In yesterday’s story, we took a look at the drafts and key acquisitions of teams exiting their rebuild. Today, in part two, we look at what kind of future all these teams have and a hypothetical rebuild timeline for the Flyers.
It’s easy to get bogged down in the doom and gloom of the Flyers franchise’s current state: wasted draft capital, no all-star talent, bad contracts, and a senior advisory board that doesn’t know how to make a hockey team in the modern NHL.
I won’t lie to you, things are bleak for the Flyers—but only right now. A lot can change over the next five years, and the trajectories of the New Jersey Devils, Ottawa Senators and Detroit Red Wings may provide some—dare I say it—hope.
New Jersey Devils
The future for New Jersey is not just bright, but blinding. Their most difficult hurdle is going to be this summer, as they have a number of contracts up for renewal and a few raises to give out—Jesper Bratt and Timo Meier chief among them. This shouldn’t be an issue though: with Simon Nemec and Luke Hughes likely joining the big club next season, it makes a few of the depth defensemen on expiring contracts redundant, freeing up over $7 million in cap space. A handful of pending UFA forwards—like Erik Haula and Tomas Tatar—frees up an additional $7 million.
Scariest of all? The Devils’ high-end players are locked up for years: Jack Hughes (2030), Nico Hischier (2027), and Dougie Hamilton (2028) won’t be going anywhere, and their hotshot prospects will be on team-friendly ELCs. The Devils are a year ahead of schedule, yet they sit alongside the slipping Carolina Hurricanes in a tie for the top spot in the Metropolitan Division. It’s not a question of if the Devils will be the next juggernaut of the Eastern Conference, it’s when—and for how long.
Everybody was flying high after Hot Dorion Summer, but a slow start and injury to Josh Norris derailed the Sens’ season before it had a chance to get off the ground. The playoffs this year were always a longshot, but they’ve set themselves up well for future success: Chychrun shores up an otherwise leaky defense on a team-friendly contract for two more years, and their core players continue to improve and are locked up long term.
The team’s biggest weakness is going to be goaltending and defense. Cam Talbot’s been all right, but he’s a 35 year old pending UFA; Anton Forsberg is 30 and injured; and their young goaltenders might not be NHL-ready. Expect to see a goaltending move this summer, and maybe the addition of one or two solid, two-way depth players. The pieces are in place, Ottawa just needs to capitalize—and not get absolutely caved in on defense.
Detroit Red Wings
Being sellers at the trade deadline, again, was rough for the Red Wings—for fans and players alike. When will the rebuild end? Patience has been the gameplan from Day One, however, and the Red Wings have the bones of a contender in place. Last summer’s acquisitions signaled the next phase of the rebuild and a shift towards contention. The Red Wings missed this year, but that’s fine: Seider and Raymond had another year to develop, and the draft picks they got for Hronek and Bertuzzi can be flipped for roster players. Much like the Sens, the Red Wings can take advantage of a shifting Eastern Conference and make a serious playoff push. Their future is still bright, and Steve Yzerman’s work as GM should retain fan’s trust—for now.
It’s a rebuild, folks—and finally someone isn’t afraid to say it. The past two seasons have been bad, and it’s likely going to get worse before it gets better. And that’s okay! Pain with a purpose is fine! Now we have to ask a few questions: what point in a rebuild are the Flyers at, and which of these three teams are they most likely to emulate? Which path would be preferable?
Yesterday I said that the Flyers are in Year Negative-1 of a rebuild, despite having a top five draft pick in the 2022 draft. I stand by that: they hired a win-now coach in John Tortorella, traded three draft picks for Tony DeAngelo, spent to the cap ceiling, signed Travis Sanheim to an eight year contract, and kept trying to sell playoff hopes at the end of a 10-game losing streak. Desperate, delusional moves by a team that thought they were a contender, when they were really just a pretender.
As for which team they’re most likely to mirror, I’m guessing the Red Wings: not bad enough (or lucky enough) to draft in the top five consistently, but even-keeled enough to get the job done—not every team has the lottery luck of the New Jersey Devils.
That said, there is a chance things go better than we’re expecting. Facing facts now is better late than never, and the Flyers do have a path back to contention. Let’s try breaking things down year-by-year over the next five years, and take a stab at what a potential Flyers roster might look like in 2028.
Year Negative-1: 2022-23
There’s little of the season left, and not much to play for besides a better lottery ticket—which means a lot of losing. That’s not out of the realm of possibility, as the Flyers have the fifth worst record in the NHL at time of writing. A few more regulation losses and the Flyers may find themselves guaranteed a top five draft pick once again.
