After a few fun games to start the Scott Gordon tenure, a vocal portion of the fanbase has sunk back into apathy. The GM is new. The coach is new. But that new car smell is starting to wear off, leaving us with the original stink that is the 2018-19 Philadelphia Flyers. Special teams continue to be an issue (maybe even the power play more than the penalty kill at this point) and the goaltending, though maybe more interesting with Carter Hart in net, simply cannot be relied upon. Clearly, changes need to be made. Changes that come from the outside. Changes that move the needle more than Phil Varone.
The issue is that outside changes tend to take time, particularly when you’re dealing with a new GM and potentially large-scale changes such as shaking up the core. In the meantime, I’d like to look at some possible changes Chuck Fletcher could make in-house to spice things up a bit.
(numbers courtesy of Natural Stat Trick)
A lineup proposal
A few days ago, I sent out the following tweet about some in-house moves I’d make and how I’d construct the lineup following those moves:
Giroux-Couts-Voracek— Jake FlashGordoninger (@J_Fahringer) December 30, 2018
Ghost & Provy are maybe starting to play better & I don't wanna ruin that but if you bring up Myers or Friedman I'm not sure how else the pairs work 1/ https://t.co/4hn1wA0JkY
Allow me to explain my thought process; I’ll go line by line. While Giroux has certainly done well in his move back to center, I feel the long-term plan of him at left wing is still in place. You want to conserve him and extend his productive years as long as you can, especially now that we seem to be dealing with yet another “wasted” year. The main concern here, though, is Jakub Voracek. Voracek needs to get going. While he is the 2nd leading scorer on the team behind Giroux, his play-driving metrics are frankly abysmal, and the eye-test hasn’t done him any favors either. Whether you seem him as a trade piece or not, he’s not helping either side of that argument by playing as poorly as he has been this season. Reuniting this line from the beginning of last season could potentially reignite his lackluster season to date.
The 2nd line is an all-kids line, which is scary for coaches but could be a boon to those involved. Oskar Lindblom needs a larger role on this team. While his raw production is clearly lacking to date, it’s not exactly easy to produce when you’re stapled to the likes of Dale Weise and AHL lifer Phil Varone. The fact is, Lindblom is still creating quality chances, as he’s 3rd among forwards in adjusted SCF% and 2nd in HDCF%. Earlier this season I wrote about Travis Konecny’s emergence as play-driver and he’s kept that going to date, leading the team in adjusted CF%. He belongs in the top 6 playing meaningful minutes. Given Konecny’s development into a play driver this year and Lindblom’s possession prowess, I feel they can really help the pivot of this line, Nolan Patrick. Patrick has struggled again this year to find his game. Outside of a strong early west coast trip, the 2nd year center has had a hard time getting things to click. I’m not going to mince words here, it’s been ugly. That being said, he has loads of talent and is presumably a key piece to the future. So let’s help him out. With TK and Lindblom he has two play drivers who create quality chances. Patrick and TK are clearly good friends off the ice and have actually been pretty good together on the ice. Further, the trio of Lindblom, Patrick and Konecny has actually been very good, albeit in an extremely small sample. In a little under fourteen and a half minutes of TOI, they’ve managed a 59.35% adjusted CF%, 72.10% adjusted SCF% and 78.91% HDCF%. Again, very small sample; it’s essentially one game’s worth of ice time. But in theory, it brings everything you could want in a line. It’s a young line that you may need to shelter a bit, but at this point I feel it’s worth exploring, particularly with respect to Nolan Patrick.
The 3rd line is where we see the first in-house change introduced. Nicolas Aube-Kubel has been a very strong AHL player going back to last season. He drives play at a high rate and has the production to match. He brings speed and skill to the bottom six while also adding some physicality. I think NAK has shown what he can do in the AHL; at this point I’d like to see if he can be someone you can count on in the NHL to provide quality depth. The center position is interchangeable here, in my opinion. I think both Weal and Laughton could provide quality minutes at that position and the way these lines are constructed, the 3rd and 4th line should probably see about even minutes. Which brings me to potentially the most controversial portion of this lineup: 4th line RW. That’s not a typo. That’s not an error. Wayne Simmonds is the 4th line RW. I’m not going to lie here, folks: when I first drafted that tweet, I didn’t have Simmonds in the lineup at all. Whether that was on purpose or simply a silly slip up, the fact it even occurred tells me how little I’ve come to expect from Wayne Simmonds. And at this point, I think even the team is looking for answers, as we saw Scott Gordon move him to the bottom six against Carolina. He’s a drag at 5-on-5 and given the struggles of the power play, there’s just not much tangible on-ice value to point to this season. The main reason I trust Voracek can turn it around, is because I’ve seen him have recent success and top line production. I can’t say the same for the Wayne Train. That 4th line can be a very good 4th line, and again, I’d frame it more as two 3rd lines that are essentially splitting minutes. The fact of the matter is Wayne Simmonds has not been good and doesn’t belong anywhere near the top six. As with Voracek, if you view him as a trade piece, the most important thing is getting him to play better. Right now, I think the best way to do that is to push him down the lineup and see if he can get going against some easier competition.
Now we arrive at the defense pairs. A few weeks ago, I wrote about taking some of the burden off of Provorov given his historically tough usage to date by giving more minutes to Sanheim. Well, Sanheim is definitely getting more minutes; the issue is he’s playing with Provorov, so the burden is still there. As I noted in that tweet, Provorov and Ghost are both looking a bit better since the coaching change. And while you certainly don’t want to ruin momentum, based on the other potential in-house moves Fletcher could make, the pairs get a little tough to manage if you don’t split up Provorov and Sanheim. Myers and Friedman are both players that should get looks at some point this season. Both have really picked up their play; Myers started slow but has come on as of late and Friedman has been fairly consistent all year. They’re right-handed, great skaters, can really move the puck and contribute offensively. I think it’s time they get a chance to see if they can become NHL defensemen. It may not be at the same time, but at this point I’d give one of them a call. I’d give either of them some sheltered minutes in a 3rd pair role to gradually work them in; with a top 4 of Provorov, Ghost, Sanheim and Gudas there’s no need to rush either Myers or Friedman into a role they can’t handle. Let your four best defensemen handle the majority of the workload and ease the burden on Provorov by letting Sanheim and Gudas (arguably your two best defensemen this season) take on more responsibility together.
So there’s my (very) long-winded reasoning behind my proposed lineup changes. As much as it pains me to say it, as it means yet another year of waiting for the playoffs and another amazing year from Claude Giroux gone to waste, it’s hard to envision a scenario in which the Flyers turn this ship around in time to make the post-season. Even in the event of a major overhaul, they’re battling time at this point. They’ve reached the halfway point in the season and they’re worse off this year than they were at this point last year. Even outside of that fact, you have some young players in the AHL that are deserving of an opportunity in the NHL. Fletcher likely won’t be able to salvage this season, but he may be able to at least get some potentially key pieces to the future moving in the right direction.