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Columbus Blue Jackets v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images

Three key factors in the Flyers’ path to contention in 2022-23

What has to happen in order for the Flyers to compete in a crowded Metropolitan Division and even more crowded Eastern Conference.

When Philadelphia Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher ushered the phrase “aggressive retool” into the ether a few months ago fans and pundits alike were more or less expecting for, well, some offseason fireworks.

Now that the dust has settled and Fletcher’s “aggressive retool” amounted to acquiring defenseman Anthony DeAngelo, signing forward Nic Deslauriers, and re-signing Justin Braun — in addition to watching (hoping) key bodies like Sean Couturier, Kevin Hayes, and Ryan Ellis return to full health.

With actually zero cap space — apart from long-term injury relief likely incoming in at least the case of Farabee and potentially Ellis — the Flyers’ offseason is essentially complete and the page turns to 2022-23.

While many — this site included — have openly mocked Fletcher and the Flyers’ organization for offseason moves that have either not moved the needle or been entirely puzzling, this team will still play hockey this season and it’s time to look at the glass half full instead of half empty and look at how the 2022-23 club becomes a contender instead of a basement dweller.

The John Tortorella Factor

Say what you want about handing Deslauriers four years and a limited no-trade clause, but Tortorella is one of the best bench bosses the league has ever seen. The veteran coach has enjoyed success just about everywhere he’s been save for a very strange one year stint with the Vancouver Canucks and has made the playoffs in all but five of his 20 full seasons behind the bench.

How many points in the standings is a top-tier coach worth? Five, 10, 15 points? Take the Columbus Blue Jackets, who enjoyed four playoff berths in six seasons with Tortorella despite a lack of depth behind stars like Artemi Panarin, Cam Atkinson, Zach Werenski, and Seth Jones and a revolving door due to player retention issues.

Despite losing Panarin to free agency, Tortorella had the Blue Jackets back in the playoffs a year later icing a roster than didn’t boast a 50-point scorer and instead relied on team defense approach that also helped them overcome the loss of two-time Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky two seasons prior.

Even with some top-end talent on those Columbus teams, they also had no business making the playoffs consistently in a constantly crowded Eastern Conference.

Tortorella is likely the largest reason why the Flyers won’t find themselves in the Connor Bedard sweepstakes because he’s just too good of a coach — unless he quits by Thanksgiving of course.

Health

Arizona Coyotes v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images

The Flyers have dealt with some truly awful injury luck in recent seasons, and the combined losses of Hayes, Ellis, and Couturier absolutely nuked the 2021-22 campaign.

In retrospect Fletcher’s aggressive retool comment was really just a placeholder for the simple fact that he believes that fully healthy the Flyers are good enough to contend for a Stanley Cup playoff berth.

Problem is that you can’t just assume health, and especially the health of players in their 30’s who have now all had either multiple surgeries in the cases of Ellis and Hayes or a back injury (Couturier) or a neck injury (Farabee).

That said, Hayes returned and looked like his former self — 22 points in 28 games — after returning in March and Couturier’s return from his back injury is going according to plan thus far. Even if Ellis can’t play the return of No. 14 and No. 13 would give the Flyers a formidable 1-2 punch down the middle of the ice with proven ability.

Losing Farabee hurts, and the Flyers are one shot block to Atkinson away from having some serious scoring issues, but outside of Ellis a healthy roster on paper combined with Torts’ presence likely nudges the club closer to the playoffs than winning the NHL Draft Lottery.

The Carter Hart Leap

Pittsburgh Penguins v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Does 2019-20 seem like forever ago or what? Hart’s breakout season included a .914 saver percentage in 43 regular season games and a sparkling .926 in 14 postseason starts.

Since then Hart has crashed down to Earth playing behind a Flyers team that has finished 27th and 29th overall in goals allowed the last two seasons. Team defense has been a major culprit as has a leaky penalty kill that finished 26th last season and 30th in 2020-21.

Last year Hart faced the 17th most High Danger chances of any goaltender playing more than 50 games per NaturalStatTrick at 5-on-5, and surrendered five shorthanded goals as the Flyers allowed 11 overall good for third highest in the league.

Hart has suffered behind one of the worst defensive teams in hockey the past two years but will surely benefit from Torts’ system that helped produce another Vezina for Mr. Bobrovsky. Tortorella turned the Blue Jackets from the NHL’s second worst team in goals allowed in 2015-16 to the NHL’s second-best goal prevention team a year later — then finishing 9th, 11th and 3rd in the seasons following.

Tortorella’s demanding system generates results defensively and has greatly reduced stress and strain on goaltenders before with stars like Bobrovsky and Henrik Lundqvist thriving while unknowns like Elvis Merzlikins and Joonas Korpisalo enjoying success as well.

The 23-year-old Hart falls somewhere between those names above, but has shown the ability to be a bona-fide NHL No. 1 netminder before and has the potential to bounce back in a big way with Torts’ help in 2022-23.


Statistics courtesy of Hockey Reference, NHL, ESPN, and NaturalStatTrick unless otherwise noted.

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