After a very strong showing in 2019-20, the Philadelphia Flyers looked primed for a breakout season in 2020-21. After all, in a shortened season 4 players hit 50+ points, 6 players hit 40+ points, 4 players hit 20+ goals, 9 players reached double digits in goals, and the leader in points was none other than Travis Konecny (61 in 66). Balance and depth was the name of the game for the Flyers and after finally reaching the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2012, it’s no surprise that expectations were sky high.
Matt Niskanen’s sudden retirement shouldn’t have hampered the defense as much as it did. He was a vital piece on the backend but with Ivan Provorov continuing to develop and the pairing of Travis Sanheim and Phil Myers looking to replicate their success; one player off the roster shouldn’t have hurt them that much. But in fact it did and the Flyers only replaced him with Erik Gustafsson who rarely cracked the lineup.
The defense was in tatters all year and it didn’t help that Provorov’s game slipped as well. The most steadying force on the backend was Justin Braun and even though he’s reliable and consistent, he should not be on the top pair nor should he be your most consistent defensemen.
Carter Hart’s play and numbers were in shambles, he lost his confidence, he lost his mojo, and for awhile it seemed like maybe the Flyers rushed his development. Brian Elliott wasn’t any better and it further explained how bad the defense truly was.
As for the offense, it was truly a roller coaster ride. A lot of players that were to be relied on heavily regressed like Kevin Hayes, Travis Konecny, and to varying degrees the trio that led the team in points, Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, and James van Riemsdyk.
In general it was a bad a season for everyone and this list could and should include everyone not named Sean Couturier or Joel Farabee. However, there are 4 players, key to the Flyers success, that are poised for bounce-back campaigns; Carter Hart, Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny, and Kevin Hayes.
The most obvious player who is not only primed for a bounce back campaign, but is also in desperate need for one, is Carter Hart. The very young but extremely talented netminder had himself a phenomenal 2019-20 campaign. He appeared in 43 games, finished off the shortened season with a 24-13-3 record, and sported a 2.42 G.A.A with a .914 save percentage. What was even more spectacular was his record on home ice, where he was 20-3-2 with a .943 save percentage and a minuscule 1.63 G.A.A.
In his first experience with playoff hockey, he out-duelled his idol Carey Price, led the Flyers to the second round, took the Islanders to 7 games before bowing out, and finished off with a 9-5 record, a .926 save percentage, a 2.23 G.A.A, and 2 shutouts. He showed no reason why he couldn’t replicate these numbers in the following season, or even improve on them as well.
His 2020-21 campaign has been spoken about to death but we revisit it once more. He appeared in 27 games and tallied a paltry 9-11-5 record with a ghastly .877 save percentage and a G.A.A of 3.67. His first two months should have been a slight indication of what was about to come because even though he was 6-3-3, he had a sub .900 save percentage and a G.A.A well over 3.30.
March is where the wheels completely fell off and he finished the month 2-6-0 in 10 games with a monstrous 5.04 G.A.A and a .815 save percentage. The Flyers season was all but lost during the month of March as they lost in embarrassing fashion several times. Hart’s April was a sign of him potentially turning the tide but then he fell with a season ending injury. He was 1-2-2 but with a much improved .910 save percentage and a 2.31 G.A.A.
Putting all this into perspective, it shouldn’t be a tall task to bounce back from this deplorable season. Hart has a penchant for bouncing back even from his junior years in Everett of the WHL or for Team Canada at the World Junior Championships. The defense in front of him is a lot better after the flurry of moves executed by general manager Chuck Fletcher.
We’ve seen some good hockey from Carter Hart in his first two years so there’s a chance that 2020-21 was just an outlier. Goaltending position is very fickle in the modern game as we’ve seen it happen many times before. Petr Mrazek was struggling for years until his recent stint in Carolina. Even elite goalies like Carey Price and Marc-Andre Fleury have had their fair share of troubles. It’s not out of the ordinary for goalies to stumble and get back on their feet in no time.
Flyers fans have been waiting for the Ivan Provorov that was drafted 7th overall in 2015 to finally breakout and become a top tier defensemen. We’ve seen flashes of brilliance over his career and for the most part we know about his excellence. However, there’s still another level he needs to get to if the Flyers are ever going to be Stanley Cup contenders.
Every Cup champion has a standout defensemen, one that can or has won the Norris Trophy. Tampa Bay has Victor Hedman, St Louis had Alex Pietrangelo, and Washington has John Carlson. Provorov has been a man amongst boys on the backend for the Flyers since his rookie season. He was surrounded by not-so great talent during the Ron Hextall rebuild and his potential breakout season was put on hold.
Andrew MacDonald was his anchor for several years and he brought him down with the ship on several occasions. The fact that Provorov still excelled even MacDonald as his partner, shows he has the ability to be the top defensemen everyone is yearning for. 2019-20 was the first glimpse of that after his revival season with Matt Niskanen. Provorov was fantastic as he was everything he was prescribed to be and this was only the beginning, or so we thought.
No player was more impacted by Niskanen’s departure than Provorov, for obvious reasons. He looked like a shell of himself for most of the season and it seemed like he was trying to shoulder the burden on the backend. The short passes in his own zone, holding onto the puck for far too long in his own zone or behind his net, his uncanny ability to lose the puck on the power play or at the point, and his extra moves that cost the team and the game.
