The 2014-2015 season was a difficult one for the Philadelphia Flyers. The team finished 33-31-18 for a total of 84 points, good enough for sixth place in the Metropolitan division and 24th place in the league. The team’s away record was an abysmal 10-20-11, and the Flyers went 3-11 in shootouts. The team finished third in power play percentage (24.3 percent) but had the fourth worst penalty kill (77.1 percent) in the league. Despite fighting back to get within two points of the Boston Bruins in the wildcard race in early March, the Flyers missed the playoffs for the second time in three seasons.
The season was also a difficult pill to swallow on an individual level, as many Flyers underperformed or failed to meet expectations. However, with each new season comes a clean slate, a fresh start and a chance to right the ship.
With the 2015-2016 season on the horizon, here are two Flyers set for bounce-back seasons:
1. R.J. UMBERGER
Number: 20 (18 last season)
Listed at 6’2”, 214 lbs.
Last season’s stats: 9-6-15 in 67 games
Last summer, the Flyers traded forward Scott Hartnell to the Columbus Blue Jackets for R.J. Umberger and a fourth-round pick. Umberger played three seasons for the Flyers from 2005-2008, scoring 38, 28 and 50 points, respectively, and had a memorable playoff run in 2008 when he scored 15 points in 18 games (10 goals, 5 assists). From the Flyers’ perspective, the Umberger-Hartnell swap was executed mainly for salary cap benefits, as Umberger only had three seasons remaining on his contract, whereas Hartnell had five.
Umberger struggled considerably in his first season back with the Flyers. He managed to score just nine goals and six assists for a total of 15 points in 67 games, his lowest production rate of any season in his career. His second-lowest point total came in the lockout-shortened season when he tallied 18 points in 48 games; however, this translates to roughly 31 points in a prorated season of 82 games. Umberger finished this past season goalless in his last 18 games, the longest goalless drought of his career, and also had a 17-game goalless streak earlier in the season.
All in all, Umberger had a miserable year. He knows it, the team knows it, everyone knows it. But looking ahead to the upcoming season, it is reasonable to assume that Umberger can and will get back on track and put up 15+ goals. Here’s why:
Though he refused to use it as an excuse, the fact remains that Umberger played the entire season hurt.
In mid-March Flyers’ general manager Ron Hextall announced that Umberger would undergo season-ending surgery on his hip and abdominal muscles. The hip injury was a pre-existing condition of which the Flyers were aware before making the deal with Columbus. It was always the plan for Umberger to have surgery this offseason, but after Umberger was a healthy scratch and the Flyers’ chances of making the playoffs were dwindling, Hextall pulled the plug and took Umberger out of the lineup. The presence of this second injury could certainly explain why Umberger’s play seemingly deteriorated as the season wore on. The abdomen tear most likely occurred at some point at the end of January or early February since Umberger scored eight of his nine goals in December and January and then failed to score again for the rest of his season. The hip injury involved two cam lesions on Umberger’s right hip; apparently, this is a condition many players play through, but the abdomen tear is much more painful and more difficult to fight through.
However, Umberger did not want to use his injuries as an excuse. He had a poor season, which he referred to as “the hardest year of [his] career.”
“R.J.’s not happy with his year. We’re not happy with his year. That’s life,” Hextall said in March when addressing Umberger’s season-ending surgery. “He was in some pain. He was in some discomfort where he had physical deficiencies that were hurting his game. It’s kind of hard to be mad at a guy when you know what he was going through. Quite frankly, when I talked to him he said it was hard when he went home. He had to lay on the floor all the time. He’s been in some pain. R.J.’s a [much] tougher guy than people give him credit for.”
Umberger was especially upset about letting down his general manager. “I think the biggest thing that’s bothered me is just that I feel like I’ve let Ron Hextall down,” Umberger said. “He believed in me, bringing me here, and I feel I haven’t been the player he needs.”
Interestingly, Umberger also admitted that he felt added pressure because he was traded for Hartnell.
“I know what type of guy Hartnell was in the locker room, and all these guys enjoyed having him here,” Umberger said. “So yeah, when things aren’t going well, there’s added pressure and you feel that.”
Though there’s nothing Umberger can do now to change the outcome of his unproductive season, his comments show that he is dedicated to the team, the fans and to improving his game. He will be determined to rebound this season and show Hextall that he was right to bring him back to Philadelphia.
Umberger had played in 96 percent of games before last season.
Another reason to assume Umberger will have a bounce-back season is that he has not missed many games throughout his career; last year’s injury situation could very well have been a fluke.
