Expectations for this year’s Philadelphia Flyers team are extraordinarily low. And they should be. The Flyers finished the 2021-22 campaign with just 61 points — good for fourth-fewest in the NHL. The only team with fewer wins than the Flyers last season was the Montreal Canadiens, who were historically terrible with just 22 wins on the year.
As bad as the Flyers were last season, there remains the possibility that the team may have gotten even worse over the summer. The team failed to acquire players with high-end talent in the offseason, and the players they did bring in come with significant flaws. And on top of that, Claude Giroux is no longer around to provide legitimate star power to the top of the lineup.
However, as bleak as things currently appear, there is a chance this Flyers team could exceed expectations. Hockey is notorious for being completely incalculable at times, and if all the dominos fall just right, it’s possible the Flyers could be better than what many are expecting — though that wouldn’t exactly appease the “Blow it for Bedard” portion of the fan base.
In order for the Flyers to surpass their current expectations, though, they’ll need several things to pan out absolutely perfectly. And while anything going perfectly for the Flyers isn’t exactly realistic, especially given their horrible fortune the last couple years, it does provide a path to potential playoff contention.
Significantly better injury luck
Arguably nothing plagued the Flyers more last season than their injury luck — or lack thereof. Only one player on last year’s team appeared in all 82 games, and that player was James van Riemsdyk. Sean Couturier, Kevin Hayes and Joel Farabee — three of the Flyers’ top contributors — all missed significant chunks of time with various ailments, and the team was unable to make up for the lost production.
And, of course, there was the Ryan Ellis situation. Acquired from the Nashville Predators last summer, Ellis was expected to play a major role on the Flyers’ back end as their No. 1 defenseman alongside Ivan Provorov. But three games into the season, he missed nearly a month of action with what was labeled as a lower-body injury. And after returning for just one game in November, he ended up missing the remainder of the season with a “multilayered” injury in his pelvic region.
In April, Ellis expressed his desire to return to the Flyers’ lineup in time for the start of the regular season, but that desire seems more like a fantasy than a legitimate possibility at this stage. Flyers head coach John Tortorella admitted he’s doubtful Ellis will be healthy enough to suit up for the start of the campaign, and there’s growing concern that Ellis may not even play at all this season, though that isn’t quite definite.
Ellis isn’t the only player already dealing with a significant injury, either. Farabee could also miss the start of the regular season after undergoing disc replacement surgery in June. Farabee is only the third NHL player known to have undergone such a procedure — Jack Eichel and Tyler Johnson both had similar surgeries last season.
Before the beginning of training camp, the Flyers are already likely to be without two of their key contributors to start the season, and that certainly doesn’t seem like a great omen.
Young players take noticeable step forward
The Flyers may not have made a big splash in free agency this offseason, but that doesn’t mean one of their young players can’t take a significant step forward and deliver game-changing results.
It’s not exactly likely! But it’s not impossible.
One of those players is the aforementioned Farabee. It’s far from ideal that he’s likely to miss, at the very least, a large portion of training camp — especially when considering it’s the first training camp under Tortorella. But with three years of NHL experience now under his belt, perhaps this could be the year Farabee becomes a legitimate, consistent point producer. Despite being hampered by nagging shoulder injuries, the 22-year-old put together a respectable 17-goal, 34-point 2021-22 season. And, for what it’s worth, Giroux told former Flyers interim head coach Mike Yeo that he believes Farabee could break his franchise scoring records one day. So there’s that.
Aside from Farabee, 21-year-old defenseman Cam York is also hoping to take a sizable step forward in production. York dressed in 30 games for the Flyers last season, logging 10 points (three goals, seven assists) in those appearances. While it may not be realistic to expect York to put together a Norris-like campaign, it’s more than practical to foresee improved scoring totals and upgraded play in the defensive zone, where York could still use some refinement.
And, of course, there’s also Owen Tippett. Acquired from the Florida Panthers in the Giroux trade, Tippett showed some promising flashes in his 21 games as a Flyer. While he only managed seven points (four goals, three assists) over that span, he posted respectable 5-on-5 play-driving numbers, including a 50.31 Corsi For percentage and a 53.62 Goals For percentage. He even ranked second on the team with 3.03 Expected Goals For per 60 (per Natural Stat Trick).
Farabee, York and Tippett (and maybe even Morgan Frost) all taking significant steps forward in their development may not be enough to completely offset the Flyers’ current deficiencies, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt.
