It’s been a whirlwind of an offseason for Chuck Fletcher and the Philadelphia Flyers. From solidifying an abysmal blueline to shaking the locker room to its core, there were moves aplenty that now have the fanbase excited once again. That excitement started early, as the Flyers dealt away Nolan Patrick and Phil Myers to Nashville for veteran defenseman Ryan Ellis. Days later, the Flyers flipped their first round pick, another pick, and Robert Hagg for Buffalo Sabres behemoth Rasmus Ristolainen.
Fletcher then entered free agency with a little change in his pocket. With that change, he signed Keith Yandle, Martin Jones, Nate Thompson, and Derick Brassard. He brought back Carter Hart and Travis Sanheim. The value of those contracts appeared high, but they filled out the rest of this roster which appears set for opening night.
Now comes training camp. Each of these new acquisitions will find themselves battling it out for a spot in the lineup. Some spots more concrete than others, the placement of each player will likely be set in stone by the end of camp. It’s a crucial time for these new Flyers to go out and stake their claim to a spot on the team. With that being said, the impact of merely acquiring these players will be felt within this organization. It’s hard to argue that there are any bad ripple effects to these moves to be honest.
Chuck’s first acquisition this offseason was long overdue, but perfectly executed. Rumors of an Ellis deal popped up during the season, but were squelched relatively quickly. These types of deal take some time to develop, but it seems the framework had already been laid long before it actually went down. Now that he is a Flyer, you’re looking at a top defensive pairing that could stick together until 2025. If they can gel like Niskanen and Provorov did, the Flyers have a potent top pair for a good chunk of time.
Bringing Ryan Ellis in also gives the Flyers the luxury of not having to rely on Justin Braun this coming season. Entering last season, Phil Myers was the presumed to be the successor to Matt Niskanen. When that fell flat on its face, Justin Braun was expected to fill that role. While it wasn’t a complete disaster, it wasn’t quite a success. Now that Ellis is in the fold, Braun can be bumped down the lineup and put into a more limited role.
Acquiring Ellis also gives Provorov a Niskanen-type presence next to him in virtually all situations. It could ease his minutes per night knowing that Ellis could play the penalty kill. Provorov’s best season came adjacent to Niskanen, so there’s hope that he can return to that form of himself with Ellis as a partner.
The cost to acquire Rasmus Ristolainen was necessary, so let’s get that out of the way first and foremost. Bringing in a guy who stands 6’4″ and weighs 220lbs will cost a pretty penny, but that’s because, in his own words, he’s an asshole to play against. This is fantastic news, because if you remove the “hole” from the previous sentence, that’s exactly what the Flyers defense played like last season.
Much like Ryan Ellis on the first pair, Ristolainen will likely solidify the second pairing with newly signed Travis Sanheim. Further from that, it means Justin Braun will no longer need to play top-four minutes on the Flyers defense. Surely that’s a welcome change from him being pressed into duty on the top pair last season. Ristolainen is no stranger to an expanded role considering he was the top defenseman for the Sabres for a long time. Bringing someone like that in and putting him in a lesser role should pay dividends for the Flyers.
The last type of ripple effect this acquisition has on the roster is that it replaces Phil Myers. Having lost Myers in the Ellis deal, Ristolainen gives us a heavier, stronger defenseman with more experience and more toughness. Having someone that’s a complete and utter pain to play against speaks volumes, and Ristolainen is a giant pain to play against. He consistently finished in the top-five on his team in blocked shots and hits during his time with Buffalo. All things the Flyers really need to improve upon this season.
This move came as a shock to many. Keith Yandle had offers on the table from teams that had much more success than the Flyers last season, but chose to come to Philadelphia. Surely his relationship with Kevin Hayes helped, but ultimately it’ll be Yandle himself that helps this Flyers team add a little spark that was missing after Shayne Gostisbehere was traded to the Arizona Coyotes. With Yandle in tow, he now solidifies the bottom pair with Justin Braun, giving the duo a balance of Braun and his defensive style of play and Yandle’s ability to create offense from the blueline.
Most importantly, this move makes it abundantly clear that Chuck Fletcher is willing to let Cam York develop before thrusting him into the spotlight before he may not be ready. Too often we’ve seen players be thrown to the wolves out of necessity only to have it backfire. With the signing of Keith Yandle, York is afforded the luxury of honing his craft in the AHL with the Phantoms. Not only that, but if he does force Fletcher’s hand and get called up to the Flyers, he has one of the best offensive-minded defensemen to learn from in Yandle.
