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2015-16 season preview: Philadelphia Flyers

Hard to tell exactly where this Philadelphia Flyers team is at. Retooling? Rebuilding entirely?

Certainly under general manager Ron Hextall, now entering his second season at the helm of his old squad, this isn't your grandpa's Philadelphia Flyers squad. Sorry, all you aging Broad Street Bullies.

After missing the playoffs last spring because of defensive chaos and a lack of scoring depth, the Flyers went off the grid to bring in longtime University of North Dakota head coach Dave Hakstol to help re-energize the Flyer brand. Hextall added another non-Flyer in Scott Gordon to coach the team's American Hockey League affiliate, bringing another distinct voice to the organization.

How will it translate on the ice? Well, the Flyers look to be in long-view mode which means, in spite of owner Ed Snider's undying optimism that this might be the season for his beloved Flyers, the team figures to be a lot closer to a lottery pick than a playoff berth.

Best new faces

No single person is as important as Hakstol, who will have to reward Hextall's faith in him by getting his players to buy in immediately to his vision of how the game should be played. The college game is a world, maybe two, away from what awaits Hakstol, but he's a smart, intuitive guy and he's already got a fan in captain Claude Giroux.

"I think it's going to be interesting," Giroux said. "We're pretty excited. [Hakstol] and all the players, too. He's going to bring another aspect, another mind is always good. I had a chance to meet him for an hour and a half, two hours, during the summer and just the way he sees the game and how he wants his team to be, I think it's really exciting. We're a pretty young team with a lot of energy. We're here to learn and work hard, and we're going to try and be on the same page as soon as we can."

In terms of on-ice personnel, Sam Gagner will add experience and depth down the middle after a disappointing season in Arizona. Big defenseman Yevgeni Medvedev tries his hand at the NHL game at age 33, coming over from the Kontinental Hockey League. Michal Neuvirth will back up Steve Mason.

And, well, that's pretty much it, which tells you the Flyers are all-in on their young players and their ability to adapt and evolve into NHLers sooner than later under Hakstol.

Biggest unknowns

The Flyers were tied for 24th in five-on-five goals last season, which shows how great the drop-off is in scoring depth after stars Jakub Voracek and Giroux, who combined for 154 points last season.

So, who picks up the slack?

Brayden Schenn's development has been an up-and-down affair, while Giroux was impressed with Sean Couturier -- with whom he played at the world championships. Couturier earned rave reviews early in his career for his defensive responsibility but needs to marry that with improved offensive production for the Flyers to move forward.

"He's been playing good hockey for us and defensively he's been great with us," Giroux said. "[At] the World Championship, he elevated his game, he was playing very well. Just the way he built confidence out of that. I think he's going to bring that to camp this year and have a little chip on his shoulder. He wants to win, so he's going to be good for us."

On the other side of the puck, the Flyers tied for 21st in goals against last season and that was despite a terrific year from netminder Steve Mason.

Hextall is counting on homegrown defensive talent to carry this team forward but that will mean lots of responsibility for youngsters such as Shayne Gostisbehere and Brandon Manning.

Sure things

Giroux scored just twice in the team's first 13 games last season. He knows he and the team need to get off to a better start. While we're still not sure of the Flyers as a whole, we're banking on Giroux to get out of the blocks in a much more Giroux-like fashion.

And his linemate Voracek, who signed an eight-year, $66 million contract after coming off a stellar 81-point season, is the real deal too. But does Hakstol use the glamour twins together or spread his wealth around the Flyers lineup?

World Cup candidates

Giroux was stung by not making the Canadian roster for the Sochi Olympic Games in 2014 and his presence at the worlds last spring suggests a player who is paying dues with the hopes of keeping his profile up for next fall's tournament. Canada is so deep up front and especially at center that Giroux must have a strong season to earn a roster spot, and even then he likely makes the team as a winger.

Voracek will be "the man" for the Czech Republic. Michael Raffl will be a member of Team Europe if he can replicate his strong season of a year ago, joining Swiss teammate Mark Streit on the team of European leftovers. Radko Gudas will provide a physical presence for the Czechs, while Medvedev should earn a spot on a thin Russian blue line. Neuvirth could earn a spot as a third netminder for the Czechs.

Pending free agents

Lots of contract issues for Hextall moving forward as both Schenn brothers will need attending to, with Braden headed for restricted free agency and Luke, a defenseman, eligible for unrestricted free agency next summer.

Gagner, Raffl, Medvedev, Ryan White and Chris Porter are all potential UFAs. Gudas, who came from Tampa in the Braydon Coburn deal at the trade deadline last March, will be an RFA next summer, as will fellow defender Manning, 25.

Perhaps the biggest issue on Hextall's horizon is netminder Mason, who has two years left before he can become an unrestricted free agent. The trend is for GMs to lock down core players a year out, so is Mason the team's franchise netminder moving forward? If Hextall thinks so, look for a long-term deal sometime this season.

Prediction

I don't think this team is ready to join the playoff fray again, given the uncertainty along the blue line. Sixth in the Metropolitan Division.