NHL Power Rankings: Are Flyers Better Than 20th After Offseason?

It took a span of only 11 days for Chuck Fletcher to show his bias for action. The general manager revamped the Flyers with a series of moves a week before free agency even commenced. He also brought in a new head coach and two new assistants, all three with Stanley Cup Final experience.

There's no denying the Flyers are different; but how much better are they?

That will be debated up until the Oct. 4 season opener in Prague, Czech Republic.

The ESPN hockey editorial staff published its post-free agency NHL power rankings Tuesday and doesn't seem overly impressed with the Flyers' offseason. The Flyers are ranked 20th after being No. 19 in the way-too-early rankings following the Stanley Cup Final.

Last season, the Flyers finished sixth in the eight-team Metropolitan Division. They had the 22nd-most points in the NHL with 82. In these power rankings, the Flyers are ahead of only two Metro teams - the Blue Jackets (No. 22) and Devils (No. 23). 

So ESPN sees slight improvement from the Flyers in 2019-20, but not much. Obviously, a team's positioning in power rankings is dictated by what other teams did or didn't do in the offseason, as well. The Rangers saw a major jump from 25th to 14th after adding Artemi Panarin, Jacob Trouba and No. 2 overall pick Kaapo Kakko.

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The Flyers certainly expect to be better than No. 20. They should be better, too. Fletcher has undoubtedly made the team better since the end of 2018-19. Maybe the acquisitions don't jump off the page, but they are strong support moves. The Flyers also believe Kevin Hayes is just starting to touch the prime years of his career.

Look at the Flyers down the middle. For much of last season, it was Sean Couturier, Nolan Patrick, Jordan Weal and Scott Laughton. They finished the season with Couturier, Patrick, Laughton and Corban Knight. Now, the Flyers are more formidable at center with Couturier, Hayes, Patrick and Laughton. That's more scoring, size and skill.

Defensively, it seems many aren't abuzz over the acquisitions of Matt Niskanen and Justin Braun. But before that, it was Radko Gudas and Andrew MacDonald. 

Niskanen is an experienced puck mover who has won a Stanley Cup and has played 125 playoff games. Over the past six seasons, his plus-91 rating is fifth best among all NHL defensemen, behind only Ryan McDonagh (plus-126), Zdeno Chara (plus-99), Victor Hedman (plus-97) and Ryan Ellis (plus-94).

Braun comes from the Sharks, for whom he played 84 postseason games. He's been a plus-32 over the past six seasons. Both Niskanen and Braun have track records of playing consistent minutes and preventing goals. Their impact on the Flyers' young defensemen will be just as important.

Last season, Robert Hagg and Gudas made up a pair at times. Hagg played all 82 games and Gudas appeared in 77. MacDonald played 47. The Flyers are now deeper.

In 2019-20, the defensive pairings could look like this:

Ivan Provorov-Matt Niskanen

Travis Sanheim-Justin Braun

Shayne Gostisbehere-Philippe Myers

A few other important notes for 2019-20: the Flyers will have Carter Hart and James van Riemsdyk, barring injury, for full seasons, while a touted prospect could jump into the bottom six.

At the end of the day, though, it still comes down to the Flyers' youth. That remains their foundation and it needs to further support the core in place. If Hart can continue to meet expectations, if Patrick can take a jump, if Travis Konecny can be more consistent, if Oskar Lindblom and Sanheim can keep improving, if Provorov and Gostisbehere can return to form, the Flyers will be better than 20th in the NHL.

On July 1, Fletcher said: "You look at our team, we counted today, there are eight players on that NHL roster that haven't come close to hitting their peak and to having their career seasons. That's the exciting thing. That's our growth."

And that's how they'll climb.

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