How Could a Flyers Retool Look?

Flyers' Claude Giroux
PHILADELPHIA, PA – NOVEMBER 18: Philadelphia Flyers Left Wing Claude Giroux (28) celebrates a goal in the first period during the game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Philadelphia Flyers on November 18, 2021 at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire)

Everyone is ready for the Philadelphia Flyers to make significant changes for the franchise’s future well-being. Polarizing responses range from “fire everyone” to “trade Claude Giroux.” Like most topics, the answers lie somewhere between the extreme stances. Context is critical, however. Do the Flyers need a complete rebuild or just a retooling?

An allergic reaction is seeing a franchise lose, then replying with the “burn it to the ground” mantra. Okay, then what…?

There are required pieces already in place that can contribute to success. Philadelphia touted a 6-2-2 record in their first ten games, and it seems like everyone forgot that they’re better than the ten-game losing streak. Stripped of Alain Vigneault and Michel Therrien, this franchise has an opportunity to grow an identity with Mike Yeo’s staff. Two wins don’t mean the issues are solved, but it’s a starting point in climbing up the standings.

What players make a preferred foundation?

That’s the primary question that needs answers, regardless of choosing to rebuild or retool. What is the Flyers core? What should their identity be?

Don’t Reinvent The Wheel…

Mediocrity isn’t enough, but that doesn’t mean the paint needs stripping for a complete rebuild. Chuck Fletcher wanted to see what he had before making a franchise-altering decision. After all, most of these players were playing at a high rate before COVID-19 flipped sports on its head.

There is a bright side to making the postseason 50% of the time over the last decade. Whether frustration clouds your judgment or not, the Philadelphia Flyers aren’t that far away. It’s been a Jekyll and Hyde season. The lineup isn’t bereft of talent, and the system isn’t without prospects. Some glaring nuances needed proper evaluation from a refreshed perspective.

“There’s a few details that we’ve changed. We can’t start from scratch with the amount of practice time we have. He’s [Yeo] trying to implement little things as we go to focus on each night that we play.”

Justin Braun; 12/13/2021

Fundamentally, the Flyers played hockey reflecting a 0-8-2 streak. The possession in the defensive zone leading into a transition has transformed under the guidance of Yeo and Nick Schultz. On the powerplay, Darryl Williams has his units shooting in larger volume. A coaching change grabbed Philadelphia’s attention:

“Anytime there’s a big change, whether a coach, a GM, a guy traded, it grabs the attention of everyone that’s left standing. By no means was anyone satisfied where we were at, no matter who was going to be the coach or not.”

James van Riemsdyk; 12/13/2021

A shift in balance moved the needle.

Maybe it’s less on the talent and the core. The Flyers could be only a few signings or recalls away from reaching the postseason (and maintaining consistency.)

…Just Improve The Wheel

There are many ways to begin the retooling process, but it starts with a commitment to an identity.

Alain Vigneault installed an undisputed underlying thesis. The forwards needed to play all two-hundred-feet. Chuck Fletcher noted he didn’t like the defensive makeup last season but rented solutions. The constant is Kim Dillabaugh, the goaltending guru. There’s a lot of hockey remaining to evaluate the potential value of players before or after the trade deadline this season.

Four of the six current defensemen are on expiring contracts. Then, there’s a commitment to Ryan Ellis for five more seasons. Fletcher didn’t foresee injuries ravaging his defense, but he’ll need these pricey investments to bail him out. Rasmus Ristolainen is also on a one-year deal and hasn’t performed to the tune of $5.4mil AAV.

Morgan Frost, Claude Giroux, and Zack MacEwen could earn an extension. Frost and MacEwen were high-energy players during a ten-game losing streak.

It’s very believable Giroux could want to remain with the Philadelphia Flyers. Trade rumors are swirling, and he could bring in a critical piece or two, but imagining him signing a short deal for one final push isn’t far-reaching. The Flyers could afford him since it should be mutually agreeable there would be a pay decrease from his $8.275mil AAV.

Calling a bevy of AHL players to the NHL this season has paid off. Frost and Max Willman made good impressions. Wade Allison is back to playing his signature style as he debuts with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms this season. Rallying one defenseman from the Phantoms for the start of 2022-2023 would greatly help Philadelphia. Yegor Zamula would be the one I have my eye on.

Brief Lineup Breakdown

The Philadelphia Flyers were an ongoing work in progress no matter who the coach was. Chuck Fletcher moved aggressively to recover from last season. It’s not working, and the Flyers have fired two coaches. Is that a cause for panic? Usually, but let’s break down the vital areas that need attention (lineup based on 12/11/2021 at Arizona Coyotes)

  • Laughton, Couturier, Konecny

Mike Yeo nailed this first line. It is the top line that should identify Philadelphia. Yeo needed an identity, and he leads with a two-hundred-foot, hard checking line that produces points. During the powerplay drought, Taryn Hatcher on the intermission show begged the question about Laughton getting a shot at the powerplay unit. The other two are on there, so this means Laughton should be respected as a top-six forward, especially with Couturier and Konecny.

  • Frost, Giroux, Atkinson

Morgan Frost is getting his top-six opportunity to succeed with two veterans. In 2019-2020, this connection between Frost and Claude Giroux showed promise. It still has legs. Combine that with the intensity Atkinson brings when he competes with Giroux, and that’s the proper mold for a prospect like Frost. He’s in good hands here, proving why it could be critical to consider extending Giroux.

  • Willman, Hayes, van Riemsdyk

It’s not hard to tell, but Kevin Hayes‘ return was contagious. He produced as soon as he returned. Max Willman continues to work hard, making Yeo’s decision to keep him on the third line an intelligent but not permanent (Joel Farabee‘s eventual return sends him to the AHL.) James van Riemsdyk is still the odd man out on this line because he’s primarily a powerplay specialist that costs $7mil AAV (and because Wade Allison will be an option.) It’s worth freeing cap space to move van Riemsdyk, even if the Philadelphia Flyers retain some of the cost, but he definitely won’t be a part of the long-term process.

  • Lindblom, Brown, MacEwen

Patrick Brown is with the Philadelphia Flyers through 2022-2023. He firmly holds the 4C role. Oskar Lindblom has taken on a defensive presence this season, but his $3mil AAV price tag doesn’t seem appetizing. He’s a player who needs his bounce-back season. At 4RW, Zack MacEwen is welcome in Philadelphia because of his tenacity, which I wouldn’t mind him remaining in that role.

  • Provorov, Braun

A combination like this is so 2020-2021. It should have stayed there. Chuck Fletcher returned to the only defenseman Ivan Provorov had chemistry with during Ryan Ellis’ absence. Justin Braun is outplaying his value this season. Ideally, Ellis will pair with Provorov this season (and the oncoming five.)

  • Sanheim, Ristolainen

Before the season began, I was uncomfortable with this pair. Travis Sanheim looked out of sorts, and Rasmus Ristolainen was never a benchmark of defensive prowess. They held up better than I would have guessed through an ugly 26 games marred with injuries. Ristolainen is playing above-average hockey compared to his career to date. Sanheim, of all the Philadelphia Flyers defensemen, has been the safest with the puck.

  • Yandle, Connauton

Everyone should be on the same page. These two aren’t long-term options. Kevin Connauton joined the Philadelphia Flyers last week, and Keith Yandle was a one-year lease originally. Next season, this pair could have an open space for Yegor Zamula. Chuck Fletcher does have a soft spot for veteran players, so it wouldn’t surprise if Justin Braun agrees to a one-year value offer.