons in a row, there needed to be a big change for the Orange and Black to inspire confidence that they could at least rise from the basement. The same coaches remain, but now Michkov can work his magic.

Getting a player like Michkov whose in-zone scoring touch was transcendent at the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) level last year should do wonders for the Orange and Black. He’s creative, is terrific at creating passing lanes for himself and teammates, is a high-end shooter, and can enter the offensive zone without breaking a sweat—this is everything you want on a power play. The Flyers should finally have a go-to player on the man advantage, even if he is just a rookie.

At even strength, Michkov should also help improve the Flyers’ offense. As a team, Philadelphia had an outrageously low 8.5 shooting percentage last season, which put them second-last in the NHL—they were smushed between the San Jose Sharks and Chicago Blackhawks, which were the two worst teams in the league. The Flyers consistently had the puck more than their opponents in 2023-24, but didn’t really do anything with it. They lacked the tools and offensive IQ to both create high-danger scoring chances and put them in the back of the net—that’s Michkov’s bread and butter.

Just to get an idea of what the Flyers’ offensive lines might look like in 2024-25, below is a visualization of that. It’s assuming that they don’t make any changes from here on out, but that’s where the basis of this post comes from:

Left Wing Center Right Wing
Tyson Foerster Sean Couturier Travis Konecny
Owen Tippett Morgan Frost Matvei Michkov
Joel Farabee Scott Laughton Bobby Brink
Noah Cates Ryan Poehling Garnet Hathaway

The Flyers had imperfect lineups throughout last season, but it was something that head coach John Tortorella couldn’t exactly control. Lacking a pure offensive talent like Michkov, he was forced to give Atkinson second-line minutes even though he was egregiously outplayed at even strength, give some of the toughest matchups to the fourth line listed above from February through April because nobody else was generating offense, and other sorts of shenanigans. The youngster’s pure talent can help to solve all of those issues. It cannot be understated just how vital gaining a talent like that is, especially for a club that barely missed the postseason.

Goaltending Is Bound to Improve

It might seem like the Flyers’ goaltending was only bad toward the end of last season, which is true to some extent. When it mattered, Philadelphia couldn’t even get routine saves, which is why their regression during the final stretch was so significant. However, their goaltending woes were a season-long issue—the numbers back it up.

In the salary cap era (post-2005), the Flyers recorded the NHL’s sixth-worst team save percentage (SV%) at .884 last season. With the league’s worst team SV% in the 2023-24 campaign, the Orange and Black were still somehow in the playoff mix until the very end. Even though the Flyers are running it back with Sam Ersson and Ivan Fedotov, which is the duo that struggled the most, there are reasons for optimism.

Sam Ersson Philadelphia Flyers
Sam Ersson of the Flyers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Ersson only struggled as the Flyers’ starter because of a colossal workload. From Jan. 18 onward, he had the fifth-most ice time of any goaltender in the NHL, playing in 32 of Philadelphia’s last 38 games despite being a 24-year-old rookie. It was apparent that this kind of workload wasn’t going to fly with him, but Tortorella didn’t really have any other choice—a bad Ersson was still usually better than his backups.

When his ice time was calmed down a bit, Ersson was magnificent. Prior to Jan. 18, he had a .910 SV%. From Nov. 2 to Jan. 17, he was one of three goaltenders to reach a .930 SV% or above with at least 10 games played—he held a .931 SV% in 16 appearances.

If you remember, Fedotov left Russia to join the Flyers late in March of 2024, which was at a point where the season was virtually over. Now that he actually has ample time to adjust, he should at least be a serviceable backup. He has the upside to be a lot more than this, seeing as he was a high-end starter in the KHL in recent years. If Tortorella can be confident in him, that should also allow Ersson to play better. Even if it’s a bit of a process, a .884 team SV% is not very difficult to beat.

Drysdale Will Only Get Better

We will continue to speak in absolutes here with Jamie Drysdale. The second the 22-year-old defenseman was acquired, we knew that his development was something that would take a little bit of time—that is still true to this very day. However, there really isn’t anywhere to go but up for the youngster. He will, almost definitely, see improvement in a hopefully healthier campaign.

Jamie Drysdale Philadelphia Flyers
Jamie Drysdale of the Flyers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Let’s quickly establish that Drysdale is an athletic freak of a defenseman. His pure talent inspires that he can, one day, become one of the best defenders in the NHL. But not only did he struggle with his former Anaheim Ducks, he did so with the Flyers, as well. Getting traded in the middle of the season was never going to be easy on him, but now he has had the time to adjust to the Flyers’ system.