Umberger has played in 673 out of 704 games not including last season’s games. The 31 games he missed spanning his previous nine NHL seasons include missing games due to injury, for personal reasons or for being a healthy scratch. If you include the 67 games played last season, Umberger has played in 740 out of a possible 786 games, which means he has played in around 94 percent of games in his career (96 percent not including last season). While no one wants to see Umberger play through another injury next season just for the sake of suiting up every night, these numbers demonstrate that he has not missed much time during his career and that his point production has not been affected by injury in the past. Whether that means that he simply didn’t have severe injuries or just that he was better able to play through injuries than he was last year, the point remains that last year’s performance is an outlier. It’s not as if he has missed 20 games here and there throughout his career. In fact, last season was the first season in which Umberger missed more than nine total games. In his 10 seasons, he has missed 9, 1, 8, 0, 0, 0, 5, 0, 8 and 15 games, respectively. Those are promising numbers.
Umberger has scored consistently throughout his career.
In his nine NHL seasons before last year, Umberger scored at least 15 goals seven times. Of the two remaining seasons, Umberger scored 13 goals in 2007-2008 with the Flyers and eight goals in the lockout-shortened 2012-2013 season with the Blue Jackets, which would be around 14 goals in a prorated 82-game season. That means that Umberger scored at least 13 goals in nine out of nine seasons before last year, and at least 14 goals in eight out of those nine seasons. Also, not only has Umberger scored at least 13 goals in every season of his career except last year, he is a five-time 20-goal scorer, scoring 20, 26, 23, 25 and 20 goals. It is impossible to project exactly how many goals any player will score in any given year, but based on his past performances, he could easily put together a 15-goal campaign.
Regardless of the stats, Umberger was behind the play and ineffective for the majority of last season. Even if he had miraculously scored ten goals in his final game before surgery, it still would not have made up for his play for the rest of the season, and he would be the first one to admit that. But as poorly as Umberger played last year, 15 goals is only six more goals than his total output for 2014-2015. Umberger at his worst managed nine goals in 67 games. Even if Umberger isn’t at his best this year, it’s likely that his numbers will go back toward the mean, which would suggest that Umberger will score between 15-20 goals since the average number of goals he has scored over his ten seasons is 18.4. If Umberger is healthy and plays all 82 games, 15 goals is perfectly reasonable. The Flyers desperately need secondary scoring throughout their lineup, and Umberger can be and should be one of those players to chip in 15+ goals. He has been able to do so throughout his career and he should be able to do so this season.
Watch Umberger’s Nine Goals From the 2014-2015 Season:
1–10/22 @ Pittsburgh
6–1/8 vs. Washington
7–1/12 vs. Tampa Bay
9–1/27 vs. Arizona
Umberger took fewer total shots and fewer shots per game than he has in past seasons.
Umberger’s shots-per-game average from last year was the lowest of his career. He took a total of 96 shots in 67 games, or 1.4 shots per game. At first glance, shots per game is not always indicative of goals scored when looking at Umberger’s stats. However, the two seasons in which a relationship between shots per game and total goals scored is not established are the seasons in which Umberger’s shooting percentage was a career-high and a career-low, which could explain the variation in his numbers.
Table 1 (below) shows Umberger’s shots-per-game averages, total shots, total games played, goals scored and shooting percentages for each of his ten NHL seasons.
|Season||Shots/Game||Total Shots||Total GP||Goals Scored||Shooting %|
*Numbers for a prorated 82-game season
Umberger is a five-time 20-goal scorer; in most of the seasons in which he scored 20 goals, he averaged more than 2 shots per game. The only season for which that standard does not apply is his first NHL season, in which he scored 20 goals but only averaged 1.84 shots per game. However, his shooting percentage was 14.5 percent that year, the highest of his career. This could explain the inflated total of goals scored compared to his shots-per-game average. In the four other 20-goal seasons of Umberger’s career, he averaged 2.86, 2.7, 2.68 and 2.6 shots per game, scoring 26, 23, 25 and 20 goals, respectively. On the other end of the spectrum, in the 2007-2008 season, Umberger averaged 2.34 shots per game but only scored 13 goals. However, much like in the case of Umberger’s first season, his shooting percentage may explain the discrepancy. Even though he averaged 2.34 shots per game that season, his shooting percentage was 7.5 percent, the lowest of his career.
If you remove these two seasons in which his shooting percentage was a career-high and a career-low, Umberger’s past performances consistently demonstrate a direct relationship between shots per game and goals scored. The higher the rate of shots-per-game, the higher the number of goals scored, and the lower the rate of shots-per-game, the lower the number of goals scored. This is true for this past season as well, since Umberger took a career-low 1.4 shots per game and scored a career-low nine goals. His shooting percentage of 9.4 was lower than his career average of 10.8, but not by a significant margin. However, since Umberger took so few shots this year, it makes sense statistically based on all of his career numbers that he scored fewer goals. Since he has taken more shots and more shots per game in every other year of his career (his career shots-per-game average is 2.23, his career total shots average is 171.6), one can assume he will return to that standard next season, which should improve his chances of finding the back of the net more frequently. This is a good indicator that he should have a bounce-back season this year.
