Without hesitation, Rick Tocchet said, “absolutely,” when Jordan Hall asked if Ivan Provorov is still a top pair defenseman. Much of the discourse leading up to that question surrounded the structure John Tortorella brings to the Philadelphia Flyers.
Tortorella does squeeze the most out of his lineups. He can get a lineup to perform better than how they look on paper. The Flyers need to be a harder team to play, beginning with a work ethic. There lies the thesis in the hopeful revival of Provorov.
Over the last two seasons, the top pair stability disappeared. First, it was Matt Niskanen for Erik Gustafsson, replaced by Justin Braun. Then, it was Ryan Ellis, replaced by Braun.
“No matter what I say, you guys are going to give me your own grades. It doesn’t matter, you’re all experts in hockey, so you’re going to give me all your super experienced grades. I don’t think my opinion really matters to you guys.”Ivan Provorov; 4/30/2022
The water has reached a boil. Provorov hears the media criticism. In 2022-2023, he has a fresh slate with Anthony DeAngelo and Tortorella.
Following the trade for DeAngelo, the silver lining became the synergy he and Provorov could share. They complement one another across the blue line.
Tocchet pointed out what a lot of observers see. About Provorov, Tocchet pointed out that he had a shot mentality walking the blueline two seasons ago, but now he passes too often. The decisiveness on the powerplay Philadelphia lacked will be easier to correct with DeAngelo. Potentially, 2022-2023 could provide the most stable top pair since Provorov and Niskanen in 2019-2020.
DeAngelo is a talented defenseman. His skill set is one that would have fit the Flyers instead of Gustafsson in 2020-2021. Recently, he had a successful campaign with the Carolina Hurricanes.
Availability is the best ability, and DeAngelo aids the powerplay with Ellis on LTIR.
After some of the best hockey of his career in 2021-2022, he isn’t a bad hockey player to partner with Provorov. Last season wasn’t the worst from Provorov, either. Occupying the top pair, these two spark excitement. A step in the right direction would indicate that Provorov gradually progresses back to his top form. That is huge for a player many thought would be a James Norris Memorial Trophy candidate at this stage.
Often enough, Provorov is doing too much. It’s a mix of indecision and partner inconsistency. Provorov usually has staggering turnover numbers but improved drastically with Niskanen in 2019-2020. Concerning puck control, 2021-2022 was his worst since Chuck Fletcher became the general manager in Philadelphia. With a bit of tuning with DeAngelo, this pairing could become the future if Ellis cannot recover.
Brad Shaw and Tortorella provide direction. Defensively, the Flyers aren’t far off from the model Tortorella is familiar with from his time with the Blue Jackets. Zach Werenski and Provorov are workhorse defensemen who found their groove with another stellar partner. Werenski had Seth Jones, and Provorov has a chance with DeAngelo.
“Absolutely,” Tocchet said.
The disconnect between the fanbase and the team is mighty, but there are points for both sides. Tortorella is fueled, wanting the players to become world-beaters. Then, there are clear reactions to the off-season and missing out on Johnny Gaudreau.
A victory begins with trending in the right direction. Stabilizing the defense, which Fletcher redirected his plan, could go a lot further than we all originally fathomed if DeAngelo complements Provorov.
(Photo Credit: Alex McIntyre)