Let’s not get carried away about the Philadelphia Flyers having won their last two games. Still, despite the overall disappointment of this 2021-22 season, the club does show some reason for optimism in the future, perhaps even the very near future. And while I’m not projecting the Flyers to turn into a juggernaut anytime soon, things aren’t nearly as bad as their record this year would indicate, based on the roster pieces already available to them.
Any discussion of the personnel already in place, of course, has to start with Carter Hart. If you saw any of Hart’s performance in Tuesday’s 2-1 win over the Vegas Golden Knights, it was a nice reminder that the Flyers can still come out on the right end of games where a goaltender absolutely steals a win for his team. And even though this isn’t a sustainable model, it should boost the confidence of the Flyers organization and its fans that Hart is fully back from the struggles he’s endured of late, and the team is set at the most important position in the sport.
There might still be light at the end of the tunnel for the Philadelphia Flyers.
Things do get murky when you leave the crease, though, and the Flyers being able to ice a better group in the coming years will largely depend on management making the correct decisions. It’s a scary proposition, I know. But a return to health for Ryan Ellis will help immensely on the blueline, instantly upping the game of Ivan Provorov, who quickly seems to be falling out of favor in these parts.
No, Provorov hasn’t been good this year, but his usage has been far from ideal. He’s miscast on the power play, logging about 2:30 a night that doesn’t suit him, while he also needs an Ellis/Matt Niskanen type of even-strength partner to complement his abilities. Effectively this means he isn’t a #1 defenseman, but the Flyers can live without him being a stud if they build a solid overall group.
Enter Cam York and Egor Zamula, both of whom should be regulars on this unit by the beginning of next season at the absolute latest. It always takes a bit of a leap of faith to put your young players in the deep end, but this franchise really needs to see what it has. And with any luck (which might also be a foreign concept to Flyers fans), maybe they’ll just end up with a very good defensive unit for the next few years.
At forward, it certainly appears the Claude Giroux era is coming to a close. But while his presence will be greatly missed, the time has come for others to fill the void in both leadership and production. It’s been “out of sight, out of mind” when it comes to Sean Couturier, but I expect him to be healthy and newly minted as team captain for next season. And while Coots does have a lot of miles on him, the team has committed long-term to him and needs him to answer the bell. He’s not a superstar player, but his excellent two-way play makes him the linchpin among all of the team’s skaters. His play will largely determine the direction the team goes in.
He needs help, though, and the Flyers should feel pretty good about players like Joel Farabee and Cam Atkinson. Kevin Hayes and Travis Konecny are bigger question marks, and they’ll need to be better/healthier going forward if this team hopes to compete. And let’s not overlook Oskar Lindblom, who has been very productive over the last few months after an awful start to the season. He may actually settle into the 25-goal, defensively responsible winger that he was on target to become prior to his cancer diagnosis.
What the Flyers are missing is a true sniper, and it remains to be seen if they can correct that issue in free agency (Johnny Gaudreau?) or maybe from within, to wit: prospect Bobby Brink is having an outstanding, Hobey Baker-level season at the University of Denver. His presence on the big club would help a ton, and the Flyers really need to do everything they can to get him on the roster as soon as possible, maybe even by the end of this season. The team really can’t afford to let players marinate for too long at lower levels if they hope to “retool,” as GM Chuck Fletcher mentioned a few weeks ago.
Of course, every team falls in love with their own prospects, so you always have to take it with a grain of salt when Fletcher or others in the Flyers’ brain trust wax poetic about the likes of Elliot Desnoyers and Ronnie Attard. But much better results can be achieved next season with the right combo of returning players, necessary acquisitions, and the correct usage of youngsters. Oh, and it always helps to have a goalie capable of standing on his head to win you games.
This season has been a total bummer for the Orange and Black, but let’s not get so deep in the hole that we can’t see a way out. The pieces are there to start making that happen. Now let’s just hope they fit together.