Flyers Four-Pack: “Aggressive” off-season

Flyers' Owen Tippett
ST. LOUIS, MO – MARCH 24: Philadelphia Flyers right wing Owen Tippett (74) during a NHL game between the Philadelphia Flyers and the St. Louis Blues on March 24, 2022, at Enterprise Center, St. Louis, MO. (Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire)

A lot has changed since the Colorado Avalanche hoisted Lord Stanley’s Cup. From Seattle to Boston, Edmonton to Tampa Bay, wholesale changes have been made across the NHL.

The Philadelphia Flyers hired a new coach, placed a franchise icon on waivers, and spent a few picks to acquire an offensively driven defenseman with off-ice baggage to compensate for Ryan Ellis’ “impossible” recovery timetable. Chuck Fletcher and the rest of Flyers’ brass have been working toward the “aggressive retool” but there is still work to be done.

It’s summertime, it’s mid-week, let’s crack open a Flyers four-pack and get ready for the start of free agency.

What is this defense?

Seriously. Is there a game plan? Ryan Ellis, who was brought in the last offseason to be a workhorse top-pair defenseman, will not only miss the start of the season but could feature on long-term injured reserve at the start of the season to open cap space.

That leaves Ivan Provorov on the left side with Tony DeAngelo on the top pair. Pencil in Travis Sanheim and Rasmus Ristolainen on the second pair. Then slide Cam York to the bottom pair with either Ronnie Attard or Nick Seeler.

There are pros and cons to the Flyers’ defense.

The top four healthy defensemen cost $21.525mil (Provorov at $6.75mil, DeAngelo at $5mil, Sanheim at $4.675mil, and Ristolainen at $5.1mil,) which is roughly 27% of the cap hit and none of them are real game-changers. The misuse of assets along the way is truly astonishing.

On the other hand, by pairing Provorov with DeAngelo, the former could replicate some of the chemistry he had with Shayne Gostisbehere earlier in his career. Sanheim and Ristolainen can build on last season. Don’t forget York, he moves well and could be the quarterback on the second power-play unit. York could play his first complete NHL season where he can become a staple on the blue line.

Free agency

To the surprise of no one, the Flyers are linked to a ton of free agents that’ll spark the “aggressive retool.”

Johnny Gaudreau: He would be the second player from the area to come home this off-season. Frank Seravalli reported Gaudreau was offered a contract north of $10mil for eight years. He declined, and Philadelphia would need to offer him something close, or maybe they’ll agree to a hometown discount. Gaudreau is a career point-per-game player (609pts in 602 games,) who will turn 29 years old. He’s one of the best players in hockey, and anytime you can add a player of his caliber, you should try to go for it.

Blake Wheeler: He totaled 60pts in 65 games last season, but adding someone of his age doesn’t help the future. He’ll be a cheaper option than Gaudreau and could be a locker room leader, but that isn’t enough to warrant his signing. His prime is in the rearview and he might want to go to a contender at this point in his career.

Vladimir Tarasenko: Tarasenko still wants out from the St. Louis Blues and he is on the Flyers, Islanders, and Hurricanes’ radar. Tarasenko scored 34 goals last season while notching 48 assists. He will turn 31 on an expiring contract, due $7.5mil in 2022-2023. He isn’t the Flyers’ first option, but if all things are fluid, Fletcher might decide that trading for Tarasenko, with the expectation of extending him for a few years, fits better than spending $75mil on Gaudreau. Philadelphia needs a proven goal scorer and Tarasenko can do that.

Conor Garland: This might be my favorite connection to the club. Rumors swirl that the Flyers are interested in the 26-year-old winger. Garland has four years left on his deal at $4.95/AAV; super palatable for a player who could be on the up and up. In 2021-2022, Garland played a career-high 77 games in a season, scoring 52pts (19G, 33A.) Trading for Garland means betting on the upside and expecting him to continue to steadily grow, while guys like Gaudreau, Wheeler, and Tarasenko cross into their thirties. Garland’s age better fits the Flyers’ timeline with a cap-friendly price tag.

Claude Giroux: If he wants to return to Philadelphia for cheap, I would welcome him back. Hopefully, he goes to a contender. The Ottawa Senators seem to make sense for Giroux. I suppose a reunion is never actually out of the question.

Patrick Kane: Considered a failsafe if Gaudreau falls through, but his age doesn’t fit what Fletcher said he was looking for ahead of the 2022 NHL Entry Draft. He is due $10.5mil next season.

Of those options, sign me up for Gaudreau or Garland. Moving on.

Tippett and York

The Flyers will have a share of young players on the team throughout the next season. Be it Morgan Frost, Owen Tippett, Bobby Brink, Tyson Foerster, York, or Attard; the youth movement will have a chance with John Tortorella.

Of the above names, the player who is most likely to break out is Tippett, the centerpiece in the Giroux trade from last season. You don’t have to squint hard to see 25-30 goal potential in him, but he has yet to put it together at the NHL level. In 94 games, Tippett scored 14 goals.

He has the attitude, size, and skill set needed to succeed, but Tippett needs to be in the right environment with proper linemates.

Earlier, I waxed poetic about York. He could just as easily break out in 2022-2023, but I’ll stick with the winger. Tippett and York are two reasons to be excited about next season. Those two prospects are part of the future fabric of this team.

What is success?

Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines success as “a favorable or desired outcome.” Looking at the upcoming Flyers season, success could be defined in a litany of ways. Here is what I would find successful:

  1. Philadelphia was easy to play against in 2021-2022. Under Tortorella, this team needs to play the full sixty minutes. Toughness, hustle, and a relentless motor help win games as the underdog. They’ll be hard to play. That would be a success for me.
  2. Carter Hart needs to find a rhythm. He doesn’t need to be an NHL All-Star, but he has two more years left on his current deal. He needs to step in the right direction and prove to be the goaltender we thought he would be coming up through juniors. With a patented Tortorella defensive scheme in front of him, there is hope that he regains his 2019-2020 form. That would be a success for me.
  3. The Flyers don’t need to make the playoffs for the season to be a success. The roster is flawed, there are key pieces injured, and this season follows one of the worst in franchise history. I won’t hold my breath for a playoff berth, even if Philadelphia catches a break. How do they win games? See number one.
  4. Determine who the Flyers must build around. What should the core look like? Joel Farabee isn’t going anywhere and neither is Carter Hart. Tippett and York seem pretty locked in, too. Travis Konecny and Provorov could be moved in trades.
  5. Have a plan for the 2023-2024 season. Philadelphia needs to be in a place where they know who they are building around and whether or not they are going all-in on that season or entering a full-on rebuild. Here’s hoping for the former over the latter.

(Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire)