To help get you up to speed with all that's been going in Philadelphia this season, SB Nation's NHL Editor, and Broad Street Hockey Managing Editor Travis Hughes took a few of our questions before tonight's matchup with the Flyers.
Copper and Blue: After a year in Arizona, 26-year old former Oiler Sam Gagner has come in and scored five points in the first eight games of the season. How has Sam played to start the season, and where do you see his career as a Flyer going?
Broad Street Hockey: Gagner's skill is a welcome addition to the Flyers offense, and he's shown that he can be an asset both on the power play and at even strength. The whole team has taken a step back the last week or so, but Gagner has been decent if you look at his full season to date. It's hard to say what his future will be with the team, because it's still so early and we don't know what he'll look like for a full season. He's a free agent after the year. But early returns have been good and if this continues I'd be happy to see him back on a contract extension with the Flyers.
C&B: Ron Hextall surprised many people this offseason by signing former North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol to a five year deal. In June, you wrote that he will be getting paid like he is a Stanley Cup Winning coach. Although his tenure in Philadelphia is still just beginning, what are your thoughts on what he has done so far?
BSH: Hakstol's been good. Yes, the team is in the middle of a four-game losing streak entering the Edmonton game, but with the team that Hakstol inherited here, I think he's done a solid job. They're cleaner in the neutral zone than they were a year ago, and Hakstol's system pushes the pace a bit more. It's helped, and the Flyers have been able to hang with teams like Tampa and Chicago and the Rangers early in the season. The problem is still the same as it was a year ago -- the Flyers are just not very talented at five-on-five, particularly on defense, and when injuries happen and the special teams go cold, they're going to lose games. Hakstol can't do much about that. But on the whole, with what he has to work with, I've been impressed with him so far.
C&B: For years now, the Flyers have always been a team right on the cusp of making a really deep push into the playoffs but seem to fall short. What do the Flyers need to do to make that deep run into the playoffs, and when do you see it happening?
BSH: They need to have better players on the team. I said before the season that I didn't think they were a playoff team this year, and the only way they can be is if the penalty kill returns to elite status (there have been signs of it but it hasn't sustained this year) and the power play remains among the tops in the league. But overall the team is just too weak at 5-on-5, and the personnel needs to change. It's a rebuild-on-the-fly right now with this team, because while they're pretty talented up front and suitable in goal, they just don't have contending pieces on the blue line. Give it two years, maybe three, when hopefully some of the young talent in the pipeline comes up, and we'll hope they can contend around then.