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State Of The Flyers: They Need Stars And Defense

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Owen Tippett. (AP Photo/Derik Hamilton)
Owen Tippett should be key player in Flyers' rebuild.

We heard Flyers general manager Danny Briere declare the team is in a rebuild. We agree.

It’s time. It’s past time. President of hockey operations Keith Jones agrees. All of management agrees.

“I’m going to say this, that we all are aligned that this effort, this new era, will take time,” CEO Dan Hilferty said. “I’m going to repeat what folks have said, we’re going to do it the right way.

“We’re going to be calculated in everything we do, and we’re going to be measured about making steps forward.”

Today, we offer our State of the Flyers. We break down what the Flyers have and what they need. There is plenty of gloom and doom surrounding this team. It might take some time to reverse that.

The Flyers over the years grew accustomed to success, and large adoring crowds at the Wells Fargo Center. That’s not where they are in 2023.

Premier Franchise

First, a quick look back. Flyers fans have enjoyed much success since the franchise first hit the ice in 1967.

The back-to-back Stanley Cups — the first expansion team to win a Cup. Six other appearances in the finals. A playoff record of 231-218. An all-time record of 2,135-1,536-457-207 (4,934 points).

Hall of Famers in long-time Flyers Bobby Clarke, Bernie Parent, Bill Barber, Eric Lindros, Mark Howe.

It’s a proud and successful franchise.

All of that success makes all the recent losing painful. The Flyers haven’t made the playoffs in three seasons, four of the last five. Disgruntled fans stopped showing up to games, unthinkable for such a loyal fan base.

The Flyers have suffered from poor drafting, lack of star players, bad luck with injuries and free agent flops to get to this state.

What’s extra painful is watching the 2-year-old Seattle Kraken get 100 points during the regular season, win a playoff round and nearly win another one. All with former Flyers coach Dave Hakstol behind the bench.

Why can’t the Flyers do that? The Flyers were 31-38-13 for 75 points. They were the seventh-worst team in the league.

Forwards

The Flyers have a solid core of forwards — for a non-playoff team. Travis Konecny scored a team-high 31 goals. Owen Tippett scored 27 goals. Both are keepers.

But no one else on the roster hit the 20-goal mark.

Young players started to make their mark — Joel Farabee (15 goals, below his career-high of 20), Morgan Frost (19 goals), Noah Cates (13 goals and the best plus-minus rating on the team at plus-3).

For the Flyers to succeed, these players must improve their production. Three of your better players combining for 47 goals is what you get on a 75-point team, not a playoff one.

Wade Allison showed promise but has been injured through much of his career. Tyson Foerster scored seven points in eight late-season games and he looks to have a future in Philly.

Status of Veterans

This presumes 30-year-old Kevin Hayes will be traded in the offseason.

The Flyers are counting on a return to form by veterans Sean Couturier and Cam Atkinson, both of whom missed this season with injuries. Couturier only played 29 games in 2021-22. 

Atkinson turns 34 in June and Couturier will turn 31 in December. How much will they realistically get from Couturier and Atkinson? How much of a difference will they make?

If they get productive, solid seasons, expect the Flyers’ point total to increase from 75. To get into the Eastern Conference playoffs this year, 92 points was the minimum total.

Defensemen

The Flyers need serious improvement on the back line. Is there an upside for Rasmus Ristolainen, Ivan Provorov, Nick Seeler? Tony DeAngelo was benched for the final five games. He was a minus-27 player this season. Justin Braun announced his retirement after the season.

Travis Sanheim received a long-term contract then turned in a disappointing season.

Cam York, at 22, played like he belongs in the NHL. He’s undersized but can skate and move the puck. His instincts are NHL-quality. He can be part of the building process.

Can Ronnie Attard, now playing for Team USA at the World Championships, step into a top-six role? What about Egor Zamula or Adam Ginning?

