Connect with us

Philadelphia Flyers

Carchidi Column: Flyers as Future Contenders? Try This Plan

Published

on

Emil Andrae (Photo courtesy of Flyers)
Emil Andrae's development will be one of the key factor in the Philadelphia Flyers' development into a contender. Photo courtesy of Flyers.

There is a time-tested method to develop a Stanley Cup contender: Build down the middle of the ice.

Build with high-quality centers. Build with a strong defensive group that has a true No. 1 defender who can help contain high-scoring opponents. Build with a gifted goalie who can steal wins.

The Philadelphia Flyers, under new general manager Danny Briere, are in the early rebuilding stages. They have only one player, Carter Hart, who fits the bill in the Guide to Contending handbook. But since goaltending is the game’s most important position, it’s a good place to start.

Think back to the Philadelphia Flyers’ championship teams in 1974 and 1975. Many of you weren’t born during the golden age of the franchise, but those teams were ultra strong down the middle.

Loaded at Center

The top three centers were Bobby Clarke, Rick MacLeish and Orest Kindrachuk. Clarke became a three-time league MVP and a Hockey Hall of Famer. MacLeish was the youngest player in NHL history at to reach the 50-goal mark, and, to me, is a borderline Hall of Famer. Kindrachuk was a hard-nosed and underrated player who averaged 19 goals per year during his five full seasons in Philadelphia.

The goalie, of course, was Bernie Parent. Enough said. He was a Hall of Famer and the league’s best goaltender at the time.

Defensively, the Flyers had four players who could shut down top players – Ed Van Impe, Joe Watson, Jimmy Watson, and Andre “Moose” Dupont. They weren’t superstars by any means, but they played important roles and were better than any of the four defensemen on Philly’s current team.

More recently, the Flyers’ Stanley Cup finalist in 2009-10 had primarily Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Briere as their top three centers, with a strong top four on defense — Chris Pronger, Matt Carle, Kimmo Timonen, and Braydon Coburn. Again, the D was head and shoulders better than the current group’s defensive leaders.

Brian Boucher and Michal Leighton were the goalies, and we all know what happened to Leighton, who was brilliant in the semifinals, in the Finals. Google it if you feel like reliving the pain.

Briere’s Challenge

Which brings us back to Briere’s rebuilding of the 2023-24 Philadelphia Flyers.

The Flyers’ top three centers are expected to look like this: Sean Couturier, Morgan Frost, and Noah Cates.

Couturier can be a top-six forward on a Stanley Cup contender. Make that the Couturier who performed before two back surgeries.

Now there are questions, big questions, about whether he can return to the form that averaged 32 goals and 76 points over his last two full seasons.  He has not played in close to two years, but there is hope he will eventually be his old self.

Frost and Cates are solid centers still trying to prove themselves. But neither appears to be the type of player that a Cup contender would have in its top six.

Cutter Gauthier, however, looks like he has the talent to fill that bill. Now a sophomore at Boston College, he should be the Flyers’ No. 2 center in 2024-25. Heck, he might be their top center if Couturier is slowed by his back surgeries. (Gauthier can also play left wing.)

Down the road, there is a chance hotshot prospect Matvei Michkov’s plays center in Philly. Drafted as a right winger, he was shifted to center at the beginning of this year’s KHL season in Russia.

Is he big enough to withstand the rigors at center in the NHL? We’ll find out in the future. But a lineup that includes a healthy Couturier, Gauthier, and Michkov as the Flyers’ Nos. 1-3 centers is extremely intriguing.

Defense Needs Help

Defense is the position that really needs to be rebuilt if the Flyers are going to one day contend for a Cup. Travis Sanheim, coming off an inconsistent season, needs to rebound and show he was worthy of being a first-round pick in 2014.

Sanheim figures to be on the top pairing with Rasmus Ristolainen, who bounced back nicely in the second half of last season. Both are better-suited as second-pairing players.

This season’s second pairing could be composed of veteran Marc Staal and still-developing Cam York. York should benefit from Staal’s mentoring.

The Flyers are hopeful that in the future, York and Emil Andrae will become defensive fixtures. There are other promising defensemen such as Oliver Bonk, Helge Grans, and Egor Zamula in the system.

But from here, the Flyers’ biggest need will be adding (or developing) some top-notch defensemen if they are ever going to be a Cup contender again — and win their first title since 1975. Maybe it comes from within the organization. More than likely, Briere will have to add through free agency in a couple years, which means clearing cap space will be high on his to-do list.

As a player, Briere was known as “Mr. Playoffs.” As a general manager, he wants to become known as the man who built a team to win the playoffs.

Sam Carchidi writes a weekly column for Philly Hockey Now. He and Jeff Hare are working on a TV series on the Flyers’ glory days, tentatively called Bullies: A Love Story. Carchidi can be reached at samcarchidi55@gmail.com.

Get PHHN+ today!

Get PhHN in Your Inbox

Enter your email address to get all of our posts sent directly to your inbox.

Flyers Cap Info

Copyright © 2023 National Hockey Now and Philadelphia Hockey Now. In no way affiliated with the Philadelphia Flyers or the National Hockey League.