Good morning, folks. Here at On the Fly headquarters, I’m not sure what was more frustrating: watching the Sixers’ postseason meltdown, or the fact that the Flyers weren’t good enough to even make the playoffs.
OK, at least the Sixers gave fans (false) hope that they could bring home a championship this year, which is much more than you can say about their stumbling Wells Fargo Center buddies.
So where do the Flyers go from here?
Well, if you look at the NHL’s Final Four, you can understand why GM Chuck Fletcher has such a pivotal summer ahead of him. Defense and goaltending have been the key for the four semifinalists: Tampa Bay, the Islanders, Vegas, and Montreal.
And guess what parts of the Flyers’ game were the most dysfunctional this year? Yep, defense and goaltending.
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Flyers’ shopping list
In the regular season, Vegas (2.18 goals per game) and the Islanders (2.23) were the NHL’s stingiest teams. Colorado (2.36 ) was No. 3, and the Avs are out of the playoffs only because they had the misfortune of facing the Golden Knights.
Tampa Bay was ranked sixth, allowing 2.59 goals a game. Montreal (2.95), a stunning semifinalist, was 18th in the regular season, but the Canadiens have tightened up things in the playoffs, surrendering just 2.27 goals per game, the third-fewest goals permitted among the 16 teams that have competed in this year’s tournament.
As the adage goes, offense sells tickets, and defense wins games.
Which brings us to the Flyers. They were last in the NHL as they allowed 3.52 goals per game in the regular season, explaining why they missed the playoffs for the fifth time in nine years. They allowed almost 1½ goals per game more than Vegas. Think about that.
That’s why Fletcher has a long list of defensemen on his radar, including Seth Jones, Dougie Hamilton, Ryan Ellis, Matt Dumba, and Adam Larsson. It’s also why pending unrestricted-free-agent goalies such as Linus Ullmark, Frederik Andersen, Jonathan Bernier, Philipp Grubauer, Jonathan Bernier, and Anders Nilsson should be considered as the 1B to Carter Hart’s 1A status.
“I think we have quite a few priorities,” Fletcher said when the Flyers’ sad season ended. “Looking outside the organization, certainly we could upgrade everywhere — up front, defense. Certainly we’re going to have to look at our situation in goal, which has kind of been a constant struggle here for years.”
In case you need a history lesson, here is CliffsNotes version: Compared to the rest of the NHL, the Flyers have had average or way-below-average defensive stats in seven of the last eight seasons.
And, so, yes, Fletcher needs to be active in the trade market and in free agency when it opens July 28.
“We have different areas we have to look at,” he said. “We also need a lot of our young players to be better.”
At the head of the list, of course, is Hart, 22, who in one year saw his goals-against average balloon from 2.42 to 3.67, and his save percentage drop from .914 to .877.
The list also includes defensemen Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim, and Phil Myers, and forwards Nolan Patrick, Travis Konency, Oskar Lindblom, and Nic Aube-Kubel. (Lindblom, of course, gets a pass because of his medical condition.)
“Frankly, for us to take a step forward, we’re going to need that group of players to take on a bigger role, play better, and help us win games,” said Fletcher, whose team might get a boost from promising rookies such as Cam York, Wade Allison, and Morgan Frost. “We’re going to have to look outside the organization, but certainly it’s difficult to replace the whole team. You’re going to need your young players to take a step and be better.”
This is a key offseason for many Flyers, a chance to put in rigorous workouts and prove that last year was a fluke in their development.
“They have a big summer ahead of them,” Fletcher said. “Hopefully, as things normalize this offseason, it’s easier for many of these young players to skate, train, and prepare more normally than maybe they were able to do last offseason. We’re hopeful we see an energized group of players come training camp” in September.
Things to know
Lindblom: “I want to be the player I was before I got sick.” The story about the Bill Masterton winner.
The surprising Canadiens are comfortable heading into Game 5 in Vegas on Tuesday. The series is tied at two wins apiece.
Tampa Bay even got a goal from ex-Flyers defenseman Luke Schenn, of all people, as it whipped the Islanders on Monday, 8-0, and took a 3-2 lead in the series.
Former Flyers defenseman Luke Richardson is 1-1 filling in as head coach of the Canadiens since Dominique Ducharme tested positive for COVID-19 last Friday.
Tampa Bay’s Brayden Point is the second player in NHL history to score goals in eight straight playoff games. Can you name the former Flyer who holds the record?
If you said Reggie Leach, take a bow. The right winger scored in 10 straight playoff games in 1976, and he finished that postseason with 19 goals in 16 games. Including the regular season, he had 80 goals. Eighty.
The Flyers’ top four right wingers — Joel Farabee (20 goals), who also played the left side; Jake Voracek (9); Travis Konecny (11); and Nic Aube-Kubel (3) — combined for 43 goals in 56 games this year.
Tuesday: Montreal at Vegas in Game 5 at 9 p.m., NBCSN.
Wednesday: Tampa Bay at Islanders in Game 6 at 8 p.m., NBCSN.
Thursday: Vegas at Montreal in Game 6 at 8 p.m., USA Network.
Friday (if necessary): Islanders at Tampa Bay in Game 7 at 8 p.m., NBCSN.
Saturday (if necessary): Montreal at Vegas in Game 7 at 8 p.m., NBCSN.
July 17: Deadline for clubs to submit protection lists for expansion draft, 5 p.m.
July 21: Seattle expansion draft
July 23: NHL draft, Round 1
July 24: NHL draft, Rounds 2-7
July 28: Free-agent signings permitted, noon
From the mailbag
How much of the Flyers’ issues last year can be attributed to coaching? Specifically, PK, slow starts, and regression of younger players? — David Reading (@DavidJReading) on Twitter
Answer: Thanks for the question, Dave, and it’s a good one.
To me, it’s a shared blame, though the coaches are more responsible for the last category. I truly believe the loss of Matt Niskanen was a big reason for the PK problems, and his veteran presence and leadership also affected the slow starts. Fletcher needs to get someone — whether it’s on defense on another position — who is not only a good player but also has a championship on his resume and knows what it takes to win.
That confidence, that swagger, has a way of permeating through the locker room. We saw it with Chris Pronger and we saw it with Niskanen, two players who won Stanley Cups with other teams.
Send questions by email or on Twitter (@broadstbull), and they could be answered in a future edition.