Leading up to the 2023 draft, however, is where newly-named Interim General Manager Danny Briere has his first test: can he acquire immediate draft capital for players on the current roster? He has said that this will not be a “fire sale” rebuild, a la the Chicago Blackhawks, and that is the right call: Chicago made the moves they did because Connor Bedard is in this draft; the 2024 and 2025 drafts, at the moment, do not have that sort of generational talent. Stripping the team for whatever you can get in a single teardown is poor asset management of its own, on the opposite side of the “three picks for TDA” spectrum. If a fire sale rebuild was ever on the table, the 2022-23 season would’ve been the time.
The only players Briere must move are Kevin Hayes and Ivan Provorov. Hayes does not fit the timeline and is at odds with the head coach; his contract is way too high but, with any sort of retention, he becomes a budget 2/3C option for a contender—the amount retained will determine the return. Provorov desperately needs a change of scenery and is signed to a decent contract for a couple more years; his stock is low, but there are certainly some in the league who’ve seen what he can do and are willing to take that chance. Trades of those two are likely a foregone conclusion at this point, it’s just a question of whether or not they’ll happen before the draft or after.
The real litmus tests for how far the Flyers are willing to go are Travis Konecny and Carter Hart. TK has had a career season, and Hart continues to be a very good starting goaltender whose stats are dragged down by the team in front of him. Goalies don’t usually net a big return, but Hart’s talent and age (24, and been in the NHL forever) is enticing; goalies like him hitting the market is a bit unprecedented. TK is on a team friendly contract for two more years, is able to put up points, and plays with an edge—contenders love that and, if Tampa’s payment for Tanner Jeannot sets the bar, TK could bring back a haul.
But now we come back to the “no fire sale” aspect: does that protect TK and Hart? If Year 5 of the rebuild—and a presumed return to contention—is 2028, then they should not be safe. Add five years to the age of any player regularly on the roster, and suddenly your youngest player is Cam York at 27, Joel Farabee and Morgan Frost at 28, and Owen Tippett, Noah Cates, and Carter Hart at 29. Everyone else? Thirty-plus.
That’s a grim picture, and means the team should sell high on current players when they get the opportunity—and now is the time for TK and Hart. All the rest? Trading them now versus some point in the next five years makes only a marginal difference; with no generational talent projected in the next few drafts, there’s no reason to force the team to bottom out. As long as they don’t get too attached to certain players and hand out bloated contracts, a gradual sell off is fine.
For players that appear to be long term pieces, management needs to get them on 7-8 year, cost controlled contracts. If I’m GM, I’m signing Owen Tippett to an eight year, $4(ish) million AAV contract as soon as possible—aggressively locking up pieces to long term, team friendly contracts will prove essential when the team’s contending again. Handing out “raises” every three or four years will put the Flyers in cap hell just when they’re coming out of the rebuild, and overpaying for the next three years is better than overpaying later. The same goes for Noah Cates, Cam York, Cutter Gauthier, and any other prospect that looks like an essential piece of the next great Flyers team.
As my uncle always tells me, “the future is inherently unknowable,” so from here on out, everything is pure conjecture and speculation. I’m going to try to walk the line between “a little luck, a little intelligent planning, and a little the Flyers do baffling things,” but let me know in the comments where you see the team in five years!
Year Zero: 2023-24
The Flyers will have a top ten pick in the loaded 2023 draft, potentially a top five if things break their way. The top ten are forward heavy, most of them centers, but Matvei Michkov is a game breaking winger that might fall because of a) his KHL contract through 2026 and b) the risk he doesn’t come over at all. If he falls to the Flyers, they should take him immediately as a big swing, but more likely is they take the best center available. If Briere gets another first round pick it’ll be a shock, so I won’t account for it here, but reacquiring a second round pick or two would be good work all the same.
The actual season of hockey? That’s a bit more interesting. Depending on who is (or isn’t) on the roster next season, the Flyers could have another year similar to this one, or be significantly worse. Sean Couturier and Cam Atkinson likely improve the roster, but if Konecny, Hart, Provorov, and Hayes are all gone, the result is likely a net negative in the standings. Several young players will be up for new contracts at the end of the 2023-24 season as well, chiefly Owen Tippet, Carter Hart and Sam Ersson.
Year One: 2024-25
The 2024 draft is the one the Flyers have to absolutely nail. They likely wind up with another top ten pick of their own, they have Florida’s first, and this is probably the draft with most of the picks Briere acquires in trades. That Florida first is intriguing: it’s top ten protected, and the Panthers have been bad in 2022-23. They might also not be good in 2023-24. At worst, the Panthers rebound and it turns into a late first; at best, the pick is #11; at weirdest, they retain their top ten rights, are bad again in 2024-25, and the Flyers get a top ten pick in the 2025 draft. Wouldn’t that be silly!
I’ll go with the most likely scenario: the Flyers draft at least twice, maybe three times in 2024. Early scouting reports make it look heavy on defenseman, which is good because the Flyers desperately need them. If those scouting reports hold up, and the Flyers have three picks, expect two defensemen and a winger.
