The 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs are in full swing now and unfortunately for the 2016-17 Philadelphia Flyers, they were not one of the 16 teams to make it. The Flyers finished seven points behind the Toronto Maple Leafs for the final spot in the Eastern Conference. In the second of the five part series of what went right and what went wrong, here is a look at the defense.
What Went Right
The defense went through their ups and downs throughout the season. Not only in the defensive zone, but the overall play. However, there were some positives that came out of the season. It is very easy to start with the Flyers rookie who happens to be the Flyers best overall defenseman, Ivan Provorov. Provorov quickly developed into the Flyers number one defenseman and Head Coach Dave Hakstol played him in all key situations. He led all Flyers players in ice time averaging 21:59 minutes per game, and finished with 30 points and plays with a maturity and poise beyond his years. A future Norris Trophy finalist who plays a game similar to Hall of Famer Niklas Lidstrom. Not flashy, not spectacular, but makes the smart play and can control the game from the back end.
Shayne Gostisbehere will be the first to admit his second season was not as good as his first..and good on him for not using his off season surgery as an excuse. He did lead the defense in scoring with 39 points and by the middle of February looked like the Ghost from last season.
Radko Gudas led the defense with a +8 plus minus rating while providing the physical presence needed, while fans also saw a glimpse of the future with Sam Morin and Robert Hagg playing their first games at the end of the season.
What Went Wrong
Unfortunately for the Flyers, the negatives outweigh the positives on defense for the season. Coach Hakstol played their best defenseman with turnover machine Andrew MacDonald for most of the season. MacDonald, and his albatross contract of five million dollars per year through 2019, was second on the Flyers in ice time playing 20:06 per game. For a player that spent more time in the press box in 2015-16 than he did on the ice that’s a significant jump.
Gostisbehere was a healthy scratch on numerous occasions. He finished the season at a -21, struggling in the defensive zone for most of the season. Ufortunately, he was not alone. The Flyers as a team finished the season giving up 17 more goals than they scored.
The defense struggled at times this past season. Coach Hakstol made some very questionable decisions benching their best offensive defenseman (Gostisbehere) and playing MacDonald as much as he did. They played much better for the last couple months. The future of the Flyers is on the back end. Provorov has established himself as their best overall defenseman and Gostisbehere is the one Flyer who puts the fear of God in opponents eyes when he has the puck.
With Nick Schultz and Michael Del Zotto not returning, that’s two open spots. Morin and Hagg had their first tastes of NHL life and looked very comfortable. Add in Phil Myers to the mix for next year and the future sure looks bright on the blue line. The Flyers need to embrace the youth movement on the blue line. They will not regret it.
Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports