Which Flyers will Tortorella build his foundation upon?

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Flyers' Carter Hart
Flyers’ Carter Hart (Photo Credit: Alex McIntyre)

A rebuild is a challenge not meant for the weak of the heart.

Chuck Fletcher pivoted from an ‘aggressive retool’ to stabilizing the roster in the offseason. John Tortorella added this season that he isn’t huge about language. He focuses on finding new ways to improve daily; a build. Who will be a part of the solution for the Philadelphia Flyers? Who will not?

Tortorella doesn’t typically analyze individual performances, especially in post-game press conferences. It doesn’t mean there aren’t soundbites that suggest how he feels about skaters in his lineup. Equally, he’s been critical at other times, challenging players to fix their performances before a decline in ice time.

Currently, the Flyers are 9-14-7. Each time the puck drops to start a new game, the lineup has to punch above their weight class. The pressure to play flawless hockey is the elephant in the room. On this road trip, they’re 0-1-2, able to compete but unable to win.

In his first season, Tortorella usually strips the roster to the core, finding out what the franchise needs or doesn’t. As Philadelphia stabilizes, which players seem to be a part of the solution beyond 2022-2023?

Part of the Solution

Carter Hart is untouchable in terms of the roster. It isn’t just his performance that screams it. Tortorella started him seven-straight games, showing the amount of faith he has in Hart. He and Hart seem to be in lock-step about his usage; Hart wants to start as much as possible, and Tortorella doesn’t buy into the idea that he’s overused. Tortorella refers to Hart as a professional, a stamp of approval.

Sean Couturier, when healthy, is a part of the solution. He won’t contribute much in 2022-2023, recovering from his second back surgery for a February return. Couturier is a premier two-way forward in the NHL. His absence this season and the last rattled the Flyers, affecting scoring and defending. There isn’t a doubt that he would thrive under Tortorella and likely secure a leadership role.

Another asset to the leadership group would be Cam Atkinson. He showed as much in the offseason, preparing skaters for ‘Camp Tortorella.’ Unfortunately, the injury bug bit him too. Atkinson shares a lot of the same qualities that Couturier has. Atkinson has a place in the immediate future, awaiting clearance to compete.

Scott Laughton is the only skater to wear a letter on his sweater. Outright, that speaks volumes. Tortorella is setting the foundation in Philadelphia, headstrong about his expectations and standard. He never needs to worry about Laughton not giving an honest effort. His effort on the penalty kill and at the faceoff dot is a silver lining, balancing structure and using two-way skills to create the rare scoring opportunity.

Travis Konecny usually piques the trade bait list. Tortorella opened up about Konecny, claiming he would be a part of a leadership group if he had one. Before more speculation could take place, he promptly shut down that conversation. However, it is a testament to how Konecny responded since being benched versus the San Jose Sharks. On a team screaming for scoring help, Konecny has 25pts (11G, 14A) in 24 games.

Noah Cates is another player growing into a considerable role under Tortorella. The emphasis on his defensive responsibility sparked the conscious effort to develop him at C. A permanent fixture this season for the Flyers, Cates found his place in the NHL. Of all the skaters on the team to play ten or more games, Cates ranks eighth in average time on the ice. A possession hound, Cates’ forechecking is a valuable asset Tortorella wants to keep.

Tortorella challenged Travis Sanheim after he signed his contract extension. In the infancy of the 2022-2023 season, Sanheim was very inconsistent. Sanheim tallied 6pts (2G, 4A) over the last ten games. While Tortorella wasn’t here for the best of Sanheim a season ago, the performances are improving. Without question, there is a lot to figure out about the defense, but Sanheim seems to have dug himself out of a hole in the way Konecny did.

Cam York was a surprising cut from the opening night roster. The intentions were always clear about York. He was sent to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms to further develop into the game-changer Tortorella knows he can be. On this road trip, York responded loudly. He sounded the goal horn last night at Ball Arena, rewarding his strong play in back-to-back overtime losses.

Nicolas Deslauriers is a devisive name. When Fletcher pivoted to stabilizing the lineup, Deslauriers was one of two acquisitions made to the displeasure of most of Philadelphia. A four-year modified no-trade clause for a fourth-liner? Fletcher and Tortorella must’ve been confident in the game Deslauriers plays: a rowdy, physical presence who will drop the gloves to change momentum. Deslauriers, like Laughton, always turns in an honest performance like Tortorella demands, which makes him a critical part of the team’s identity.