If it wasn’t evident before that the Flyers needed to find a top pair partner for Provorov, it should’ve been front page news after this past season. To Fletcher’s credit he did just that by acquiring Ryan Ellis from the Nashville Predators. Ellis is a grizzled veteran who’s still young enough to hang with Provorov. He has been a steadying force for Nashville and built a reputation over that time.
Provorov is still very young and has a lot to learn. It’s no secret that young defensemen, even when drafted that high, need a steadying partner to start their career. Charlie McAvoy had Zdeno Chara, Zach Werenski had Seth Jones, and Seth Jones had Shea Weber when he was with the Predators.
If Provorov’s one season with a dependable defenseman was any indication of his potential development and success, then Flyers fan should be drooling at the thought of Ryan Ellis and Provorov being paired together. Between the two, Ellis is a better defenseman and player than Niskanen, and it helps that he’s younger as well.
Outside of Carter Hart, Ivan Provorov is not only primed but in need of a bounce back season. The two young phenoms are very important in terms of how successful the Flyers turn out. With Ryan Ellis added to the fold, as well as Rasmus Ristolainen and Keith Yandle, Provorov and the rest of the young defense corps have a lot of experience to learn from and look up to.
After leading the team in points in 2019-20 with a phenomenal showing of 61 in 66, once again a lot of the same was expected for 2020-21. It was an abysmal year for the 24 year old as he only scored 11 times and finished with 34 points in 50 games.
He was one of several Flyers who had slumps of 25+ games, where they only scored 2 goals. From March 13th to April 29th, Konecny only scored 2 goals and 13 assists, which was a good indication as to why the Flyers couldn’t pile up any wins. Konecny, van Riemsdyk, Kevin Hayes, and Joel Farabee all went through a similar slump, further explaining the struggles of the 2020-21 season.
Konecny was coming off three straight seasons scoring 24 goals and in each of those three seasons his point totals increased. He finished with 47 in 2017-18 after playing most of the season with Giroux and Couturier. He followed that up with a near identical 24 goals and 49 points in 2018-19 and then finally breaking out with 24 goals and 61 points in the shortened season of 2019-20.
If we want to add insult to injury to his poor 2020-21 campaign, we go a little further back to the 2020 playoffs, where he didn’t score a goal in 16 games; making that a grand total of 11 goals in his last 66 games. He only took 100 shots on the season for an average of 2 per game, had an 11% shooting percentage which was his lowest total since his rookie season, and he wasn’t as feisty as he was in previous seasons with his ability of drawing penalties or hits.
There are a lot of options to look at with the Flyers offense because of how balanced and deep they are (at least on paper). Konecny is definitely at the top of the list since he’s a guaranteed lock in the top 6, plays key power play minutes, and features in the 3 on 3 overtime.
The new look Flyers now have no excuses coming into the 2021-22 season and even though the offense hasn’t changed as much from last year, outside of the Cam Atkinson and Jakub Voracek swap, a lot is to be expected from their top guns. Konecny, among others, need a bounce back season like no other.
He will have his opportunities with Giroux, Couturier, Hayes, and Farabee, whether it’s 5 on 5 or on the power play. A bounce back from Konency would be huge for the Flyers, since they’re always a team in need of goal scoring.
Most NHL teams are always looking to solidify the top 2 centres in their lineup, whether through draft, trade, or free agency. Only a handful of teams have the luxury of carrying out a top 6 with 2 good centres. The Philadelphia Flyers need Kevin Hayes to return to his 2019-20 form.
Hayes’ numbers aren’t overly exciting, points-wise he’ll generally get you somewhere between 50 and 60 at the most. However, the most important aspect that he brought to Philadelphia after being acquired and then signed, was his ability to solidify a position of need and his off-ice impact.
No one will ever have a first hand insight of what the Flyers locker room is like. We’ve heard rumours and stories over the years, usually from recently departed players, that the team lacked accountability and sometimes heart. Kevin Hayes brought exactly that and then some. He was the glue to the team and locker room during the only successful season the Flyers have had since 2011-12.
The players themselves had mentioned his efforts, whether it was off-ice group chats, his buzzing personality on the ice during practice, or his efforts of trying to bring everyone together. It’s an intangible that many successful teams need and the Flyers seemed to lose that in 2020-21.
Kevin Hayes did play most of the season injured as he looked relatively slow, wasn’t making the same plays he made look easy in 2019-20, and his effort and compete level was sometimes middling. It all made sense at the end of the season when he was put under the knife for a sports hernia surgery.
In 69 games in 2019-20 he potted 23 goals and 41 points, however he only found the back of the net 12 times in 55 games last season. For the Flyers to be a successful team and make the playoffs, they need Hayes to complement top-line centre Sean Couturier; the same way he two years ago.
Solidifying one of the most important positions on the ice was one of Chuck Fletcher’s first move as general manager. He traded for his negotiating rights and then signed him to a 7 year deal, worth a little over 7 million. Many believed it to be an overpayment, some still do, but if he’s able to bring back the same energy, flair, and point production that he brought in 2019-20, he will make that contract worth it and then some.