Martin Jones wasn’t exactly the consensus pick to back up Carter Hart. Many wanted bigger fish in the sea that was free agency, but ultimately Chuck Fletcher settled for the former San Jose Shark. Jones will be reuniting with Kim Dillabaugh, whom he played for while with the Los Angeles Kings. He also gives the Flyers a backup goaltender who will likely be able to play at a higher level for longer periods of time compared to Brian Elliott.
While it was never really a concern, signing Jones also affords the Flyers time to develop their young squadron of goalies down in the minors. Felix Sandstrom will likely be the starting goaltender for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms this upcoming season. Kirill Ustimenko may start the year as backup while coming back from surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left hip. Samuel Ersson has now made the jump to North America, so he will likely see time with the Reading Royals in order to gain his footing on this side of the world. None of the three appear ready for a backup role in the NHL, and the signing of Martin Jones puts the final nail in that coffin.
Bringing back Nate Thompson didn’t seem like a move made out of necessity. While that may be the case, it’s definitely a move that could help the team in the short-term. Thompson provides veteran competition come training camp. The highest he would play in the lineup would likely be on the fourth line, so it’s easy to envision him giving guys like Tanner Laczynski, Jackson Cates, and Connor Bunnaman a bit of a push for that last spot on the roster. If Thompson outplays the aforementioned trio, it gives them time to work on their game down with the Phantoms. There’s not much to this move on the surface, but it’s still a solid move nonetheless.
The Flyers most recent move was the most unexpected of the bunch. They brought in Derick Brassard on a one year deal worth $825k. The money is great, term is short, so the signing makes sense. It makes that much more sense when you talk about the one Flyer that pops up in discussion every year before training camp: Morgan Frost.
At this point in his career, Brassard is a bottom-six player. With Thompson being nothing more than a fourth liner, it’s fair to assume Brassard will be playing on the third line, likely at the center position. While still able to play wing, the Flyers may look to keep Laughton on the wing which, in turn, would slot Brassard at the center position. There will likely be a battle at camp for the 3C position, as many believe Morgan Frost could take that spot away from Brassard. Here’s the reality of the situation…
Morgan Frost has played in two games since March 12 of 2020. That’s not two NHL games, that’s two professional hockey games. Frost has a lot of work to do when it comes to getting back into game shape, rehabbing his injury, and being ready to take an NHL roster spot from someone who played in all-but three games this past season. AND THAT’S OK! Bringing in Brassard allows Frost the time to ease back into competition. It gives him the opportunity to get back to playing his style of hockey without all the pressure of performing at the NHL level.
On the flip side of that coin, Brassard presents a very unique opportunity for Frost come training camp. If Frost can show up and outperform the 13-year NHL veteran, it’ll prove that he’s ready for the NHL. Brassard’s deal is the epitome of low-risk, high-reward in every sense of the term.
Atkinson coming to the Flyers caught many by surprise, but also proved to be one of the best moves of the offseason. The city has already fallen in love with the guy, and rightfully so. His style of play and presence off the ice has endeared him to the Flyer faithful immediately. What will have them falling even more head over heels is his style of play. He’s relentless, he’s a grinder, he’s going to give you everything he’s got on every shift, every night. This guy is what Flyers hockey should be.
In terms of a spot in the lineup, this could be a toss-up. As a right-handed shot, it could stand to reason that the Flyers put him on the top line with Couturier. What that might do in-turn is slide Giroux down the lineup. Using the term “spreading the wealth” certainly applies here. If he plays his opposite hand, then he’s on the wing opposite of Giroux with Couturier.
While Voracek found himself in a middle-six role with the Flyers for most of last season, it could give some younger Flyers an opportunity to slide up to that same type of role and make an impact. Joel Farabee is a prime candidate for an expanded role. If that’s the case, Wade Allison may see his role expand as well. There could be some time on the powerplay, maybe even penalty kill. It opens up the options for younger players who are looking to really carve out their place on this team.
Each acquisition fills a need for the Flyers. With that need being filled, the ripple effects are now being felt throughout the roster. Expectations have seemingly been set for the younger players who could push some of the veterans for roster spots. They’ve also been set for the veterans who were brought in to bolster this lineup. The gauntlet has been seemingly laid out, and it’s time to find out which players truly belong on the 2021/22 Flyers roster.
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