For Joel Farabee, expectations were admittedly high coming into the 2021-22 season. After all, his sophomore season proved to be a minor breakout for him – he finished the covid-shortened 2020-21 season by leading the Flyers with 20 goals, the second youngest player in franchise history to pull off such a feat. He was also one of the few of the younger players (which I tend to define as anyone under 25) to not backslide in his performance that season. It all pointed towards a sign that perhaps Farabee was going to be the real deal, that maybe he’d be the second face of this team’s future (with Carter Hart being the face, naturally).
Instead, Farabee’s scoring pace took a dip. There were times during the ‘21-22 season where his scoring dried up completely, he faced multiple shoulder injuries that kept him off the ice, and then there was the brief period of time after trading Claude Giroux where the team thought, “What if Farabee can play center?” His season was a bit of a roller coaster.
In 63 games played this season, Farabee put up 17 goals and 17 assists for a total of 34 points. While it was only a four-point drop from the ‘20-21 season, he had only played 55 games that previous season. So, in terms of points per game, Farabee went from a rate of .69 points per game to a rate of .54 points. That’s a much more drastic drop than what the actual totals would suggest.
When looking into more advanced stats (courtesy of Natural Stat Trick), Farabee’s Expected Goals percentage (xG%) took a dip this season, coming down to 47.10%. However, his raw shot percentage (S%) stayed around the same as it was in the ‘20-21 season: 17.50% this year, only a .08% dip from the prior year. However, Farabee overall shot the puck less this season: 80 shots compared to 91 shots in ‘20-21. Additionally, a drop in expected goals means a drop in the quality of shots. After all, Expected Goals is a stat that tries to measure just how likely it is for player’s shots to translate into goals. Not all shots are created equal. Shooting with less overall frequency and with less quality is of course going to create an impact on how successfully a player can score.
Additionally, Farabee’s Corsi-For percentage (CF%) was 45.80%, the lowest this stat has been in all three seasons he’s played in the NHL. This means Farabee was being outshot more often when he was on the ice. While this stat works as another indicator of his dip in offensive production, it can also reflect defensive ability. After all, being outshot also means letting the opponent generate more shots than you.
Did he live up to expectations?
I got into this already in my introduction, but no. To be fair, not many Flyers did. This season was abysmal all around. We know this. While it’s not an excuse, it certainly does influence the way his season fully played out. It’s hard to play at your best and to take new leaps in your game when the entire team is crumbling around you. Shout all you want about “toughness” and how the best players should be able to endure through anything, but how do you perform at your job when everything that could go wrong does go wrong in a short span of time?
That said, it was still a letdown of a season. There’s no escaping that. Point production going down after a season that indicated he was going to breakout further is never a good thing. Sure, it’s rare for a player to constantly improve year after year, but this was a key season in determining whether Farabee is just “good” or if he could be “great” or possibly “star” level. As it stands, there are now portions of the fanbase who question whether Farabee is about to be another fool’s gold prospect (even though he has far shed that prospect label by now) – another player sold to us as part of Ron Hextall’s master drafting plan that has turned out to be less than advertised.
What can we expect from next season?
First off, Farabee underwent disc replacement surgery with a recovery timeline of three to four months. That immediately affects how his off-season training is currently going, and it is going to have ripple effects in terms of how much involvement he has during training camp. He might not even play the first game of the season. That already presents a large hurdle for Farabee to jump through in his mission to improve for this upcoming year. The start of the season might be slow for him, and it would be unfair to criticize any lackluster performance too soon with him.
However, I honestly think expectations for Farabee will primarily hinge on how John Tortorella approaches coaching this forward group. After all, Tortorella is known for wanting to implement a highly disciplined defensive approach. When it comes to coaching players like Farabee, this is where things can get tricky. While Farabee isn’t as much of an “all offense, no defense” player as, say, Patrik Laine, his skill does lie primarily in his ability to shoot the puck. It becomes a question then of how to drill more defensive responsibility into a player without fully sacrificing raw offensive talent – and it doesn’t always work.
I’m not concerned that Farabee is going to continue regressing and become a bad hockey player. His hockey IQ is too sharp for that (even if he does like to throw pucks up in the air to purposely hit his head). I fully believe Farabee has the potential to bounce back from this. And if you don’t believe me in having this faith in him, maybe recall that some of Claude Giroux’s parting words for the team were that Farabee would break all his records.
It’s mostly a question of what Tortorella’s system is going to ask of Farabee. How is he going to be implemented in this system, and will it compliment and build upon his skillset, or will it work against him? Will Farabee regain his scoring touch while improving upon his defensive metrics, or will an increased focus on defensive responsibility prove to hinder his instincts in shooting the puck?
This is mostly just an excuse for me to post Farabee’s game-winning goal on March 17. I feel like I would be remiss to not talk about it. Even throughout the ups and downs of his season, when I think about Joel Farabee, I am forever going to think about this goal. If it had been any other game of the season, the Flyers would have rolled over and let the Nashville Predators win. Not this game, though. Not when it was likely the last time Giroux would ever play as their captain. Especially when the team had made the choice to keep Giroux glued to the bench by the end of the game.
For one brief, shining moment, Flyers fans were able to remember what it was like for this team to have fight in them. It was Farabee who tapped it home. He delivered in the moment that probably mattered most this season.
This is the player I hope Farabee gets to be more often.