A FLYERS NARRATIVE: THE MYSTERIOUS 2019-20 PHILLY FLYERS
The 2019-2020 Philadelphia Flyers are a team full of mystery. Throughout Flyers history there has always been some consistent elements that made the franchise who they were. Ed Snider and Bobby Clarke were always ever present, consistently portraying the image of success and victory in Philadelphia. However, the nickname of Broad Street Bullies now seems like a distant relic of the past with all of the organizational turnover. With a new leader at the helm of the franchise and a plethora of new young talent, things just don’t feel the same anymore. The vision that was so easy to predict throughout the years is no longer so clear.
No longer do we feel the overflowing presence of Ed Snider. No longer are the halls run by the original crew that created the brand. As the scene changes, there will be new victories, new losses, new bad habits, and new rewarding ceremonies. Most of the fan base and media can’t seem to come to a common consensus on where the team is in its development process. A returning veteran core with a young core that has a lot to prove, the results are not so easy to predict. Most people internally struggle to understand where the 2019-2020 Flyers stand amongst the league’s 31 teams. There are even some that believe the Flyers could be the worst team within the Metro division, or at least sitting at the bottom. All of these scenarios are plausible. However, with so many foundational changes made over the last several years, it’s fair to say that the Flyers seem like a mystery to most hockey pundits.
The new slew of young prospects raise everyone’s attention, but a large hesitation looms over the youth’s progress and a recent history of mediocrity only shortens the leash. It always seems that the prospects take longer than people anticipate. Joel Farabee, Morgan Frost, German Rubtsov, Issac Ratcliff, and Phil Myers have yet to show the NHL what they can do. Tempered expectations are understandable, but is it required with the level of talent in the Flyers system? This is something I want to emphasize with the current Flyers and Phantoms rosters. The talent to be successful is well in place. Quite frankly this is a team that has not lacked the talent to compete over the last two years. It’s clearly indicated by the teams erratic performance from game-to-game during the season. One night they look like a team capable of making it to the 2nd round of the playoffs, then another night will look like a team barely keeping it together. The same issues from 2018-19 were not talent related, but a result of poor execution, teamwork, and attention to detail. Something that often weighs on young teams as they learn to play like a pro. However, with a new highly experienced coaching staff, is it really fair to expect the same erratic results? A successful and consistent coaching staff mixed with an inconsistent team leaves plenty of questions as to which trend will prevail.
This year’s group of forwards is deep and talented. Even without a top sniper in the league, this team should not have trouble scoring throughout an 82 game season. A majority of teams lack a true goalscorer, but make up for it with a group of talented point producers and play drivers. Outside of not having a sniper, this current team, when healthy, has no holes. The center group consists of Sean Couturier, Kevin Hayes, Nolan Patrick, and Scott Laughton, all former 1st round picks that are balanced defensively and offensively. They all have playmaking ability, a heavy body, a strong aggressive instinct, and responsible nature to their positioning. The wingers of Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek, Travis Konecny, James Van Riemsdyk, and Oskar Lindblom are only one player away from forming an extremely balanced and offensively gifted top 9.
One of rookies like Joel Farabee, Morgan Frost, and Issac Ratcliff will help fill that gap in the very near future and, over an 82 game season, new jobs are won all the time. The bottom six role players of Michael Raffl, Carsen Twarynski, and Tyler Pitlick are all capable of playing their roles effectively when not forced to play against top tier competition. Even newcomer Chris Stewart has a role to play in the core as he can provide a physical edge this team can lack when facing the more aggressive teams in the league. While there is room for improvement in this forward crop, there isn’t much weakness.
The defense is a bigger mystery than the offense, but with the new additions of Matt Niskanen and Justin Braun, we’ve already seen in the early season what an impact an experienced and talented veteran can make. We’ve already seen the benefits to Ivan Provorov; this season he’s looked faster, more confident, more aggressive, and less hesitant than his entire 2018-2019 season combined. He looks like a player with some serious weight off his shoulders, and I don’t believe it was financial weight after signing a long term contract with the Flyers over the summer. Returning youngsters Travis Sanheim and Robert Hagg will continue their development as now they do not need to be the backbone of the defense on a nightly basis. A player like Sam Morin will also benefit from the extra time as he learns the ropes in the NHL after not being able to play consistently for almost 2 years. And then there’s Shayne Gostisbehere who is desperately working on finding his game again. His rebound is key to the Flyers defensive core getting to the next level.
If head coach Alain Vignault and assistant coach Mike Yeo can figure out how to get Ghost playing confidently again, then the entire offense takes a huge jump in production. There are some positive results already in the young 2019-2020 season. The Flyers look like a considerably more stable team than the one under Hakstol. While the results have not been astronomically more stable defensively, this core is capable of playing a far more sound defensive game this season in the early going. This can be indicated by the reduction in 2-1 defensive breakdowns that plagued the team last year. There is room to doubt this team, but only because of bumps in the road over the recent years and leading up to this season. However, with this team and this collection of defenseman, this is the deepest defensive group the Flyers have had since Chris Pronger was lacing up his skates. Add in the future star defenseman Phil Myers as the next player to start for the Flyers and we see a luxury that the Flyers have not had in nearly a decade.
The goaltending situation is maybe the biggest mystery, as always, around the team. Only this year there is more promise than anything in the past couple decades. Brian Elliot is back for another season with the team and this time he comes in with realistic expectations to be solid enough to not look like the team’s weakness. History has proven that Brian Elliot is capable of being one of the best backup goalies in the league, and now in his proper role, I’d expect him to thrive. But now, this is the Carter Hart era and yes, he is for real. Hart’s high achieving resume is unmatched by any goaltending prospect to wear orange and black in modern history. When Carter Hart play’s, I know that I am watching something special and this is where the money is. One thing is for sure, the league will be watching his every step as he inches towards stardom. When Carter Hart becomes what everyone knows he’s capable of becoming, the Flyers will be a must watch team and it seems like he’s right on the precipice of doing that.
I’d argue that the mystery surrounding the team is what makes things so vastly interesting this season. Most people are at a loss of what to think with this team because they saw them take a large step back the previous season. But was it really as large of a step back as we think, or was it the pulse pattern of a growing team? Failure is typically life’s greatest lesson and in hockey there is little doubt about that. Flying into a muddled season, I can rarely recall such an enigmatic time in Flyers history. With the passing of Ed Snider, came a whirlwind of sweeping changes that has seen the organization make massive changes in a relatively short time. There seems to be much doubt surrounding Claude Giroux and Alain Vigneault’s Flyers. I remember just a few years ago the Flyers were widely regarded as having one of the most promising prospect cores in the NHL and the team to watch moving forward. Today a minor bump in the road has reset the expectations. I encourage fans to be more excited than preemptively let down. Expect the beginning of the season to be a bumpy ride and the turmoil to settle as the culture shifts to Vigneault’s leadership; but don’t panic from every bump in the road. When there is a lack of clarity on expectations, it’s usually the best time to make a bet. This year I would bet on the Flyers.
Mandatory Credit: Ondrej Deml/CTK via AP