Final Thoughts: Umberger
While all of this may seem like nothing to write home about, the Flyers desperately missed secondary scoring throughout all of last season. Even if a player scores 10-15 or 15-20 goals, it makes a huge difference over the course of a season and takes a lot of the burden off the top-line star duo of Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek, who, along with Wayne Simmonds, essentially carried the team for most of last season. If the Flyers can get 15 goals from a secondary scorer playing middle-6 or possibly strictly third-line duties, that would be huge. It isn’t far-fetched at all to expect such an output from Umberger.
Umberger has proven throughout his career that he is quite capable of scoring 15 goals, whether he’s playing first- or fourth-line minutes in Columbus or second- and third-line minutes in Philadelphia. If Umberger comes to training camp healthy and in good condition, which is the expectation, he should be able to be more effective and more involved in the play, take more shots and find the back of the net on a more regular basis, and he can remind Philadelphia what he brings to the table. Umberger will go back to wearing #20, which he wore in his first stint with the Flyers. If nothing else, hopefully the familiar number can help R.J. re-discover his jam.
2. MATT READ
Listed at 5’10”, 185 lbs.
Last season’s stats: 8-22-30 in 80 games
Another Flyer who had performed consistently during his career before last season is Matt Read. Read’s performance last season was one of the most surprising elements of a surprisingly-brutal season for the Flyers.
Since signing with the Flyers as a 25-year-old undrafted rookie coming out of Bemidji State, Matt Read has, to put it simply, shined. It was evident from his first shift in his first pre-season game in 2011 that Read was a gem and would be a force for the Flyers. Not surprisingly, he continued to impress throughout the season. Read finished the year with the most goals of any rookie (24), fifth place in assists among rookies (23) and fourth overall in points among rookies (47).
Read has continued to be a successful, hard-working player over the course of the past few seasons. He has consistently played a smart two-way game with great speed, a tremendous wrist shot and solid hockey sense. His value to the Flyers may have been undervalued and underappreciated by the media and by fans, but this year’s stark contrast to his prior consistent play made it evident to many that Read is, indeed, a vital member of the Flyers’ core.
Matt Read can have another 20-goal season this year. Here’s why:
He has done it before.
Read is a 20-goal scorer, plain and simple. He can play up and down the lineup, can play in all situations, is responsible in all three zones and can be counted on to produce. He doesn’t have nine 20-goal seasons to show for it, but he is a reliable player who battles on every shift and has a deadly wrist shot. He is not a one-hit wonder, either; he has demonstrated in each season before last year that he can put up 20+ goals and make it look easy.
Even when Read played a significant amount of time on the Flyers’ third line two seasons ago, he continued to produce. For a stretch of the regular season the line of Steve Downie, Sean Couturier and Matt Read had undeniable chemistry and was clicking on all cylinders at both ends of the ice. Unfortunately, Downie got injured and the line was never able to fully recover, but Read and Couturier were able to maintain their strong chemistry. As a result, Read and Couturier have been the team’s shut-down duo ever since, playing primarily defensive minutes. Naturally, this kind of role impedes offensive development and production. Couturier and Read have managed to put points on the board despite so many defensive-zone draws, but the assignment has certainly hindered each player’s offensive game. In spite of the difficult minutes, Read was still able to score 22 goals in 75 games two seasons ago. In fact, in his three seasons with the Flyers, Read has scored 24 goals, 20 goals (11 goals in 42 games of the lockout-shortened season is roughly 20 goals in a 76-game season) and 22 goals, respectively. This past year was an anomaly, and one that is likely to stand alone in Read’s stat line.
Watch Read’s Eight Goals From the 2014-2015 Season
3–12/11 vs. New Jersey
6–2/28 vs. New York Rangers
7–3/14 vs. Detroit
8–4/11 vs. Ottawa
He was injured.
Matt Read scored eight goals last season. Eight. Read went from being one of the team’s best natural goal-scorers to looking like someone who could barely put his left foot in front of his right. Ironically, there was a reason for that. Read was suffering from a high ankle sprain, an injury that has kept many players out of the lineup for many weeks. Though his effort was valiant, it took more than half of the season for Read to get anything going. While we can now assume that at least part of Read’s poor season can be attributed to the high ankle sprain, Read was adamant that his injury was no excuse for his play.
“I don’t want to blame anything on that,” Read said mid-way through the season. “I wasn’t playing very good hockey the first couple of months of the season. I wasn’t putting myself in the right areas to score. I wouldn’t blame [the injury] at all. It’s about getting to tough areas, shooting more pucks, doing all the little things right.”