Coming back from the same surgery Jack Eichel had, Joel Farabee is still finding his groove in 2022-2023. Before Claude Giroux left for the Florida Panthers, he had booming praise for Farabee. Put his season into context, and you’ll see that Farabee isn’t falling off. Farabee is adjusting back to the NHL at a pace that could mirror 2020-2021, his best season to date. If you’re out on Farabee, reconsider.

Ivan Provorov continues to be the placeholder on the top pair. On a roster where physicality, play-stopping, and clogging the shooting lanes receive praise, Provorov is hitting the mark. He leads the Flyers in blocked shots and is fifth in hits. Provorov ranks second in average time on ice. Last night, he wasn’t on the powerplay unit as lineup clarity takes shape.

Owen Tippett is an exciting young talent. Tortorella pointed out that he wants Tippett to evolve away from the puck. At times, he’s accomplished that. With the puck, the powerplay ran through him without van Riemsdyk. Currently, he owns the team lead for goals with the man advantage.

Deadline Trades

James van Riemsdyk is on an expiring contract. Valuable on the powerplay, a playoff team who needs a net-front presence should make a deal with Fletcher. Philadelphia could net a second or third-round pick with a middling prospect.

Zack MacEwen already triggers a little interest from the Edmonton Oilers. A team making a run at the postseason that lacks bottom-six depth should call Fletcher. After all, the Flyers are full of bottom-six talent.

Justin Braun is a likely trade piece at the deadline. Last season, Philadelphia hauled a third-round pick from the New York Rangers. They’ll look for a similar return from a team needing defensive depth.

Similar to the reason why MacEwen would be an attractive trade target, Patrick Brown makes sense. Another bottom-six talent on the Flyers, he is a help on the penalty kill. It could be his ticket into the postseason for a club needing reinforcements against the powerplay.

Lukas Sedlak is interesting. He could snag a mid-round draft pick, a win for Philadelphia, who claimed him off waivers. You could also make a case that Sedlak is a player who is a part of the solution with Tortorella.

Tony DeAngelo is another interesting option. There are many moving parts surrounding the defense heading into 2022-2023. He would attract the biggest grab for the Flyers, but similarly to Sedlak, DeAngelo could be a part of the envisioned solution by Tortorella.

Potential Buyout

Kevin Hayes name-dropped as a potential buyout candidate. He’s the highest-paid on the Flyers roster, per average-annual-value. On a modified no-trade clause, it’s tough to trade this contract to a limited number of teams without retaining half of the salary. Hayes is due $24.5mil of his contract through 2025-2026 or bought out for ~$16.595mil through 2028-2029.

Rasmus Ristolainen has a glaring contract. Tortorella challenged him to work on positioning, and he’s shown improvement. It is hard to imagine a team paying the price Philadelphia did for Ristolainen. Ristolainen is due $25.5mil through 2026-2027 or bought out for ~$13.233mil through 2030-2031.

Undecided

Wade Allison cannot stay healthy, which is the biggest indictment against him. Aside from that, he’s routinely made the most of his minutes in 2022-2023.

Tortorella likes Egor Zamula, but where he fits on the defense is tough. Will he be in the lineup, or is Ronnie Attard making a loud impression? Those prospects are worth monitoring in the short and long term.

Something about how Tortorella sparingly uses Felix Sandstrom doesn’t sell the idea that he’s a long-term option to back up Hart. He is a low-cost option as a backup used sparingly, however, so it’s maybe no harm, no foul to keep Sandstrom nearby.

Morgan Frost seems more confident this season, encouraging with Tortorella. He could feature in a trade at the deadline or remain on the third line between two larger wingers, where he thrives.

Bobby Brink is a giant question mark because Tortorella hasn’t seen him play. A lot will ride on 2023-2024, his contract season.

Not the Solution

Max Willman is an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season. Kieffer Bellows is a restricted free agent who cleared waivers. Willman cleared waivers earlier in October.

Tanner Laczynski has another season on his deal, likely spent with the Phantoms.

Ryan Ellis, it just doesn’t seem like he will be back on the ice. Fletcher traded for DeAngelo after it was apparent Ellis wouldn’t play in 2022-2023.

(Photo Credit/Alex McIntyre)

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