Once upon a time, Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov was considered one of the top young blueliners in the NHL — and some may still believe he is. The former first-round draft pick has posted a respectable 179 points (55 goals, 124 assists) in 424 games as an NHLer while averaging 25 minutes of ice time per night. And having earned key roles on both the penalty kill and power play, he’s been one of the more versatile defenders on the Flyers’ back end since debuting in 2016.
Provorov is clearly a highly-regarded piece of the Flyers’ current core and, at the moment, is the team’s unquestioned No. 1 defenseman. But based on what the 25-year-old has exhibited recently, there are some legitimate causes for concern.
The three-time Barry Ashbee Trophy winner was spectacular playing alongside Matt Niskanen during the 2019-20 season, averaging over a half-point per game and logging strong 5-on-5 play-driving numbers (51.79 Corsi-For percentage and 2.45 Expected Goals For per 60). However, that player has since been in hiding. Provorov has failed to live up to expectations after his strong pre-COVID-19 campaign, and his regression has only become more apparent this season.
Out of 236 NHL defensemen with at least 200 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time, Provorov currently ranks 160th in Corsi-For percentage (47.56), 167th in Goals For percentage (45.33) and 176th in Expected Goals For per 60 (2.2). He’s also been responsible for a whopping 59 giveaways this season — good for sixth-most among all NHL defensemen and 10th-most among all skaters.
Not very inspiring numbers for a team’s top defender.
Provorov’s struggles have hindered the Flyers on numerous occasions this season, most recently in Tuesday night’s 2-1 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights when he singlehandedly nearly cost his team the win not once, but two times.
With 2:26 remaining in the final frame, Provorov unwisely iced the puck to gift Vegas a draw in the Flyers zone. Just 41 seconds later, he inadvertently sent a puck over the glass and was assessed a delay of game penalty, not only allowing the Knights to pull goaltender Robin Lehner, but also giving them 1:45 of time on a 6-on-4 power play. Luckily for Provorov, Carter Hart stood on his head to preserve the one-goal lead and seal the 2-1 victory.
In the Flyers’ contest against the Minnesota Wild last Thursday, a Provorov gaffe actually did cost his team a win. With the Flyers leading 4-3 late in the game’s third period, Provorov sent an ill-advised pass through the middle of the ice that was easily intercepted by Kevin Fiala, who then set up rookie sensation Matt Boldy for the game-tying goal. The Wild scored the eventual game-winning goal just 25 seconds later to hand the Flyers their 38th loss of the season.
Provorov has been susceptible to giveaways in the past — he’s committed 347 turnovers since his rookie season while logging only 98 takeaways over that span. But with the positive aspects of his game gradually dissipating, his unreliable play with the puck on his stick has quickly become one of his defining attributes. And the fact that his quality of play has dropped so significantly in the very middle of his age-related prime is beyond troubling.
Of course, this is not to say Provorov doesn’t still bring some legitimate value to the table. His 111 blocked shots on the season ranks 15th among all blueliners, and his durability has never been an area of concern — he’s only missed three games in his career, and those absences were all due to COVID-19 protocols. Provorov can play over 25 minutes per game without breaking much of a sweat, and he’s typically done a solid job of limiting his penalties to keep the game at even strength.
Due to his versatility, willingness to block shots and insane endurance, Provorov’s external value likely is still quite high. And because of this, it wouldn’t be irrational to question if he could be a potential trade chip during the offseason. Provorov has three years remaining on his contract beyond this season with an average annual value of $6.75 million, so it’s unlikely he’ll be on the move at the trade deadline as playoff contenders typically look to add pending unrestricted free agents this time of year. But general manager Chuck Fletcher is looking to “aggressively retool” this offseason, and if teams end up inquiring about Provorov’s availability, it would be in his best interest to listen to offers.
With a contending team, it’s possible Provorov could revert back to the high-end player Flyers fans hoped he’d become when he signed his six-year contract extension in 2019. Provorov seems to play his best hockey when paired with proven talent — Niskanen in 2019-20, and don’t forget about the stellar coupling formed in 2017-18 when Provorov was paired with Shayne Gostisbehere. In Philadelphia, though, there are no other proven talents on the back end, and until that changes, it appears increasingly likely that Provorov’s drop-off will only worsen.