Going back throughout the team’s history, no other organization has as tight of a bond to their bottom six forwards as the Philadelphia Flyers.
Peter Zezel, Ken Linseman, Dave Poulin, Sami Kapanen, all 250 enforcers in the team’s history; there is a long tradition of Flyer teams having players lower down in the lineup that can contribute in many different ways, whether it be with a scoring touch, defense and penalty kill work, or violence.
There are many different types of bottom six players, but what teams value out of their depth options has changed significantly. There was a time where a team’s 4th line would be reserved almost exclusively for fighters or physically imposing players. That time is no longer… unless you’re the Flyers, then you still live in 2004 and those guidelines still apply to the fourth line.
I know what you’re thinking,
“Oh but you said they have the best bottom six in the league. I was expecting 500 words minimum on Patrick Brown, I am calling my lawyer.”
Well before you do all that let me explain.
No, the current Flyers bottom six as constructed is not the best in the NHL, in fact it may not even be good at all. The fourth line the Flyers have deployed most often this year has been a trio of Zack MacEwen, Patrick Brown, and Nic Deslauriers, and without even looking at the numbers, if you know those names you know what they’ll provide. Those three guys dump and chase, bang and crash, and generally create a violent nuisance.
The Flyers third line has consisted mostly of Kevin Hayes, Scott Laughton, and Wade Allison, once Allison was back from injury. In the 13 games they’ve played together, that line has looked quite effective since the calendar turned, and the Flyers have improved in that time too. The combination of Hayes-Laughton-Allison has the best expected goal percentage of any Flyers trio that has played more than 60 minutes together. It remains to be seen if this line remains together; it was only formed due to Hayes falling down the lineup after landing in Coach Tortorella’s doghouse, but there is potential, despite Hayes’ contract sticking out like a sore thumb in the bottom six.
But regardless of just how good those three look, or even how good the fourth line might look on certain nights, it is obvious that the top talent on the Flyers doesn’t matchup against the elite teams in the NHL. That forces players who really should be lower on the depth chart further up, and that has long been an issue for the Flyers: having to play decent NHLers way above their level.
Looking at the top 6, besides Travis Konecny who would be a legit star on any team at the moment, and maybe James Van Riemsdyk who just simply fits better as a higher in the lineup guy, you see a group of almost perfect third and fourth line players in today’s NHL.
Joel Farabee, for example, is an abrasive scoring threat who can fit in fine with players both above and below his skill level. His flexibility throughout the lineup is a key for modern roster construction, especially since most competing teams now are perpetually pressed against the salary cap ceiling.
Noah Cates and Morgan Frost would both fit perfectly as bottom six centers, but have also shown an ability to play on the wing if needed. Cates in particular has a bit of the Scott Laughton gene in him, and if Tortorella wanted to ever get away from the Deslauriers/Brown combination on the second penalty kill unit, Cates would more than likely do a quality job. Frost has more raw offensive talent, both in playmaking and his underrated shot, but he has also looked more comfortable defensively in his first full NHL stint.
Owen Tippett was really the the player that inspired this thought process, though. Imagine his heavy shot, physical presence, and energetic forechecking in a role where he was able to empty the tank on every shift. He has quietly increased his role game-after- game with his impressive play, to the point that he now sits on the first line as well as the first power play unit, which has led him to be second in total goals and third in power play goals on the Flyers roster.
With this in mind, I have put together what I think is, one of the best young bottom sixes in hockey today, built solely from players already on the Flyers roster. No Kevin Hayes on this one, simply because successful teams don’t typically have a 7 million dollar player in their bottom six, and I wanted to keep this a younger list. the oldest player here is Scott Laughton at 28.
NEW LINE 3
LW: Joel Farabee C: Morgan Frost RW: Owen Tippett
NEW LINE 4
LW: Noah Cates C: Scott Laughton RW: Wade Allison
EXTRA FORWARD: Zack MacEwen