The 2021-22 NHL season is coming and it’s time to take a look at all 32 teams. We’ll examine best- and worst-case scenarios, looking at the biggest questions, breakout candidates, and more for each franchise. Today, we preview the Philadelphia Flyers.
2020-21 Season Review
• Record: 25-23-8 (58 points); sixth place in East Division
• Postseason: Missed playoffs, moved first-rounder in Rasmus Ristolainen trade.
• Offensive leaders: Claude Giroux (16 goals, 27 assists), James van Riemsdyk (17 goals, 26 assists), and Jakub Voracek (nine goals, 34 assists), all at 43 points.
• Free Agent Additions: Ryan Ellis (trade from Predators), Rasmus Ristolainen (trade from Sabres), Cam Atkinson (trade from Blue Jackets), Martin Jones, Keith Yandle, Nate Thompson, Derick Brassard, Adam Clendening.
• Free Agent Subtractions: Jakub Voracek (trade to Blue Jackets), Nolan Patrick (traded, eventually ended up with Golden Knights), Shayne Gostisbehere (trade to Coyotes), Philippe Myers (trade to Predators), Robert Hagg (traded to Sabres), Brian Elliott (Lightning), Carsen Twarynski (Kraken expansion draft).
Biggest question for Flyers
• Will goaltending derail all the changes?
Glance up at the additions and subtractions above, and you risk becoming dizzy from all of the movement.
If nothing else, you can’t accuse Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher of sitting idly by after a disappointing season. Instead, the Flyers are a very different team in 2021-22.
Will they be better in a way that truly matters? To an extent, that hinges on some of those changes. Was a tough season all about injuries for Ryan Ellis, or could his decline be more permanent (and rapid)? Are the Flyers right (and the charts are wrong) about Ristolainen?
Either way, it’s fascinating, and it harkens back to the Paul Holmgren era.
But, for all of the changes the Flyers made, they’re still primed to sink or swim with Carter Hart.
[PHT’s offseason trade tracker]
By most advanced metrics, the Flyers were a respectable team last season. They weren’t really showing signs of being a juggernaut, but a brief playoff appearance wouldn’t have been out of order. Unfortunately, they suffered from the worst goaltending in the NHL.
Hart’s Goals Saved Above Average (-22.57) was by far the worst in the NHL last season. Second worst? Well, that would be his now-former creasemate Brian Elliott (-14.01).
You don’t need to scroll far at Hockey Reference to see Elliott’s replacement. With a -11.71 GSAA, Martin Jones ranked fifth-worst in the NHL last season.
With Hart, the Flyers can hope that he merely puts last season behind him, and regains his form in 2021-22. A rebound isn’t out of the realm of realism.
Still, between Jones and Hart, there’s a lot of wishful thinking. The Flyers must be thinking “Carter Hart can’t be this bad again in 2021-22.” In the case of Jones, they have to hope that Jones wasn’t this bad — it was just about the Sharks.
Goalies are unpredictable, so who knows? But Martin Jones has been wallowing for years now. That ugly -11.71 GSAA is actually his highest mark from the last three seasons. With so much on the line, the 2021-22 Flyers might regret the dubious insurance policy they took out in net.
What’s the salary cap situation?
Would it be a bold Flyers offseason without spending to the salary cap? In that Holmgren spirit, it’s not clear if the Flyers will get what they’re paying for. But they’re not being shy about opening up that wallet.
Some moves look more promising than others.
It’s tough to blame the Flyers for signing Sean Couturier to a contract extension. In the early years of an extension that kicks in next season, Couturier should be well-worth that raise to $7.75 million.
And, for all of Carter Hart’s struggles, it’s not hard to understand the $4 million investment in the 23-year-old. (If it doesn’t work out, the contract expires after 2023-24. If it does, the Flyers retain RFA leverage.)
Joel Farabee could easily be a steal when his $5 million kicks in during the 2022-23 season. (That said, it seemed like Travis Konecny was a big steal. Then he ended up a fixture in Alain Vigneault’s doghouse.)
[PHT’s 2021 NHL Free Agent Tracker]
Plenty of GMs risk the future in hopes that long-term deals will pay off in the present. The Flyers have to hope that Chuck Fletcher’s big swings pay off where they didn’t make contact often enough with the Wild.
There are still some lingering decisions, however.
- Claude Giroux (33, $8.275M cap hit) enters a contract year. The Flyers are wisely taking a wait-and-see approach. Will they make the right call?
- Rasmus Ristolainen (26, $5.6M) also heads toward a pivotal contract year. Will the Flyers make the right call here if it’s clear he simply isn’t worth a big contract? If he turns things around, how much will he cost? Tricky stuff.
- With two years remaining at $7M, James van Riemsdyk’s future is also unclear.
Overall, the Flyers’ salary cap situation is a mix of good and bad. If there’s one undeniable thing, it’s that this isn’t a cheap operation. Don’t be surprised if patience dries up along with this team’s cap space.
Let’s assume that Joel Farabee’s already broken out. His advancement might sneak up on people, but not Flyers management. You don’t get a $5 million extension based on potential alone.
Where Farabee feels safe to the point of cheating, betting on a Morgan Frost breakout is a gamble.
That’s not meant to insult the player. Instead, there’s apprehension about what he’s gone through. A shoulder injury derailed a key developmental season for Frost. While there’s an opening with Kevin Hayes recovering from surgery, it may be tough for Frost to hit the ground running.
The talent’s there, whether Frost breaks out for the Flyers in 2021-22, or needs more time.
Best-Case Scenario for 2021-22 Flyers
Carter Hart enjoys a brilliant rebound, and Jones regains his confidence enough to be a solid backup. Those big changes translate into a dynamic defense. Vigneault pushes all the right buttons, including rekindling what was once a deadly power play. The Flyers make a legit push to win their division, and rank as a dangerous playoff opponent.
Worst-Case Scenario for 2021-22 Flyers
Hart and Jones are basically as porous as they were last season. The Flyers regret ignoring the red flags with Ristolainen. Injuries greatly limit Ellis, who was once borderline-elite. Remember those meltdowns against the Rangers? That happens far too often, and against far too many foes. The Flyers fail in 2021-22, and then make a bunch of panic moves as a result.
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James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.