The Flyers are a year ahead of schedule.
By using a late-season surge to earn a surprising playoff berth and then extending Stanley Cup favorite Washington to six games, young players Shayne Gostisbehere, Nick Cousins, and Brandon Manning gained unexpected and invaluable experience.
In addition, Vinny Lecavalier's retirement assures them of $2.25 million in increased salary-cap space and could help them land a much-needed top-six forward in the offseason free-agent market.
The Flyers (41-27-14) finished with 12 more points than they did last season. What do they need to do to continue making improvement?
At least listen to what other teams are offering for one of their two quality goalies.
The tandem of Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth could not have worked better. Both are worthy of being No. 1 goalies, and they pushed each other and elevated their play because they knew if they had a bad stretch, there was someone waiting in the wings who could take their place for awhile.
The Flyers would be fine going with both goalies next season, giving themselves a terrific option if one gets injured.
But . . .
Both will be in the final seasons of their contracts and could be lost in the unrestricted free-agent market in June 2017.
Neuvirth is more athletic than Mason - whose brilliant late-season play carried the Flyers into the postseason - and he was the team's playoff MVP with a performance for the ages: a 0.67 goals-against average and a ridiculous .981 save percentage in three games.
That said, he has been injury prone, which is one of the main reasons the Flyers were able to sign him so cheaply (two years for a total of $3.25 million). Neuvirth's trade value, which is more than Mason's, will never be higher.
If general manager Ron Hextall can get a top-line sniper in a trade for him to place alongside Claude Giroux, he at least has to listen.
Get younger and faster.
Maybe it comes from within the system with prospects such as Travis Konecny, Taylor Leier, and Ivan Provorov, but the Flyers need to improve their overall team speed. They looked worn down and much slower than the Capitals in the opening round.
Add a top-six forward.
Steven Stamkos is the premier free agent on the market, but unless Hextall can channel Harry Houdini and make lots of contracts disappear, the Flyers have little chance of landing the superstar.
These free-agent forwards will be less costly: David Backes, Kyle Okposo, Milan Lucic, Andrew Ladd, Loui Eriksson, Eric Staal, and Mikkel Boedker. Hextall will probably try to clear more cap space so he can land one of them.
When you subtract Lecavalier's cap hit - the Flyers had been splitting $4.5 million with the Kings - the Orange and Black have about $61.7 million committed toward next season's cap, according to generalfanager.com.
The cap could go up to $74 million, which would leave the Flyers with about $12.3 million in cap space. That number would grow to $15.3 million if R.J. Umberger is bought out, as expected. Umberger's cap hit would go from $4.6 million to $1.6 million next season, based on the buyout formula. When you subtract the cap hits for Konecny and Provorov - players likely to crack the lineup in October - the Flyers would have about $13.5 million in cap room.
That's not much cap space when you consider the Flyers still have to re-sign restricted free agents Brayden Schenn, Radko Gudas, Cousins, and Manning. They also will probably re-sign unrestricted free-agent Ryan White. Sam Gagner, another unrestricted free agent, played well at the end of the season, but there is only an outside chance Hextall tries to re-sign him.
Hextall can gain cap room if he can deal Mark Streit ($5.25 million cap hit) or Matt Read ($3.625 million cap hit).
Ease the promising defensive prospects into the lineup.
Gostisbehere's arrival in November jump-started the Flyers. From all accounts, Provorov is going to be a better all-around player than Gostisbehere.
The Flyers need to continue filtering their defensive prospects into their lineup - Provorov in 2016-17 and Travis Sanheim and perhaps Sam Morin the following season.
Take a long look at special teams coaches Joey Mullen (power play) and Ian Laperriere (penalty kill) and decide whether it's their systems or the players running them that need to be changed.
As dominating as the Capitals were in the first-round series, the Flyers could have stolen the round if their special teams weren't so awful. Washington outscored them, 8-1, on the power play.