Well, that was fun.
In a flurry of trades and free-agent signings that was more exciting than their regular-season play, the Flyers will have a new look in 2021-22.
General manager Chuck Fletcher, the architect of the much-needed summer remake, said he’s not sure if he will make another move. Even if he doesn’t — Fletcher said his focus now is on re-signing restricted free agents Carter Hart and Travis Sanheim — he deserves credit for making the coming season interesting.
The Flyers, who haven’t won a Stanley Cup since 1975, and New Jersey Devils are probably the most improved teams in the highly competitive Metropolitan Division.
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The Flyers will be harder to play against this coming season. They added several players who play with physicality and an edge.
That was much-needed, especially in a division that will probably feature the feisty New York Islanders.
But the Flyers still lack speed, and their offense won’t be much better unless they get improved play from a handful of players who slumped last season. Their defense, however, appears much stronger than last season, thanks to the addition of veterans Ryan Ellis, Rasmus Ristolainen, and Keith Yandle.
The goaltending? There are questions that need to be answered. (More later.)
Here is a look at how the team could be set up:
Line 1: Sean Couturier centering Claude Giroux and Cam Atkinson
Comment: Atkinson might end up on a line with former Boston College teammate Kevin Hayes, but he has a shoot-first mentality and would benefit from the passing of Giroux and Couturier. Atkinson, 32, had 41 goals in the last full NHL season, 2018-19. The Flyers would gladly settle for 25 to 30.
Line 2: Hayes centering Joel Farabee and Travis Konecny
Comment: Hayes played injured for part of last season — he had core-muscle surgery in May — and managed 12 goals in 55 games, but tallied just once in the season’s last 21 contests. Now healthy, he should rebound. The Flyers also need Konecny (11 goals) to bounce back. Farabee is coming off a breakthrough season (team-high 20 goals).
Line 3: Scott Laughton centering James van Riemsdyk and Wade Allison
Comment: Allison showed lots of promise (4 goals, 3 assists) in his 14 games with the Flyers last season and is a prototypical power forward. Laughton is a cerebral, two-way player who plays with a relentless style, while van Riemsdyk is a dependable scorer who does most of his damage in front.
Line 4: Morgan Frost or Nate Thompson centering Oskar Lindblom and Nic Aube-Kubel
Comment: By signing the 6-foot-1, 207-pound Thompson, it appears the Flyers will use him because of his penalty-killing ability and his size. That means he will likely center the fourth line unless Frost, who is coming off shoulder surgery, excels at training camp. Tanner Laczynski is also a candidate to play on this line, and Connor Bunnaman is a dark horse. As for Lindblom, he could end up on any of the four lines.
Defense 1: Ivan Provorov and Ryan Ellis
Comment: The Flyers hope the well-rounded Ellis stabilizes Provorov’s game, as Matt Niskanen did two seasons ago. Ellis is a lot like Niskanen in that he plays in all situations, but the former is more offensive-minded.
Defense 2: Travis Sanheim and Rasmus Ristolainen
Comment: The Sanheim-Phil Myers pairing had growing pains last season. Ristolainen will bring much more snarl to the pairing and has a big shot. Were his frequent defensive miscues in Buffalo a product of having several different partners? We will find out.
Defense 3: Keith Yandle and Justin Braun
Comment: Two veterans who have been around the block. Yandle will provide the offense, Braun will provide steady defense and shot-blocking. Cam York could beat out Yandle with a strong training camp, but the Flyers give the impression they want York to gain some experience with the Phantoms. Yandle has a good chance to run the top power-play unit.
The seventh defenseman? Samuel Morin and recently signed right-hander Adam Clendening — a second-round pick in 2011 who has 80 NHL games on his resume — are among the candidates.
Goaltending: Hart is the starter, with Martin Jones as the backup.
Comment: Hart should benefit from all the defensive changes and bounce back from a disastrous season. Jones, signed as a free agent, is his backup, but he seems to be trending in the wrong direction. That makes a Hart comeback the Flyers’ most critical story line.
Things to know
Will “win-now” Flyers be a legit Stanley Cup contender? Probably not. But hopes are high after a smart summer remake. My column.
Flyers are counting on Jones to rebound and new veterans to solidify a leaky defense.
Flyers sign free agents Jones, Yandle, and Thompson.
Former Flyers winger Carsen Twarynski is “ecstatic” to have a chance with Seattle’s expansion team.
San Jose Sharks’ Evander Kane denies wife’s allegations that he bet on NHL games.
Former Flyers defenseman Jason Smith, 47, has made a long journey back to the organization. He was named a Phantoms assistant Monday on coach Ian Laperriere’s staff.
Smith played one of his 15 NHL seasons with the Flyers, in 2007-08, when he served as the team’s 16th captain and helped lead them to the Eastern Conference finals.
He joins the Phantoms after he spent parts of four seasons in the Western Hockey League. He was an associate coach of the Prince George Cougars from 2019-21 and was the head coach of the Kelowna Rockets for parts of three seasons.
Before his time in the WHL, Smith was with the Ottawa Senators organization from 2012-16. He was named scouting and development consultant for Ottawa before the 2012-13 season and was named an assistant coach of the Senators before the 2014-15 season.
Riley Armstrong, 36, former head coach of the ECHL’s Maine Mariners, was also named a Phantoms assistant.
Late August: Flyers development camp in Voorhees; dates to be determined.
Sept. 22: Tentative date for the start of training camp in Voorhees.
Sept. 28: Flyers start their preseason schedule by facing the New York Islanders at the Wells Fargo Center.
Oct. 15: Flyers open the regular season by hosting Vancouver.
From the mailbag
Question: Is there anyone in the organization that you see who can turn some heads? Any young names ready to make an impact this coming season? — Ron Zacconi (@RonZacconi via Twitter)
Answer: To me, right winger Wade Allison will be that player. He has the size, hockey smarts, and a good shot and should be a vital part of this team. Cam York, a puck-moving defender, has a higher upside and could also make his mark soon, though I don’t expect him to be called up until later in the season.
Send questions by email or on Twitter (@broadstbull), and they could be answered in a future edition.