There are only two possible ways that an NHL team's season can end with a win: winning the Stanley Cup or missing the playoffs but winning the final game of the regular season. Unfortunately, the 2013 Philadelphia Flyers did it the undesirable latter way.
Last night, the Flyers closed out their disappointing 2013 season with a 2-1 road win over the Ottawa Senators. The victory pushed the Flyers above the .500 mark (23-22-3) for the first time all season. The Flyers won each of their four final matches as well as six of their final seven.
Steve Mason, who played very well in his limited sampling of seven games after coming over to the Flyers in a deadline day trade with Columbus, earned first-star honors in the finale. He showed cat-like quickness and good positional body control in making 43 saves.
In the second shift of his NHL debut game, Jason Akeson roofed a shot for his first NHL goal. Team captain Claude Giroux, who finished the season with 48 points in 48 games (13 goals, 35 assists) earned the 200th assist of his NHL career on the play.
Ottawa's Kyle Turris tied the game at 4:35 of the second period, shrugging off the checking of Simon Gagne to snap a lower right circle shot past Mason. The Sens held a significant territorial edge in the latter half of the first period and also outshot the Flyers by wide margins in all three periods (14-5, 15-10, 15-10). While most the chances were kept to the perimeter, there were also testers mixed in. Mason never let a second puck get past him. Philly got a similar performance from Ilya Bryzgalov in Thursday's 2-1 home finale win against the Islanders.
The score remained deadlocked until 10:02 of the third period. Jakub Voracek led a line rush up the right wing, elected to shoot from the circle and sniped a shot past Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson (23 saves) to extend his career-best goal scoring season to 22. I agreed with television color commentator Bill Clement that Voracek probably would tried to pass the puck a year ago in the same situation. He's gained faith in his shot.
For those who think Voracek's near point-per-game season (46 points in 48 games) was a half-season fluke, keep in mind that the 23-year-old winger performed at a virtually identical clip dating back to the stretch drive and playoffs last year. Over his last 74 games as a Flyer, Voracek has a combined 31 goals and 71 points between regular season and postseason play. Tonight's tally proved to be the game-winner.
On the defensive side of the puck, Luke Schenn had yet another monster game. He's had quite a few this season, especially of late. On this night, he closed out his 2013 season with an eight-hit, two-block, one-takeaway effort in 23:47 of ice time. The 23-year-old defenseman finishes the campaign as the NHL's leading hitter among defensemen (187credited hits in 47 games played) and as the 17th-best shot blocker (102 blocks).
Last but not least, I would be remiss if I failed to mention that Peter Laviolette dressed Mike Knuble for what very could be the 40-year-old winger's final game as an active NHL player. That was a fitting reward.
Apart from Knuble, the team is also likely to say goodbye this offseason to Danny Briere, third-string goaltender Brian Boucher, soon-to-be free agent checking line forward Ruslan Fedotenko (scratched for the only time this season) and veteran enforcer Jody Shelley. Boucher and Shelley both seem likely to retire. Fedotenko will seek another NHL employer as a UFA. Everyone knows Briere's status as a likely buyout candidate.
That's a whole lot of NHL experience that will be departing come summertime. Just as important, each and every one of the aforementioned names is quality person with whom it is pleasure to interact in any capacity. Their on-ice roles may have diminished to varying degrees, but they will be missed around the team if and when they depart.
A LOOK AHEAD TO OFF-SEASON
Now that the lockout-shortened and often nightmarish campaign is over, it's time to close the books on the 2012-13 Flyers and begin to look ahead to the future.
In the blogs to come over the next week, I will first look at which players currently appear likely to remain part of next year's group, which ones are up in the air (particularly Simon Gagne and a couple defensemen) and who is not likely to return.
After that, I will talk about which outside players could potentially be interest to the Flyers in the offseason. I will also mix in some draft talk during the week, especially in Tuesday's blog, since the Draft lottery will be Monday.
With the Flyers and Phoenix winning tonight, Buffalo's season having already finished and New Jersey and Dallas losing, the Flyers have finished 20th in the NHL. As a result, they will hold the 11th position in the Draft lottery on Monday; a 1.5 percent chance of winning, compared with a 3.6 percent shot had the Flyers lost to Ottawa and finished eighth from the bottom of the NHL. Unless they win the lottery and pick first, the Flyers are very likely to pick 11th overall in the 2013 Draft. They cannot pick lower than 12th.
Beyond top-rated defenseman Seth Jones and top-rated forwards Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin -- with Aleksander Barkov and/or Valeri Nichushkin hot on the heels of the Halifax forwards in some projections -- there really isn't much of a quality dropoff in what is a deeper-than-average pool of Draft prospects.
The difference in upside between the players likely to be on the board eighth and 11th/12th is so miniscule that it's not worth wasting time by lamenting the Flyers' "worse" pick by virtue of beating Ottawa last night. Also, there are always some surprises as to which top-rated players may end up unexpectedly dropping and which off-the-board selections might shake up those pre-draft projections.
Bottom line here: Flyers should get a real solid prospect, even at 11th or 12th overall. Also the team will continue to follow the "best available player" approach. If there is a run on forwards after Jones is off the board, the BAP on the Philadelphia ranking sheet may end up being a defenseman. Conversely, if a high-ranked forward is there and the Flyers scouts like his upside better than the defensemen on the list, Philly will take the forward.
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