Ahead of the 2021-2022 season, the Philadelphia Flyers felt they had a shot at the postseason, fighting their Metropolitan Division rivals. Preseason odds had them at +3000 to win the Stanley Cup and a total of 95pts in the standings.
As it stands this year, having 95 points isn’t good enough to earn a spot in the playoffs. Instead of fighting for a playoff spot, Philadelphia is hoping they don’t end up the worst team in the NHL. They weren’t going to be a contender, but no one thought it could be worse than the chaos of 2020-2021.
Let’s take a look at how a hopeful offseason preceded the second season in franchise history where the Flyers have lost 40+ games.
After missing the playoffs in 2020-2021, Chuck Fletcher took an “aggressive retool” approach during the summer. He saw areas where the Philadelphia Flyers could improve and was aggressive with the choices he made.
The defense was revamped with the acquisitions of Ryan Ellis, Rasmus Ristolainen, and Keith Yandle. Shayne Gostisbehere was sold to the Arizona Coyotes, which opened cap space to acquire Ristolainen from the Buffalo Sabres.
Then, there were changes amongst the forwards. Jakub Voracek was shipped back to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Cam Atkinson. Fletcher traded a core player for an equally good “shoot-first” forward. It was the perfect one-for-one trade.
Martin Jones was the veteran presence backing up Cater Hart and acting as another mentor. Jones struggled before signing with the Flyers, but Fletcher believed he could have a turnaround season.
Philadelphia seemed like a decent team at the end of the offseason. Likely a wildcard team within a loaded Metropolitan Division. There was a balance of veteran leadership and young players looking to prove themselves.
A Reality Check
Those defensive acquisitions didn’t upgrade the team. They were horrendous in reality.
Ellis was supposed to be the top defenseman in town, but only played four games. He is an outstanding player when healthy, and we saw what he could do while playing on the top pair alongside Ivan Provorov. Those two looked lethal together.
Everything surrounding Ellis’ injury is still odd because of the lack of detail from the Philadelphia Flyers. It’s still a question heading into this offseason, and he isn’t guaranteed to be healthy for the start of 2022-2023.
Rasmus Ristolainen seemed ready to benefit from a change of scenery following a decade of subpar play with the Buffalo Sabres. It’s more of the same, but in Orange and Black. Often, he isn’t making the smart defensive play, taking himself out of plays by going for the big hit rather than holding position. Those decisions left Jones and Hart out to dry more than once. This has been by far his worst season in the NHL.
Fletcher inked Ristolainen to a five-year contract extension in March. Based on performance, it still doesn’t make sense.
Yandle had his worst season of his fifteen-year career. He owns the worst plus-minus rating in the NHL. It doesn’t seem like he can keep up, finding himself in the lineup mostly because of his Ironman streak, which he was ultimately scratched.
Jones has played very well at times, keeping the Flyers in games. However, the defense is one of the worst in the NHL, making it very hard on any Philadelphia goaltender. With a healthy defense, Hart and Jones would be one of the better goaltending tandems across the league.
Despite the season, Atkinson shined as a new acquisition.
Atkinson has 50pts (23G, 27A) in 2021-2022. He is a spark on offense, has gained solid chemistry with other players, and displays leadership qualities with prospects. The trade with the Columbus Blue Jackets worked for both parties involved.
Can’t Replace Couturier
Injuries ravaged the Philadelphia Flyers all season. Most of the time, they’ve been the most injured team at any given time. Key players missed big chunks of the season, one being Sean Couturier.
Couturier is one of the best two-way forwards in the league. He has a Frank J. Selke award to prove it. His 17pts (6G, 11A) didn’t light the world on fire throughout his 2021-2022 sample size, but it shouldn’t be a cause of concern. Couturier looked uncomfortable on the ice, and it limited his quality of play.
Travis Konecny was snake-bitten throughout the season, missing many goal scoring opportunities. He had a breakout year in 2019-2020, but since that postseason, he’s lost his scoring touch.
Konecny improved as this season progressed, but with the lack of high-end forward talent, the Flyers will heavily rely on him in 2022-2023.
Trading Captain Claude
Throttling from bad to worse, the Philadelphia Flyers traded Claude Giroux. He was the captain for nine seasons and ranks second in franchise history for all-time points scored. Now, he’s chasing a Stanley Cup with the Florida Panthers.
Rumors surrounding the future of Giroux had been a hot topic since the start of the season. He turned 34 in January, was in the last year of his contract, and the Flyers were far from being a competitive team. Within the weeks leading up to the deadline, many teams started calling about his services, especially Stanley Cup contenders.
Fletcher didn’t have many options because Giroux wanted to go to the Panthers. The no-movement clause in his contract put Giroux in full control of his next destination. Other teams like the St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche, Boston Bruins, and Minnesota Wild were interested, but Giroux wanted Florida. It’s a decision that is working well, and Owen Tippett shows promise in return.
The Panthers are the best team in the Eastern Conference and a favorite to win the Stanley Cup. It’s been twelve years since Giroux competed for the top prize in hockey.
Looking at the Glass Half Full
This season has been abysmal in every way imaginable, but there are positives to build upon.
Many prospects either made their debut or received an extended look in the NHL. Names like Tippett, Bobby Brink, Noah Cates, Ronnie Attard, Isaac Ratcliffe, and Yegor Zamula will all be important pieces of the Philadelphia Flyers moving forward.
It’s not just the prospects, but pieces of the current roster are improving too.
Morgan Frost may have solidified himself in the lineup, Cam York is playing top pair minutes on the opposite side of the ice with Provorov, Travis Sanheim has been one of the best defensemen in the NHL through the back half of the season, and Joel Farabee supported Giroux’s claim about him with his flexibility to produce from any forward position.
The NHL Draft Lottery will take place on May 10th, 2022, and the Flyers have a high chance of securing a top-five pick. You never know what will happen during the lottery, but the odds favor Philadelphia.
There are many questions to answer and problems to solve this offseason, both on the ice and behind the bench. Could the Flyers make the postseason next year? Most likely not. However, it will certainly be interesting to see what decisions are made in the coming months, because the seat is warming up under Fletcher.
(Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire)