2020 was always going to be a quieter offseason for the Flyers, at least in comparison to the whirlwind we saw in the year beforehand. After deciding to turn a new leaf and appoint Alain Vigneault as the Head Coach of the team, Chuck Fletcher sought to merge the visions of he and his new frontman together. Infusing youth while building a stable foundation of savvy veterans was the aim and it’s safe to say the nail was hit firmly on the head.
The Flyers averaged 3.41 goals against in 2018, so bulking up the defense was key. Justin Braun and Matt Niskanen would both be instrumental in the team’s scintillating regular season that saw the 3.41 GAA slashed down to 2.77, ranking 7th in the NHL. It’s not the most advanced metric in the world, but it summarizes a substantial leap. We could talk all day about the impact Niskanen had on Provorov, but that’s for another day.
The next step was stability. Vigneault was bringing a new system to the table and the Flyers needed a second-line center, especially with so much uncertainty surrounding Nolan Patrick. Kevin Hayes, who played 4 years under Vigneault in New York, signed a seven-year $50M deal. He was very quickly given the ‘A’ and looked to as a leader in the locker room. After leading the team in postseason scoring and helping the Flyers PK surge into life during the regular season, Hayes proved he was worth every single penny.
With a firm foundation in place, the Flyers went on to have an explosive regular season that ultimately ended in postseason heartbreak. It was the ‘so close, yet so far’ thought-train that perhaps enhanced a sense of urgency when it came to the offseason.
It was apparent that the Flyers special teams units struggled tremendously in the bubble. They lacked the speed to keep up with the Islanders, especially on the wings, and scoring from the top lines was nigh-on invisible. The Flyers didn’t crash out of playoffs due to bad luck or minor setbacks. The holes were so glaring that fans were clenching their fists, ready to pound the table for the saviors who would rid the team of the same errors that plagued them every single game.
But ultimately, that couldn’t happen. While winning a Stanley Cup is always the aim for any organization, the 2019 season has to be viewed as a step forward. There’s a reason Vigneault has so much success in his first year with a new team and a reason he sustains it. Rome wasn’t built in a day.
The Draft was subtly aggressive. Fletcher made a pair of late-round trades for sleepers who do carry high systematic upside if they can develop in time.
Erik Gustafsson could be seen as an insurance policy for Gostisbehere but also helps an ailing PK unit.
Nolan Patrick’s short-term future has been secured, helping the conveyor belt at center continue to move.
The goalie position was re-enforced with a familiar face in Brian Elliott.
Some housekeeping with contract extensions ensured young-fringe talent doesn’t disappear.
Isn’t that everything a contender could really ask for? This isn’t a team needing that missing spark to push them to the postseason. It’s one simply looking to sustain their current level and improve it.
The Flyers came away from 2019 safe in the knowledge that they have a star goaltender in Carter Hart, who could well be between the pipes in Philadelphia for years to come. On top of that, a plethora of up-and-coming young talents on defense and some dominant top-line play in fair weather. With the salary cap in mind, an expansion draft not too far away, and some big decisions to be made down the line, this offseason always carried a vibe of ‘fine-tuning’ more than a ‘find the missing piece’, because the pieces are already there…they just need fitting together.
Photo Credit: Alex Mcintyre