Flyers defenseman Phil Myers talked the other day about his team’s disappointing season and how it didn’t go as planned. He tried to put a positive spin on a listless 25-23-8 year in which the Flyers missed the playoffs for the fifth time in the last nine seasons.
“There were some good things,” he said. “All we’ve got to do is kind of build off that and hit the reset button this summer. Have a good summer of training and come back ready to go for camp.”
No, no, no, no.
With all due respect to the towering Myers, this franchise — specifically, general manager Chuck Fletcher — needs to do more than hit the “reset button” this summer. He needs to change the Flyers’ makeup, needs to add more speed, needs to give the team an identity.
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Fletcher has ‘quite a few priorities’
Fletcher basically hit the “reset button” last year. Oh, he tried to make some moves, but either a free agent like defenseman Travis Hamonic didn’t want to come here, or Fletcher and an opposing general manager couldn’t come to a trade agreement.
So Fletcher bet on young players like Myers, Carter Hart, Travis Sanheim, Travis Konecny, Nolan Patrick, Oskar Lindblom, Joel Farabee, and Nic Aube-Kubel to continue their progression. Except for Farabee, all took a step backward. Some took two steps back. (Patrick and Lindblom, of course, deserve a pass because they were returning from major medical issues.)
Maybe if next season is a normal one, with a full training camp and an 82-game schedule, the Flyers will get back into a rhythm and show this year was a fluke.
Fletcher can’t count on that. He needs to make changes, needs to be aggressive, needs to shake up things.
His biggest miscalculation this season: Believing puck-mover Erik Gustafsson was the missing piece on a defense that lost the retiring Matt Niskanen.
To his credit, Fletcher has acknowledged it didn’t work, that the pieces didn’t fit. That’s a start. Now he needs to have a busy summer. For starters, the Flyers should add a right-handed defenseman (Dougie Hamilton? David Savard?), a sniper (Johnny Gaudreau? Patrik Laine? Gabriel Landeskog?) and a goalie (Linus Ullmark? Jonathan Bernier?) who can play a lot of games if Hart struggles again.
Getting someone to play Niskanen’s role should be the general manager’s No. 1 priority.
“Nisky was a great player, very solid, super steady, never really made too many mistakes out there,” said Ivan Provorov, whose play slipped this season as he missed Niskanen as his defensive partner. “And he played big minutes last year. So, yeah, I think there’s some opportunities for someone to step up and fill his spot and just find a way as a D-corps to play good. And I think overall as a team we didn’t perform to the best of our abilities, and it affected all areas of our game — offense, defense, goaltending.”
Without Niskanen, coach Alain Vigneault constantly switched the pairings as he tried to find the right duos.
With Niskaken, “we had a pretty good setup with roles and what guys were doing last year, and the stability back there,” said veteran defenseman Justin Braun, who had a solid season. “Losing a guy like that, you lose that steadiness, night in and night out. Who is your partner going to be? We were bouncing around a lot trying to find chemistry. That’s on the remaining guys to step up and fill that hole. We just didn’t do it.”
While Fletcher searches for a dependable, defensive-minded player who, preferably, has a Stanley Cup on his resumé — granted, not easy to find — he also needs to boost an offense that dried up in the season’s second half. In the first 28 games, the Flyers averaged 3.3 goals per game. In the last 28 games, they averaged just 2.5 goals per game.
Promising prospects like right winger Wade Allison and center Morgan Frost, who may be a better option than Patrick next season, could be regulars in 2021-22. Shoulder surgery derailed Frost’s season and prevented him from making an impression.
Allison, who was recalled from the Phantoms late in the season, sparked the Flyers with his physicality and his go-to-the-net style. He also displayed a wicked shot and collected seven points, including four goals, in 14 games. Allison, 23, is the type of player who helps give teams an identity. The Flyers need more players like him, players who show emotion and energy.
Fletcher, meanwhile, will try to work some magic in the trade and free-agent markets.