Like Umberger, Read handled his injury like a consummate professional and did not allow for any excuses to be made. However, in reality, it was obvious when watching the games that Read was slow and looked out of sorts and uncomfortable for at least the first half of the season, if not more. He started coming into his own in the second half of the season, but by that point he wasn’t able to regain his old form, even if his symptoms had subsided. The good news is that Read has had plenty of time to heal in the offseason and should be fully healthy when training camp starts in mid-September.
His shooting percentage was a career-low by a huge margin.
Table 2 (below) shows Read’s shots-per-game averages, total shots, total games played, goals scored and shooting percentages for each of his four NHL seasons.
|Season||Shots/Game||Total Shots||Total GP||Goals Scored||Shooting %|
*Numbers for a prorated 76-game season
Matt Read has only played in four NHL seasons. However, his numbers had been impressively consistent before last year. In his first three seasons, his shots-per-game averages are all between 1.71 and 2.01, his goals scored totals are all within four goals (20-24) and his shot totals are all within a 25-shot range, including last season’s shot total (130-155). There is one statistic that has a glaring discrepancy, however, and that is shooting percentage.
Through Read’s first three seasons in the NHL, his shooting percentages were 15.5, 15.3 and 14.6, respectively. Though all three shooting percentages are somewhat high, they are consistent. However, when you look at Read’s stats from last season, his shooting percentage is wildly different. Instead of being in the 14.6-15.5 range, his shooting percentage last season was 5.6. That is roughly one third of his typical shooting percentage. The difference between his shooting percentage last year and his shooting percentages from previous seasons is statistically significant. Though shooting percentage is not always directly related to the success of a season, in this case it can certainly explain why Read had such a disappointing and out-of-character season. Even if Read had maintained a shooting percentage of 10.0 last year, which is still low compared to his career numbers, he would have scored 14 goals. Again, shooting percentage cannot predict goals scored; however, it demonstrates just how poor Read’s shooting percentage was last year. If Read had maintained his career average shooting percentage, which is 12.8 percent (including last season’s numbers), and had taken the same number of shots as he did last year (142), he would have scored 18 goals. Yes, this would have been a little low for his career numbers, but it still would have been a respectable output from Read. Read’s average shooting percentage from the first three seasons of his career (not including last year’s numbers) is 15.1. Had Read maintained that shooting percentage last season, he would have scored 21-22 goals, which would be in line with his career numbers. Though one can’t expect a player to maintain a constant shooting percentage from year to year, each player is different and, for the most part, has statistical norms throughout their careers. So even if Read does not meet his normal shooting percentage but still manages to maintain a percentage higher than the 5.6 percent from last year, his production should increase and he should be producing at his normal level. This is why it is reasonable to expect Read to put together yet another 20-goal campaign next season.
Final Thoughts: Read
It’s impossible to predict with much certainty how any player will perform on any given night and in any given season, especially since there are so many variables that come up throughout the course of an NHL season. A few such variables are team balance, team performance, the type of minutes a player is assigned and the linemates with which a player plays. It is reasonable to assume that head coach Dave Hakstol will keep Read and Couturier together this year, as they have demonstrated and maintained a high level of chemistry and are a great defensive duo. If Couturier moves up to the second line, that would mean that Couturier and Simmonds would make up two-thirds of the line, but it doesn’t guarantee a spot for Read. It’s possible that Hakstol will elect to use Read in that left-wing slot to preserve the Read-Couturier chemistry and improve the offensive upside of the line as a whole, but he could also use Sam Gagner, Brayden Schenn or even Umberger in that spot instead.
Hakstol could decide to leave more of the defensive minutes for Read and someone like Umberger. Even if this is the case, Read has demonstrated that he can score in any situation, whether it’s 5-on-5, on the power-play or short-handed, and he can find success with any combination of linemates. It is unlikely Hakstol will give Read a chance to play left wing on the top line with Giroux and Voracek. No one knows how Hakstol will deploy all of his players, but since Raffl has had success playing with Giroux and Voracek in the past, it is most likely Raffl’s job to lose.
Regardless of Read’s position and role in the lineup, though, the Flyers can expect him to have a huge bounce-back season and return to his old form of scoring 20 or so goals. The combination of talent, skill and grit with which Read plays, as well as his breakaway speed and explosive wrist-shot, lends itself well to piling up the points. Since Read is a goal-scorer, expect him to light the lamp often once again.
R.J. Umberger and Matt Read had surprisingly-poor seasons last year. Both were injured throughout most of the season, and both underperformed significantly compared to their career numbers. Certain stats were against them, and neither one of them was able to truly turn things around at any point in the year.
But Umberger and Read are set for bounce-back seasons. With training camp only a few weeks away, which will feature a new coach and a new system, everyone on the Flyers’ roster will be given a blank slate. Umberger and Read will be especially motivated to take advantage of the fresh start and prove once again that they can contribute to the Flyers’ success.
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Featured image: Graig Abel/Getty Images