The Flyers missed the playoffs in 2020-21 for a myriad of reasons, but perhaps one of the biggest — aside from league-worst goaltending — was that the roster was littered with players who left much to be desired on the ice in terms of production.
Those who didn’t quite live up to the billing fall squarely in the bounce back category. These players, combined with those expected to breakout, should give the Flyers the extra juice needed to get over the hump in a crowded division and back into the Stanley Cup playoffs.
But enough chatter, let’s dive into five Flyers poised for bounce back seasons in 2021-22 — starting with arguably their most important player.
There’s no sugarcoating it: Carter Hart was arguably the worst starting goalie in the NHL last season. The numbers were bad right basically from the start, then hit rock bottom during a miserable March than included an .815 save percentage in 10 games.
Overall, the former second-round pick turned in an .877 save percentage and a 3.67 goals-against average in 27 games during a lost 2020-21 campaign. Not only were his numbers bad, but Hart was essentially thrown under the bus by his coach, and suffered a late season injury to boot.
So why is he primed to bounce back in 2021-22?
For starters, he just can’t be as bad as he was last season again, right? Right — because ignoring his first 74 NHL games in which he played to a .915 save percentage and a 2.59 goals-against average would be foolish. Also foolish would be to ignore what went on around Hart’s crease last season.
When you factor in the Flyers’ struggles defensively — goaltending issues weren’t limited to just Hart — it’s easy to see that not only were the goalies bad, but they were also being asked to do far too much as result of other breakdowns all over the ice. The loss of veteran defender Matt Niskanen was felt hard all over the place as only the Sharks surrendered more goals than the Flyers.
And while Hart bottomed out in March, he responded with a strong April in which he turned aside 122 of 134 shots (.910) in five games to close out a frustrating season that neither he nor the Flyers expected.
Goalie results and average shot difficulty faced. Plenty of ink spilled about Carter Hart's season but Calvin Petersen has been quietly very very good.— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) March 29, 2021
(750 shot minimum) pic.twitter.com/sneSCi9Dy4
It’ll be interesting to see how Hart handles the adversity of the worst season of his young career — in any league for that matter — but the 23-year-old has the pedigree and proven results at the NHL level to believe that his 27-game swoon was a product of both personal and team failures rather than an indication of future returns.
Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher went out of his way to improve the team around Hart, and wouldn’t have invested the resources or the money if he didn’t believe that the netminder would figure it out and bounce back.
It’s hard to imagine a player who finished sixth on the team in total scoring to fall into the bounce back season category, but here we are with the 24-year-old chirpstar.
While TK was far from bad in 2020-21, he also set the bar incredibly high in 2019-20 with 61 points in 66 games to lead the team. Coming back down to earth with 34 points in 50 games wasn’t exactly what the Flyers had in mind going in, and watching his goal scoring rate sink to its worst mark since his rookie season wasn’t on the docket either.
Part of that dip in goal scoring was a direct result of career-low scoring at even strength, a departure from TK’s young career track record. After potting no less than 19 goals at evens in the last three years, he dropped all the way down to seven this past year. The Flyers dearly missed that scoring at even strength, a contributing factor in which they were out scored by 19 in the category on the season.
But while TK’s production on the scoresheet dipped in 2020-21, he was his usual play driving self to the tune of possession metrics markedly better than his teammates. He posted his lowest shooting percentage (11%) since his rookie season (7.8%) and was particularly unlucky with a 7.72% team shooting percentage at 5-on-5.
With solid possession metrics, a proven scoring touch in the NHL, and unlucky shooting numbers: TK is a safe bet to return to piling up the numbers in the box score in 2021-22.
We’ve already covered how emotional, improbable, and impressive Lindblom’s return to the ice following a Ewing’s sarcoma diagnosis in 2019 in detail — and even that coverage isn’t enough to do just as to what No. 23 was able to accomplish.
That aside, nobody has bigger expectations and standards than that of the Swede himself. And despite a remarkable comeback in essentially record time, it isn’t enough for Lindblom to simply return to hockey — he wants to return to the level of hockey he was playing at pre-cancer.
In Lindblom’s 2020-21 season review, we noted a couple reasons for optimism that he could return to his near-breakout season before being derailed.
For one, a full offseason of uninterrupted training helps get Lindblom’s body even closer to what he was accustomed to pre-cancer. Getting back that strength in his upper and lower body will allow him to return to being a puck control demon along the walls to help create and sustain offense. That possession should lead to more shot chances and scoring changes, as Lindblom managed 14 less shots on goal this past season in 20 more games than he did back in 2019.