As nice as it would be to see Farabee, York and Tippett develop into impact players, it would be even nicer to see some of the Flyers’ veterans bounce back after having disappointing and/or injury-marred campaigns.
For one, the return of Couturier should provide a colossal boost to the first line. Couturier underwent back surgery in February and ended up missing the majority of last season, which certainly didn’t do the Flyers any favors. But in his media availability on Monday, he asserted he is “feeling good and ready to go,” and has officially been cleared for action.
“I want to prove that I’m healthy again and I can be back to the player I was. Maybe even better,” said Couturier.
A James van Riemsdyk resurgence would also do wonders. Many weren’t expecting the 33-year-old and his $7 million cap hit to be back this season. But he is back. And while he did manage to lead the Flyers with 24 goals last season, his play still leaves much to be desired — especially when it comes to his play away from the puck.
Travis Konecny remains a solid top-six scoring winger, but at 25 years old, has he hit his ceiling? Or is there more beneath the surface? Ivan Provorov takes on huge minutes on a nightly basis, but can he make more of an impact on the power play? And can he cut down on the ugly turnovers? Rasmus Ristolainen is highly respected in the locker room and brings a physical presence to the ice, but once upon a time, he was a consistent 40-point player on the back end. Are those days over?
There are a lot of question marks surrounding a lot of players on this Flyers roster, and if even a few of them manage to recover after last season’s dismal showing, there could be much brighter days ahead.
Carter Hart plays like a true No. 1 goalie
Goalies are voodoo. But they’re also arguably the most important players on a hockey team.
Carter Hart has shown enormous potential in the past, and he’ll need to be his very best this season if the Flyers plan to compete for a potential playoff spot.
Hart’s numbers from last season may not look pretty — he logged a 3.16 goals against average and .905 save percentage in 45 games. But given just how atrocious the Flyers were last season, there wasn’t exactly much the 24-year-old could do to singlehandedly rescue the season. This season, though, Hart should at least be put in a somewhat favorable position to succeed behind a more structured defense.
He also doesn’t really have much of a choice.
Aside from Hart, the only other goalies the Flyers have under contract are Felix Sandstrom, who has five total games of NHL experience, Troy Grosenick, who has four total games of NHL experience, and Samuel Ersson, who has never appeared in an NHL game. Ivan Fedotov, the Russian Olympic star who was expected to compete for the backup role behind Hart, has been sent to a remote military base in northern Russia and is unlikely to play for the Flyers this season (or perhaps even beyond).
The Flyers don’t have a realistic, long-term backup plan if Hart underperforms. And if he does end up struggling, barring a Herculean breakout from one of their inexperienced backup options, it’s hard to imagine the Flyers being able to rectify such a remarkable obstacle in the crease.
Tortorella coaches Flyers to contention
When Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher declared his plan to commence an “aggressive retool” in the offseason, many fans thought that meant the Flyers would be swinging for the fences and attempting to acquire any big-name free agent who hit the market (like Johnny Gaudreau, for example).
But in the end, the Flyers never landed a big-name player. Instead, they landed a big-name head coach.
John Tortorella is one of the most respected head coaches in recent NHL history. He’s pretty much done it all, from winning the Stanley Cup and two Jack Adams Awards to coaching underperforming clubs to playoff berths.
The latter is his mission for the Flyers.
But in order to do that, his first order of business is to repair the Flyers’ culture. Tortorella admitted he has “major concerns” with the current state of the locker room, and the Flyers won’t be able to accomplish anything until those concerns are mended.
“Before we even step onto the ice, situations and standards and accountability in the room is forefront,” Tortorella said on Sirius XM NHL Network Radio last week. “You can’t get squat done on the ice until you get your room straightened out, and I think we have a little bit of work to do there.”
But even with a healthy culture, the Flyers — on paper — still lack the high-end talent necessary to realistically embark on a playoff run. Would the addition of Tortorella alone be enough to get the Flyers over the hump?
He’s done it before. During Tortorella’s six-year tenure with the Columbus Blue Jackets, he managed to guide the fine-but-not-exceptional club to four consecutive postseason appearances. The most infamous, of course, was the Blue Jackets’ appearance in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, where they swept a historically dominant Tampa Bay Lightning squad in the first round.
Does this mean the Flyers are going to shock the world and suddenly become one of the top teams in hockey? Probably not. But with Tortorella at the helm, the Flyers at least have a chance to improve drastically, and quickly.