The 2021-22 Philadelphia Flyers were a godawful hockey team for a myriad of reasons, but perhaps the most glaring was that you could count on one hand how many players played at or exceeded expectations.
There was Travis Sanheim and Cam Atkinson and…well that’s it — that’s the list.
If the Flyers aren’t going to be a total embarrassment in 2022-23 it’ll be thanks to having more than two players capable of performing. The names down below are poised to bounce back after disappointing seasons that helped sink the Flyers’ hopes a year ago and a stat that needs to change in order for it to happen.
Carter Hart (-13 goals saved above average on penalty kill last two seasons)
Listen you could probably take your pick with a stat for Hart here because frankly most of them have been bad the past two years: 5-on-5 save percentage, penalty kill save percentage, goals-against average, and average goal distance have all been in the back half in terms of ranks among league netminders.
And there’s a bunch of reasons why the Flyers have continued to have penalty killing numbers towards the bottom of the league, but big one has been that Hart just hasn’t been able to stop a beach ball.
Though the Flyers haven’t finished better than 11th in team penalty killing in the last five seasons, Hart has been the worst goalie a man down in the past two seasons and simply has to improve. Enter veteran bench boss John Tortorella, who is demanding of his teams’ penalty kill units and attention to detail in the defensive zone overall.
If nothing else this season, the Flyers will play more defensive hockey that will lend Hart to bouncing back from another disappointing season. We’re going with specifically improved play from Hart on the penalty kill because when you’re the worst in the league (minimum of at least 100 minutes), there’s only up to go.
James van Riemsdyk (96.7 PDO at even strength in 2021-22)
There’s no doubt that we never really expected to see JVR back this season after Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher very publicly — and unsuccessfully — tried to move the veteran winger and his contract to free up cap space for free agent Johnny Gaudreau among other things.
But here we are and JVR is back for another run in Philadelphia, and despite 24 goals the former No. 2 overall pick is in the bounce back category after enduring a season with rotten linemates and even more rotten puck luck.
PDO combines even strength shooting percentage and save percentage and JVR’s mark was one of the lowest among lineup regulars Flyers a season ago with only outliers like the well-done Keith Yandle and the equally cooked Nate Thompson. Though his two-way game has slipped a touch — not that he was ever winning a Selke Trophy anyways — there’s no way that JVR belongs among those names even into his age-33 season.
It was less JVR’s shooting percentage that did him in rather than porous goaltending to produce a a PDO well below average in 2021-22. As we noted earlier, like under John Tortorella should tighten things up for the Flyers defensively and save percentages should tick up across the board no matter who is in goal.
Not only that, but the Flyers certainly don’t appear to be very good on paper with Sean Couturier on the injured list to start the season and things could turn bad fast even with the Torts factor. That could very well mean that JVR sees some showcase time ahead of the trade deadline as the Flyers could attempt to boost his value and entice a contender to take on the proven veteran goal scorer for some type of future asset.
Kevin Hayes (7.9% shooting percentage in 2021-22)
A career 12% shooter, Hayes’ shooting percentage was by far the worst mark of his eight years in the NHL last season. The dip coincided with a drop in goal scoring for the veteran, who scored at the second lowest clip of his career (.21 goals per game).
While Hayes provided the second-best point production rate (.65 points per game) of his career, the Flyers are certainly counting on — and expecting — somewhere in the range of 20 goals given the salary commitment, and the fact that Hayes will likely be logging 1C minutes for the bulk of 2022-23. Even slotting in below his career average with a 10% shooting percentage, the 30-year-old would have been well on pace to touch the 20-goal mark.
Hayes will also be afforded quality time with Cam Atkinson and Joel Farabee once he returns from injury, which should setup the center for more chances to light the lamp and improve upon that career-worst shooting percentage.