And with working his way back into hockey shape, Lindblom also saw a dip in ice time last season — going from more than 17 minutes per down to around 13 in 2020-21. Much of that was by design, but with another offseason to get stronger, expect Lindblom’s portfolio to expand again as he gained trust of the coaching staff for reliable and consistent two-way play early on in 2019.
Those factors make Lindblom poised to bounce back to where he was headed in 2019 before being sidelined, and a huge boost to the Flyers’ depth at forward along the way this coming season.
We’ll go ahead and start this by saying that we can’t ever imagine the pain that Hayes is going through having just lost his brother, Jimmy, at the far-too-young age of just 31. If you’ve seen the clip of Kevin sharing a touching story about his brother’s compassion, then you know everything about what Jimmy meant to him.
To say that focusing on hockey right now for Hayes would be a massive understatement, and one more than understood by those around the game. Perhaps hockey becomes a sanctuary for Hayes to get away from the pain and the loss, or perhaps it brings back painful memories of a game that he and his brother shared together so very closely.
We don’t have any idea what those emotions will be for Kevin this season, or how they impact anything he does hockey related. One thing that we can surmise, though, is that Hayes is primed for a bounce back season on the ice.
After inking a long-term contract with the Flyers before the 2019 season, Hayes paid immediate dividends for the Orange and Black. Hayes notched four shorthanded goals along the way to 41 points in 69 games, tying his career-best goal scoring rate of .33 goals per game. His two-way play helped anchor the Flyers’ second line behind all-everything center Sean Couturier and help propel the club back to the Stanley Cup playoffs and on a deeper-than-expected run.
A year later and Hayes potted just 12 goals in 55 games, netting 31 points overall in a year that saw him fail to find a mark shorthanded for just the second time in his career. A career-worst shooting percentage (9.4%) plagued Hayes as well as the same low water mark of 7.45% at 5-on-5 like Konecny suffered through above.
Good news is on the way for Hayes in terms of linemates, as old pal Cam Atkinson slides into the right wing on the second line and breakout scorer Joel Farabee provides the 29-year-old pivot with places to facilitate the puck with results on the end. Adding a couple high-volume shot generators to his line should help make the most of Hayes’ possession dominant stretches and ramp up the production in a bounce back season for the former Boston College product.
After waiting seemingly forever for the former first-round pick to arrive, the Flyers watched Sanheim put up 17 goals while locking down a regular role from 2018-19 through 2019-20.
But a second pairing role in 2020-21 appeared to be too much for Sanheim — either that, or dragging around the lifeless corpse of Philippe Myers proved too daunting a task. Either way, No. 6 fell short of expectations last season and the Flyers will need him to rebound a bit this coming season if they want to return to the playoffs.
The good news is that while Sanheim ended up with some rather ugly numbers in the goal differential department — he was a minus 21 at 5-on-5 — he at least has bad luck to blame for some of the struggles. Sanheim was on the right side of things in terms of possession metrics and shot/chance generation, but didn’t see the fruits of the labor. His 52% expected goals for against his 37% goals for suggests that he should have fared better in the goal scoring department, and his .949 PDO backs it up by with the Flyers shooting a low percentage when he was on the ice while also posting a low save percentage to create a double dose of bad news.
No player in the league received worse goaltending when on the ice than Sanheim this season. pic.twitter.com/JCP4Acv6Zw— JFresh (@JFreshHockey) August 21, 2021
If those metrics rise to Sanheim’s career rates (98.4 PDO), a bump from a paltry shooting percentage (3%) should give the defender a bump in production and help balance the scoring load across the defense.
Hurting his case could be the presence of Rasmus Ristolainen, who was more down that up in Buffalo and is entrenched in a top-four role with Sanheim as the most logical pairing fit. If Ristolainen is the player we saw with the Sabres, Sanheim will have his work cut out for him dragging around another slog of a defensive partner who takes just about as much risk and could set the pairing up for disaster.
But even with Myers dragging down Sanheim much of last season, he was still able to turn in a respectable season with signs that his game will trend back upwards in 2021-22. We’re thinking that’s a safe bet, regardless of what pylon he’s attached to.
*Statistics courtesy of hockeyreference.com, NaturalStatTrick, and Evolving-Hockey unless otherwise noted.