Flawed, but growing

So what have we learned about the Flyers in the 47 games leading up to the all-star break?

That they are a flawed team with potential, and that they are making small gains but are not a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.

They don't have enough snipers, their defense has holes, and their penalty kill has been atrocious for the second straight season.

Their third and fourth lines play with grit but cannot match the production of most opponents' counterparts.

The bright side: The Flyers have shown flashes of excellence - especially against the top teams - and some of their young players are blossoming.

If they miss the playoffs for the third time in four years, there is hope: Some gifted prospects could be here next year, and general manager Ron Hextall will have some offseason cap space to make improvements.

Buyers or sellers?

Based on the first 47 games, odds are that Hextall will be a seller at the Feb. 29 trade deadline.

Then again, they are only five points out of a playoff spot, so if they stay in the race, Hextall may try to upgrade the offense by adding a winger (Kyle Okposo? Andrew Ladd?) for the stretch run - or see if he can pry 20-year-old Jonathan Drouin from Tampa Bay.

If Hextall decides to be a seller, defensemen Mark Streit and Nick Schultz are among the players who could help a contender, and winger Matt Read might be attractive in the right fit.

Veteran defensemen usually cost a premium to playoff teams. Remember, Hextall last year got Chicago to deal two second-round draft picks for 39-year-old Kimmo Timonen, who had been sidelined all season by blood clots.

With that as background, it's not difficult envisioning the Flyers trading a defenseman or two later this month.

Streit, who is still rounding into form after sitting out six weeks with an injury, can run a power play, so that could help his trade value.

Not-so-special teams

If the Flyers are going to sneak into the playoffs, they need their special teams to do an about-face.

Their penalty kill is 26th out of 30 teams, and their power play is tied for 21st.

Lower-line players Chris VandeVelde, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Ryan White, and Scott Laughton need to upgrade their penalty-killing minutes or their jobs could be in jeopardy.

Ghost story

Gostisbehere is one of the reasons the Flyers are fun to watch again.

He has defensive flaws, but he has shown improvement in his own end. He has added speed and a great shot, and his power-play and overtime presence has conjured memories of a younger Erik Karlsson.

It's a long shot, but Gostisbehere has a chance to become the Flyers' first rookie-of-the-year winner in franchise history. Despite playing in just 29 games, he leads NHL rookie defensemen in goals (eight), assists (14), and points (22), and he is third among all rookies in points per game (0.76).

Between the pipes

From here, backup goalie Michal Neuvirth has been the Flyers' MVP. It will be interesting to see whether he gets more playing time the rest of the way.

Neuvirth, the league leader in save percentage (.933), has an 11-6-2 record, and his 2.14 goals-against average is tied for ninth in the NHL.

Starter Steve Mason (10-12-6, 2.72 GAA, .914) has been in and out of the lineup because of a personal issue, an illness, and injuries. He probably needs to regain last year's outstanding form if the Flyers are going to make a playoff run.

Same time this year

Here are the Flyers' numbers at the all-star break compared with last season:

Season   Record   Points   Points

(Rank**)   back*

2014-15   19-22-7   45 (5)   12

2015-16    21-18-8   50 (7)   5

*Points back of a playoff spot

**Position in Metropolitan Division standings in parentheses