“I think we have quite a few priorities,” he said. “Looking outside the organization, certainly we could upgrade everywhere — up front, defense. Certainly we’re going to have to take a look at our situation in goal, which has kind of been a constant struggle here for years. We have different areas we have to look at. We also need a lot of our young players to be better.”
Will Fletcher swing for the fences and try to make a megadeal for a star center like Buffalo’s Jack Eichel? Will he try to sign a splashy free-agent defenseman like Carolina’s Hamilton?
Stay tuned. Unlike last year, this figures to be an interesting offseason.
Things to know
Carter Hart talks about COVID-related loneliness, and bouncing back to become “a top goaltender” in the NHL.
Nolan Patrick is attempting to put his trying season behind him. A normal offseason should help the young Flyers center.
Flyers management: Offseason training limitations of Canadian players hurt them this year.
Yong Kim has some great photos of the Flyers’ season-ending, 4-2 comeback win over New Jersey.
The Flyers’ season of high hopes turned into a series of unimaginable lows. As the newsboys used to say back in the day: Read all about it!
Sean Couturier, Joel Farabee, Claude Giroux, and Ivan Provorov were among the Flyers’ award winners before the season finale.
Giving numbers perspective
With a 56-game season, it’s not as easy to get perspective on players’ statistics. To help, here are the stats of the Flyers’ regulars, prorated over an 82-game season.
James van Riemsdyk: 17 goals and 43 points in a 56-game season = 25 goals and 63 points over 82 games.
Claude Giroux: 16 goals and 43 points = 23 goals and 63 points over 82 games.
Jake Voracek: 9 goals and 43 points = 13 goals and 63 points over 82 games.
Sean Couturier: 18 goals and 41 points = 26 goals and 60 points over 82 games.
Joel Farabee: 20 goals and 38 points = 29 goals and 56 points over 82 games.
Travis Konecny: 11 goals and 34 points = 16 goals and 50 points over 82 games.
Kevin Hayes: 12 goals and 31 points = 18 goals and 45 points over 82 games.
Ivan Provorov: 7 goals and 27 points = 10 goals and 40 points over 82 games.
Scott Laughton: 9 goals and 20 points = 13 goals and 29 points over 82 games.
Shayne Gostisbehere: 9 goals and 20 points = 13 goals and 29 points over 82 games.
Travis Sanheim: 3 goals and 15 points = 4 goals and 22 points over 82 games.
Oskar Lindblom: 8 goals and 14 points = 12 goals and 21 points over 82 games.
Nic Aube-Kubel: 3 goals and 12 points = 4 goals and 18 points over 82 games.
Phil Myers: 1 goal and 11 points = 1 goal and 16 points over 82 games.
Nolan Patrick: 4 goals and 9 points = 6 goals and 13 points over 82 games.
Justin Braun: 1 goal and 6 points = 1 goal and 9 points over 82 games.
Robert Hagg: 2 goals and 5 points = 3 goals and 7 points over 82 games.
Saturday: Playoffs begin (Boston at Washington, 7:15 p.m., NBC)
May 21-June 6: IIHF World Championships (Latvia)
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
Question: What high-salaried Flyer do you see being left unprotected as hoped-for cap relief?
— @Flyer883 via Twitter.
Answer: Thanks for the question. The Flyers are expected to use the option where they protect 11 players, which must be seven forwards, three defensemen, and a goalie.
Assuming no trades are made before the expansion draft, here are the players I believe they will protect: Giroux, Hayes, Couturier, Konecny, Lindblom, Laughton, and Patrick as the forwards; Provorov, Sanheim, and Myers as the defensemen; and Hart as the goalie.
That would leave high-priced players such as Voracek, van Riemsdyk, and Gostisbehere available. Teams can only lose one player to Seattle.
By the way, Farabee is among the players who doesn’t have to be protected. First- and second-year NHL players are exempt from the draft.
Send questions by email or on Twitter (@broadstbull), and they could be answered in a future edition.