The 2024-25 hockey season likely mirrors the 2023-24 season, where the team overperforms under Torts but they lack the talent to win, but get some good development out of their young players. If they haven’t been moved, this is the last season for Cam Atkinson and Travis Konecny. Assume another top ten pick in the 2025 draft.
Year Two: 2025-26
Now it’s getting dicey as far as predictions go. The 2025 draft is so far out that it’s difficult to judge what kinds of players to expect, so let’s just say they draft a forward who can play both wing and center.
This is the last year Torts would be head coach of the team, and it’s the last season for a couple aging players, namely Scott Laughton and Nic Deslauriers. With at least four top ten picks in the fold (Cutter Gauthier, 2023 pick, 2024 pick, 2025 pick) and two more firsts (Florida’s 2024, any other team’s 202X), this season of hockey could get interesting: the Flyers either turn the corner, or demonstrate a continued need to develop.
Year Three: 2026-27
The 2026 draft could be the first in several years that the Flyers aren’t drafting in the top ten, and at this point the pick is anyone who fills a niche, or a great opportunity to take a big swing. Let’s assume another forward, probably a winger.
I have no idea what to expect for the 2026-27 season of hockey. Probably a new coach, and the final year of Ryan Ellis and Rasmus Ristolainen’s contracts. Maybe a bubble playoff push, but unlikely. Probably drafting in the early teens, but still maybe the top ten in 2027.
Year Four: 2027-28
Now things get interesting. Depending on the previous season, do the Flyers keep their draft pick, or flip it, similar to Ottawa flipping theirs for DeBrincat? That’ll depend on the strength of the draft and how their previous season went, but this could be the start of a transitionary period, adding talent from outside the organization through various roster moves. I’m gonna say they draft a defenseman though, just to be safe.
Total coin toss of a hockey season. Either they squeak into the wildcard or head back to the lottery which, either way, is fine—as long as they’re showing progress. This is the last year of Joel Farabee’s contract.
Year Five: 2028-29
It’s go time. No draft pick in 2028, because there’s a good chance they flip it for talent to fill any niche on the roster. Speaking of the roster...what might that look like? For this experiment I’m going with a) players already under contract through 2029 and b) players I imagine will re-sign and be here through 2029.
2024 1st Winger - 2023 1st Center - 2026 1st Winger
2025 1st Winger - Cutter Gauthier - Owen Tippett
Noah Cates - Sean Couturier - Bobby Brink
(Scott Laughton) - Tyson Foerster - Olle Lycksell
Other possibilities: Joel Farabee stays; Flyers develop late round picks into roster players; Gauthier moves to wing and the Flyers get another center; a series of trades brings in other talent. I included Scott Laughton because he’s such a glue guy that he might stay a few more years, but he’ll be 33 at this point and with a history of concussions, stepping back isn’t out of the question—sub in your favorite fourth liner for him or Lycksell.
Cam York - 2024 1st Defenseman
Travis Sanheim - 2024 1st Defenseman
Emil Andrae - Ronnie Attard
Other possibilities: Sanheim gets moved once his NTC expires; trades bring in defensive prospects; someone else in the system steps up.
Sam Ersson - ?????
Five years is a long time to find another talented goalie, and the Flyers appear decent at drafting goaltenders (wish you were here, Ivan Fedotov). Ersson could be a starter, but I wouldn’t count out another solid goalie joining the system.
Obviously, this roster experiment assumes every first round pick turns into an NHL player, and none of the deeper picks do. Both situations seem unlikely because, surprisingly, the Flyers have been decent at spotting talent in deeper draft picks: Bobby Brink, Ronnie Attard, Tyson Foerster, Elliot Desnoyers, and Emil Andrae all project to be useful pieces on a contender.
The biggest problem in the organization has been internal player development. Every one of the Flyers’ brightest prospects started their development outside the system: Brink, Attard, Cam York, Noah Cates and Cutter Gauthier all started in college; Andrae is in the SHL; if you want to count Tippett, he started in Florida.
That is an organizational failure, and a shake up of the Phantoms should be a top priority for the front office. If management is going to take swings on high upside players, they need a development system that encourages those players’ skills. Danny Briere—an extremely skilled player who was undervalued because of his size—may be one of the best advocates for this approach to draft and development.
There are a number of ways the future of the Flyers could play out, and everything at this point is guessing—but that’s the fun of it, isn’t? It’s okay to be excited! It’s okay to make wild predictions! The short term may be bleak, but at least we have something we didn’t at this time last week: a front office that recognizes the need for a rebuild, and the promise of restructuring throughout the organization. How far they take the concept of a rebuild—and whether they can execute it well enough to bring the Flyers back to contention— remains to be seen, but for the first time in years we have a reason to be hopeful.