At times, Drysdale looked like a fish out of water. At others, you could see the potential with him. He is often called a defensive liability, which is partially true, but he has the natural gifts to be able to be a great one. With his high-end speed, he was able to use that as an asset at both ends of the ice. Speeding through the offensive zone like a video game and using the same speed to close gaps on defense, he is a marvel to watch. We only really saw glimpses of this, but it is something that he can work on, especially this upcoming season.

Just like the offense, let’s look at the Flyers’ defense to paint a picture. It likely won’t be exact due to how many defensemen they have that could surprise and make the team, but this seems to be what they’re working with:

Left Defense Right Defense
Cam York Travis Sanheim
Nick Seeler Jamie Drysdale
Emil Andrae Rasmus Ristolainen

It’s important to recognize that Rasmus Ristolainen, who was good for the Flyers last season, only played in 31 games in 2023-24. While Sean Walker and Marc Staal departed the Orange and Black, they would have Drysdale and a likely more durable Ristolainen in the season-long lineup. Assuming the 22-year-old takes a step, this is arguably an upgrade.

Even Cam York, who had a solid 2023-24 showing as a first-pairing defenseman, has a lot of room for improvement. The 23-year-old was arguably better in 2022-23, so taking a step forward seems more likely than taking one back. If Drysdale and the rest of the core improve, it’s not hard to envision the Orange and Black improving from their most recent campaign.

Couturier Should Be More Consistent

One of the Flyers’ biggest issues throughout last season was the fact that, for about four months, they did not have a first-line center. The good news is that Sean Couturier played like one for a pretty good period of time—injuries and fatigue after missing nearly two calendar years of NHL playing time got the best of him in the end. At his best, though, he made Philadelphia’s lineup whole.

Sean Couturier Philadelphia Flyers
Sean Couturier of the Flyers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Even if he is 31 years old and has had a rough go injury-wise since his late 20s kicked in, Couturier should have better luck in 2024-25. A window to adjust to a first-line workload after missing as much time as he did is necessary—we can’t be too quick to dismiss his capabilities at this stage of his career.

While Couturier wasn’t the player of old at the start of the season, he was a serviceable first-line center on a good hockey team. He helped ease Tyson Foerster into his spot on the top line, frequently winning puck battles and sacrificing few chances in the defensive zone. For a significant period of time, he anchored one of the best lines in terms of expected goals percentage (xGF%) with the former and Travis Konecny.

Once Couturier was unable to keep up with Tortorella’s first-line ask, the Flyers were out of center options. If he can play at just a good level through the entire season, the Flyers should have a drastically improved forward core. While not a guarantee, we can have a decent level of confidence that he will return to form.

Can Other Players Take a Step?

On top of all the things mentioned above, the Flyers have some other players who should progress a little bit. We’ve already talked about Ersson, Fedotov, Drysdale, York, and Couturier as players who could improve from last season’s roster, but there are some others. Specifically, Owen Tippett, Morgan Frost, Foerster, and Bobby Brink all have a little bit more to prove—let’s get into why.

Last season, we saw Tippett and Frost play at their best when they were by each other’s side. The Flyers generated far more scoring chances when they were together than when they were apart, but it was a line that really only started being iced in the second half of the season. Their natural progression with a winger like Michkov or Konecny as well as being together more should boost their production.

Foerster and Brink, both 22, should progress due to their age. The former was fairly good for a first-line player as mentioned before, but could definitely improve. The latter had some consistency issues, so getting in the lineup more and playing more effectively in those minutes should only help the Flyers.

It’s not like improvement is guaranteed for individuals on the Flyers, but it seems to outweigh the possibility of regression. Hockey is an unpredictable sport, but the four mentioned above seem to have more to prove.

Who the Flyers Are Going Up Against

So, let’s say the Flyers do improve in some of these areas. Won’t other teams in the Eastern Conference get better, as well? Let’s touch on that.

As we know, there are eight teams in a conference that can qualify for the postseason with a maximum of five for each division. Just for simplicity, here are seven teams who I personally view as the most probable to make it: the Florida Panthers, New York Rangers, Carolina Hurricanes, Toronto Maple Leafs, New Jersey Devils, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Boston Bruins.

Six of these teams made the playoffs last season, while the Devils—the only team listed that missed—seem like a natural pick due to all of the injuries and goaltending misfortune they suffered in 2023-24. That eighth spot, however? That’s where the real fun comes in.

