Throughout the offseason so far, all attention has been placed squarely on the defense and how it might look next season. The forwards look to remain mostly the same, with the only additions coming from within the Philadelphia Flyers system. Before the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, the Flyers’ goaltending situation was completely solved with Brian Elliott returning for another year to back up Carter Hart. What caught Philadelphia off guard was the retirement of Matt Niskanen. His departure left the first defensive pairing is incomplete, and Ivan Provorov as the only real top-pairing defenseman on the roster. Who will step up to replace Nisky?
A Rookie Defenseman
During the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, Chuck Fletcher selected a defenseman in the second round. With the 54th overall pick, the Philadelphia Flyers picked Emil Andrae, who is an undersized defenseman at the NHL level. He’s yet to sign an entry-level contract with the Flyers organization. For now, that is just fodder because Andrae was not going to be a plug-and-play pick.
Help From Free Agency
Since the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, Chuck Fletcher did wet his feet in the free agency market. The Philadelphia Flyers welcomed Derrick Pouliot and Erik Gustafsson to the franchise for next season. Pouliot is on a two-way contract and plays on the left side, which is already anchored by players like Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim, and Gustafsson. Gustafsson can play both sides of the wing on defense, but he’s a powerplay specialist. It is not practical for Gustafsson to receive an abundance of ice time in the lineup on a nightly basis.
If we back up to the 2020 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, Alain Vigneault featured Shayne Gostisbehere in the first defensive pairing with Ivan Provorov. During that time, Matt Niskanen was suspended for crosschecking Brendan Gallagher. Gostisbehere turned in a steady performance in Niskanen’s absence, managing two hits, two blocked shots, and a plus-minus rating of 2. Dare I say that Gostisbehere thrived in his pairing with Provorov. Heading in the 2020-2021 season, Gostisbehere is the lead candidate to land on the first defensive pairing alongside Provorov.
Will Philippe Myers Return?
On the second pairing, Alain Vigneault is going to want to keep Travis Sanheim and Philippe Myers on the same unit. At this time, Philippe Myers received his restricted free agent tender. The Philadelphia Flyers still have yet to extend Myers, but we expect he will return to the franchise. There is a possibility that Myers does not return to the Flyers (purely because he is still technically an RFA at the moment), which could mean that Erik Gustafsson plays on the second line with Sanheim. Sanheim was on the powerplay at times in the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs, so it wouldn’t be a bad idea to pair him with Gustafsson if Myers does not return.
Bottom Pairing Gustafsson
Onto the third pairing, which will feature Justin Braun on the right side. Business picks up on this pairing because of the position battles to make the Philadelphia Flyers roster on the left side. Again, if Philippe Myers agrees to terms with the Flyers, then we are talking Erik Gustafsson and Justin Braun. If not, and Gustafsson is on the second pairing, then the left side opens up. My frontrunner would be Robert Hagg, but Yegor Zamula is a name to keep an eye on, considering Mark Friedman primarily plays on the right side.
In conclusion, here is how I see the Philadelphia Flyers defense panning out:
Photo Credit: Alex Mcintyre