Philadelphia Flyers: Is the defense actually… good now?

(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

If the 2020-21 NHL season opened up today, the Philadelphia Flyers would be trotting out a blue line featuring three new faces, all of whom acquired either through free agency or via trade during the offseason.

Now granted, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The Flyers’ defense was bad last season and injecting some fresh blood into a tired unit is about as good a way as any to shock it into competency, even if some question the specific players selected versus those who were available on the market.

With Keith Yandle now in place for the low, low price of a one-year, $900,000 free agent contract, presumably to serve as a third-pairing performer and a power play specialist, one could go so far as to call the Flyers’ newly formed secondary not only competent but good, maybe even a strength depending on how the rest of the summer shakes out.

Am I… optimistic about the Philadelphia Flyers’ defense? Did 2020-21 not burn/desensitize me enough to learn my lesson? And what lesson would that be? Not to trust too highly in preseason hype before the harsh reality of hockey in the Wells Fargo Center kicks in? Hm…

On paper, the Philadelphia Flyers’ defense is an improvement.

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In 2020-21, the Philadelphia Flyers had one defenseman who would be considered universally good: Ivan Provorov.

Sure, the fanbase is loaded with a number of Travis Sanheim superfans and even a few who have a thing for Jessica Lysiak’s husband Justin Braun, but in a league where right-handed defensemen are worth their weight in gold, there isn’t a team around who wouldn’t love to have Provorov on their active roster and wouldn’t pay handsomely for his services.

And as for his partner? Well, the Flyers never really settled on one long-term, not one worthy of retaining heading into the 2021-22 NHL season anyway.

From Sanheim, to Braun, and Philippe Myers early in the season, Alain Vigneault‘s defense never quite settled on any reliable pairings that dominated, as evidenced by the negative +/- of every defenseman not named Provorov.

But now? Now Provorov will surely be taking the ice on opening night across from Ryan Ellis, one of the more well-respected left-handed defensemen in the league today and a certified 24 minutes a night player capable of putting in work on both the power play and in shorthanded situations.

To make matters all the more impressive, the Flyers will be able to rotate in Keith Yandle, a superb passer from the blueline who is notably bigger than the player he’s replacing – Shayne Gostisbehere – while simultaneously playing on a contract a fifth as lucrative.

Remember how brutal the Flyers’ blue line power play, um, play was last season? With Ellis, Yandle, and even Rasmus Ristolainen – who ranked second in both power play and shorthanded time on the Buffalo Sabres last season – now in the fray, the Flyers should have a slew of options to throw at opposing goalies when they need some production out on special teams.

Furthermore, because of the improved overall level of talent on the blue line, players like Braun, Sanheim, and even a recently-resigned Samuel Morin will be afforded less responsibility in any given game and be able to conserve their energy on lower but more productive ATOI.

No matter how you slice it, filling out a defensive unit with quality veterans is a pretty time-honored way to get better fast, even if Chuck Fletcher had to pay a serious premium to get some of the deals done.

Next. Carter Hart deserves MacKenzie Blackwood money. dark

Does Keith Yandle alone transform the Philadelphia Flyers from contenders to pretenders? No, but his addition, coupled with the addition of Ryan Ellis, and even Rasmus Ristolainen, should certainly make life easier for the Flyers’ forwards and Carter Hart, who definitely didn’t benefit from inconsistent blue line play in his worst professional season… at least in theory; remember, fans in the City of Brotherly Love were cautiously optimistic about the team last season too after a successful stint in the NHL Bubble and we all know how that one turned out.