Right off the bat, we can eliminate the Montreal Canadiens and Columbus Blue Jackets from this conversation. Those teams were both at the bottom of the standings and didn’t quite improve their rosters as much as the Flyers did in the offseason—they’d be playoff long-shots.

So, we’re really down to six other Eastern Conference teams, listed by how many standings points they were ahead of or behind the Flyers. Philadelphia had 87 last season, so here’s how the others compared:

  • New York Islanders: seven ahead (94)
  • Detroit Red Wings: four ahead (91)
  • Washington Capitals: four ahead (91)
  • Pittsburgh Penguins: one ahead (88)
  • Buffalo Sabres: three behind (84)
  • Ottawa Senators: nine behind (78)

All of these clubs were within a reasonable range of the Flyers in the standings. It’s also important to consider that, as late as March 29, not a single one of these teams had more points than the Orange and Black. While a team like the Islanders had a big lead, the two teams were far closer in reality. How can Philadelphia make up that ground, even if their opposition does get better points-wise? Let’s address these teams one by one.

On paper, the Islanders aren’t exactly a juggernaut but did have the largest separation from Philadelphia. They could improve on their own, as the struggles of Ilya Sorokin might make you think their goaltending is bound to get better, but that might not be the case. Finishing with the eighth-best team SV% in the NHL, they actually did quite alright. We can assume this gap between them and Philadelphia closes rather than expands, ironically enough. Considering the youth of the Flyers’ roster and what adding a player like Michkov does for the dynamic of the team, that doesn’t really compare to the Islanders solely adding Anthony Duclair in free agency to an already old, mostly healthy roster. Philadelphia was either better or neck-and-neck with New York through almost all of 2023-24 even with their limitations, so the advantage seems to belong to the former.

As for the Capitals, it’s important to remember that the Flyers were a regulation win in their last contest away from finishing ahead of them in the standings. With that out of the way, Washington’s whole existence screams unsustainable—they had a 20-2-11 record in one-goal games. They did add to their roster in the offseason with, most notably, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Andrew Mangiapane, Jakob Chychrun, Matt Roy, and Logan Thompson entering versus Nick Jensen and Darcy Kuemper leaving. However, Washington had a minus-37 goal differential, and it wasn’t because they were getting blown out in losses—it’s just that they had a ton of one-goal wins. They’re a wildcard, but signs point toward a best-case scenario of minimal point progression. Washington could be a challenge, but Philadelphia has the upside to beat them out.

The Red Wings are an interesting and fun team, but there should be a lot of question marks with them. Losing Shayne Gostisbehere, David Perron, Jake Walman, Robby Fabbri, and likely Daniel Sprong in the 2024 offseason while adding Vladimir Tarasenko, Erik Gustafsson, and Cam Talbot, one has to wonder if Detroit regressed a bit. They have a few young pieces to inspire some slight progression, but the Flyers do as well. With Philadelphia being younger—thus more likely to improve—and adding far more talent in Michkov alone, it’s not a stretch to have them over the Red Wings.

The Penguins, who were just one point ahead of the Flyers, probably have their worst on-paper roster heading into 2024-25 that they have in decades. Losing Jake Guentzel at the trade deadline and Reilly Smith this offseason without adequate replacements, they look like a team that is more likely to get worse rather than get better. While Sidney Crosby is still one of the best players in the NHL, even he shouldn’t be enough to make up for Pittsburgh’s aging roster.

While Buffalo dealt with some of their star players struggling as well as a few injuries, they’re bringing back an arguably downgraded roster from what they ended the 2023-24 season with. We can expect their young players to grow and star center Tage Thompson to return to form, but we might also expect their goaltending to decline a little bit—their 17.2 team goals saved above expected (GSAx) was the best they have recorded since 2009-10 when Ryan Miller (won the Vezina Trophy) was at the peak of his powers. Buffalo is a team that should get at least a little better, but how much more can they improve than the Flyers?

Finally, the Senators finished nine points behind the Flyers last season and probably didn’t improve enough to make up that gap. Yes, they acquired Linus Ullmark from the Bruins, but also didn’t really improve aside from that. A youngster like Shane Pinto could explode in 2024-25, but the same can be said about several Flyers. Ultimately, even Ullmark might not be enough to take Ottawa to that next level.

The Flyers might not be world-beaters, but they should be in the 2024-25 playoff conversation if they stand pat this offseason. Whether or not that is the best course of action for a supposed rebuild is a debate for another day, but they do have a pretty good roster as of today.

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