Defense needs the most improvement and should be the most fertile for deals. If general manager Daniel Brière decides to shake up his defensive corps, Provorov should bring a nice return. DeAngelo might be more difficult to move with a year left on his contract.

Jones recently told The Daily Faceoff about defense: “The blue line, to me is the most important thing. We want to have a really advanced back end.”

A solid defensive corps is like having a great offensive line and defensive line in the NFL. Ask the Eagles how that has worked out.

Goaltending

Carter Hart is close to a top-tier goaltender who will benefit when the defense improves. Many nights, Hart faced a barrage of shots. In five seasons, he’s played 201 games. He has an 84-84-26 record.

He remains the Flyers’ best player and best hope for success. Hart turns 25 in August, young for a position that often improves with age and experience. Florida goalie Sergei Bobrovsky is 34 and almost single-handily carrying the Panthers.

Hart’s backups showed they have NHL potential. Sam Ersson was 10-6-3 and Felix Sandstrom was 3-12-3.

With Hart, goaltending is a position of strength. Don’t tinker with it.

Intangibles

Philadelphia is one of the NHL’s elite franchises, a 31-38-13 record notwithstanding. Philly is a potential destination city for free agents — especially if the team returns to respectability.

Philly has strong management, an excellent fan base and a newfound willingness to rebuild the roster. The New Era of Orange news conference looked classy and sounded proper. Skeptical and impatient fans should at least know the team wants to build the right way.

Overview

Ask yourself: Who are the big stars among the Flyers’ skaters? Do they have any? Not decent players, but real star power, guys who win games?

In October, ESPN asked 50 hockey experts to rank the top 100 players based on how good they will be compared to their peers.

The Flyers had zero players listed. No Carter Hart. No Sean Couturier. Ottawa’s Claude Giroux was ranked 90th.

The Flyers have a solid group of second- and third-line guys. Konecny and Tippett had solid seasons. How much of an upside do they have? Enough to climb among the top players in the league? Because that’s what the Flyers need.

Or, have they reached their ceiling?

In John Tortorella, the Flyers have a coach with success on his resume and who knows a rebuild is in order.

The Flyers were 26th in penalty killing at 74.7 percent, and dead-last on the power play at 15.6 percent. Special teams must be an asset, not among the worst in the league.

The Flyers are a team in desperate need of a top line — a center and two forwards who consistently put the puck in the net. Stars, real stars. Maybe top prospect Cutter Gauthier, currently tearing up the World Championships, and this year’s No. 7 overall draft pick will develop into that.

June’s draft is enormously important for the new management team of Briere, Jones and Tortorella. Don’t draft maybe picks — guys who may work out. Listen to your scouts and trust them.

Jones says he wants to rebuild the defense. Who among the defensemen are stars? Sanheim? Provorov? Or, are they solid second-pairing guys? Or worse?

Where is Chris Pronger? Brad McCrimmon? Mark Howe? Eric Desjardins? Kimmo Timmonen? Every one of those five top d-men has two things in common. They were great Flyers defensemen. And they were drafted by other teams.

Flyers, In Case You Missed It:

Cutter Gauthier powers Team USA’s 3-0 win over Denmark.

Scott Laughton, Canada lose at Worlds.

Flyers associate coach Brad Shaw linked to Ducks head-coaching job.

Around The National Hockey Network:

Vegas Hockey Now: Not their best game, but Golden Knights go up 2-0 over Stars, with both wins in overtime.

Florida Hockey Now: Panthers have imposing 2-0 series lead over Hurricanes.

Calgary Hockey Now: Craig Conroy is the right man for the Flames’ GM job.

Detroit Hockey Now: Red Wings’ Joe Veleno (Team Canada) suspended five games for kicking at World Championships.

Montreal Hockey Now: Canadiens could target forward Ryan Leonard in draft, a player linked to the Flyers in several mock drafts.

Tonight’s Playoff Game:

Game 3: Hurricanes at Panthers, 8, TNT.

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