Philadelphia Flyers: 2021-22 NHL Season Preview

Philadelphia Flyers
Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images

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.

Breakout Candidate

Morgan Frost

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 phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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    Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

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    VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

    Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

    Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

    Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

    Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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    Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

    The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

    Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

    After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

    Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

    Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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    MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

    But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

    “I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

    Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

    “I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

    Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

    Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

    Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

    All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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    SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

    Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

    The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

    Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

    Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.