The Philadelphia Flyers are down, but they’re not quite out. Yet.
After the completion of Monday night’s games, the Buffalo Sabres are the one team that’s officially eliminated from Stanley Cup contention, and the New Jersey Devils are close.
East Division Tragic Numbers
The Devils’ Tragic Number is two. That’s determined by comparing how many points a team needs to climb into the last playoff spot with how much runway remains. For the Devils, they’re 22 points behind the Boston Bruins in the East Division standings, with 12 games remaining, and Boston holds the tiebreaker. If New Jersey loses one more game in regulation, or two in overtime/shootout, OR the Bruins win one more game or pick up two single points — or any combination of these outcomes — then it’s over.
The Devils visit the Penguins on Tuesday night, while the Bruins are in Buffalo. If the Devils lose in regulation, Boston wins in regulation, or both teams earn a single point, New Jersey’s torch will be officially snuffed.
— Damian Echevarrieta (@Ech28) April 20, 2021
The 2020-21 season marks the 10th straight year that the Sabres will miss the playoffs. It will be the eighth time in nine years for the Devils.
According to SportsClubStats, while the Philadelphia Flyers finally enjoy a three-day break to rest, practice and re-charge their batteries before playing out the final 11 games of their regular-season schedule, their odds of making the playoffs are 0.00.
Their Tragic Number is 13, so they’re not quite mathematically eliminated. But as they sit in sixth place in the East Division standings, only the Devils and Sabres are below them.
Flyers Have Lost Ground
Desperately needing to make up ground in the standings to keep their playoff hopes alive, the Flyers have gone a mediocre 1-2-1 since the April 12 trade deadline. Meanwhile, the Bruins and the New York Rangers both put together four-game winning streaks. Boston continues to hold the last playoff position and is now nine points up on Philadelphia — still with two games in hand. The Blueshirts have opened up a five-point lead over the Flyers, with the same number of games played.
SportsClubStats pegs New York’s odds of catching Boston at 24.2 percent. That’s the East Division playoff race to watch.
|1||James van Riemsdyk||31||LW||45||14||21||35||1|
Evaluations Start Now
It looks like the Flyers will continue their frustrating playoff trend — one year in, one year out. It was hoped that Alain Vigneault could put that inconsistency to rest, and he got off to a good start in his first year behind the bench.
General manger Chuck Fletcher has said that Vigneault will return next season, along with the rest of his veteran coaching staff — assistants Mike Yeo, Michel Therrien and Ian Laperriere, and goaltending coach Kim Dillabaugh.
With all the unusual goings-on this season, there’s an argument to be made for exercising caution before making major changes. Coaches in Montreal, Calgary and Buffalo have gotten their walking papers this year, but that’s a much lower churn rate than the nine head coaches that lost their jobs in both 2018-19 and 2019-20.
While the full coaching staff will return, Fletcher has laid the groundwork for transition on his playing roster. Even with the challenges of the pandemic, two and a half years on the job is enough time to evaluate what his team has — and what it needs. An elite defenseman is at the top of the wish list.
Expansion Draft Exposure: Jakub Voracek?
If Fletcher’s going to be bold about changing team culture, the Seattle expansion draft could work in his favor. Two players who could potentially be exposed are Jakub Voracek and James van Riemsdyk. They’re both big-ticket veterans with multiple years remaining on contracts they signed before Fletcher came on board. And they aren’t expansion-draft protected like Claude Giroux or Kevin Hayes, who both have no-movement clauses.
Voracek turns 32 in August. He’ll have three years remaining on his eight-year deal that carries a cap hit of $8.25 million per season. This season, he’s tied with Giroux for second in team scoring, with 33 points in 42 games. That’s pretty consistent with his two previous seasons.
But if the big Czech isn’t playing a solid two-way game, the whole team seems to struggle. Much like the Flyers’ playoff status, Voracek’s plus-minus numbers also vacillate from year to year. This season, he’s a minus-12, second-worst among the team’s forwards behind only Nolan Patrick (minus-19).
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Expansion Draft Exposure: James van Riemsdyk?
As for van Riemsdyk, he’s having a resurgent season. The big winger, who turns 32 in May, leads the team with 35 points in 45 games. But that number’s a bit deceiving. More than half of those points — 18, to be exact — came during the first 13 games of the season, before the club’s 11 day pause due to Covid-19.
In the 32 games since the Flyers got back to work, JVR’s 17 points rank sixth in team scoring. He’s behind Sean Couturier (27), Claude Giroux (22), Voracek (21), Travis Konecny (20) and Joel Farabee (19). He has just four points in the club’s last 14 games.
After this season, van Riemsdyk will have two years remaining on a contract with a $7 million cap hit.
So far, Seattle Kraken general manager Ron Francis has revealed little about how he plans to construct his opening-day roster. Right now, rival general managers are determined not to let him duplicate George McPhee’s success with the Vegas Golden Knights. But when the rubber meets the road, there’s no telling what deals might actually transpire.
For now, all we know is that the Flyers are definitely going to lose a player. Don’t be surprised if Fletcher offers up a sweetener to convince Francis to absorb the big contract of either Voracek or van Riemsdyk. If a draft pick or a prospect changes hands, that could help give Fletcher the flexibility that he needs to remake his lineup and perhaps acquire that elusive top defenseman.
The expansion draft is scheduled for July 21.