Philadelphia Flyers among most improved teams in NHL Metro division
Well that was fun.
In a wave of trades and free agent signings that was more exciting than their regular season game, the Flyers will have a new look in 2021-22.
General manager Chuck Fletcher, the architect of the long-awaited summer remake, said he was unsure if he would make another move. Even if he doesn’t – Fletcher has said he’s now focused on re-signing restricted free agents Carter Hart and Travis Sanheim – he deserves credit for making the coming season worthwhile.
The Flyers, who haven’t won a Stanley Cup since 1975, and the New Jersey Devils are arguably the most improved teams in the highly competitive Metro Division.
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The Flyers will be more difficult to face this coming season. They have added several players who play with physique and advantage.
It was much needed, especially in a division that will likely feature the fiery New York Islanders.
But the Flyers still lack speed, and their offense won’t be much better unless they get better play from a handful of players who fell last season. Their defense, however, looks a lot stronger than last season, thanks to the addition of veterans Ryan Ellis, Rasmus Ristolainen and Keith Yandle.
The goalkeeper ? There are questions to be answered. (Later.)
Here’s a look at how the team might be put together:
Line 1: Sean Couturier at the center of Claude Giroux and Cam Atkinson
Comment: Atkinson could find himself in a line with former Boston College teammate Kevin Hayes, but he has a shoot-first mentality and would benefit from passing Giroux and Couturier. Atkinson, 32, scored 41 goals in the last full NHL season, 2018-19. The Flyers would happily settle for 25-30.
Line 2: Hayes center Joel Farabee and Travis Konecny
Comment: Hayes played injured for part of last season – he had abdominal muscle surgery in May – and has 12 goals in 55 games, but has only scored once in the last 21 games of the season . Now in good health, he should bounce back. The Flyers also need Konecny (11 goals) to bounce back. Farabee has just had a decisive season (20 goals, a record for the team).
Line 3: Scott Laughton center James van Riemsdyk and Wade Allison
Comment: Allison showed a lot of promise (4 goals, 3 assists) in his 14 games with the Flyers last season and is a prototypical forward. Laughton is a two-way brain player who plays with relentless style, while van Riemsdyk is a reliable scorer who does most of his damage up front.
Line 4: Morgan Frost or Nate Thompson at the center of Oskar Lindblom and Nic Aube-Kubel
Comment: By signing the 6-foot-1, 207-pound Thompson, it looks like the Flyers will use him due to his shorthanded ability and size. That means he’ll likely center the fourth line unless Frost, who just had shoulder surgery, excels in training camp. Tanner Laczynski is also a candidate to play on this line, and Connor Bunnaman is a dark horse. As for Lindblom, he could end up on one of the four lines.
Defense 1: Ivan Provorov and Ryan Ellis
Comment: The Flyers are hoping a well-balanced Ellis stabilizes Provorov’s game, as Matt Niskanen did two seasons ago. Ellis is very similar to Niskanen in that he plays in all situations, but the former is more offensive.
Defense 2: Travis Sanheim and Rasmus Ristolainen
Comment: The Sanheim-Phil Myers duo experienced growing pains last season. Ristolainen will bring a lot more grunt to the couple and has a big bang. Were his frequent defensive mistakes at Buffalo the result of having several different partners? We will find out.
Defense 3: Keith Yandle and Justin Braun
Comment: Two veterans who circled the block. Yandle will provide offense, Braun will provide stable defense and blocking shots. Cam York could beat Yandle with a solid training camp, but the Flyers are giving the impression they want York to gain some experience with the Phantoms. Yandle has a good chance of leading the best power play unit.
The seventh defender? Samuel Morin and recently signed right-hander Adam Clendening – a 2011 second-round pick with 80 NHL games to his name – are among the contenders.
Goalkeeper : Hart is the starter, with Martin Jones as a substitute.
Comment: Hart should take advantage of all the defensive changes and bounce back from a disastrous season. Jones, signed as a free agent, is his replacement, but he seems to be going in the wrong direction. This makes Hart’s return the Flyers’ most critical storyline.
Former Flyers defenseman Jason Smith, 47, has made a long journey back to the organization. He was named assistant to the Phantoms on Monday in the team of coach Ian Laperrière.
Smith played one of his 15 NHL seasons with the Flyers, in 2007-08, when he was the team’s 16th captain and helped them advance to the Association Finals. ‘East.
He joins the Phantoms after spending four seasons in the Western Hockey League. He was associate coach of the Prince George Cougars from 2019-21 and was head coach of the Kelowna Rockets for three seasons.
Prior to his stint in the WHL, Smith was with the Ottawa Senators organization from 2012-2016. He was appointed recruiting and development advisor for Ottawa prior to the 2012-13 season and was named Senators assistant coach. before the 2014-15 season.
Riley Armstrong, 36, former head coach of the ECHL Maine Mariners, has also been named assistant to the Phantoms.
End of August : Flyers Development Camp in Voorhees; dates to be determined.
September 22: Tentative date for the start of training camp in Voorhees.
September 28: The Flyers begin their preseason schedule by taking on the New York Islanders at Wells Fargo Center.
October 15: The Flyers open the regular season by hosting Vancouver.
Question: Is there someone in the organization that you see who can turn heads? Young names ready to make an impact this coming season? – Ron Zacconi (@RonZacconi via Twitter)
Reply: For me, right winger Wade Allison will be that player. He’s got the size, hockey intelligence and a good shot and should be a staple of this team. Cam York, a puck-moving defenseman, has higher potential and could make his mark soon as well, although I don’t expect him to be called up later in the season.
Send your questions by e-mail or on Twitter (@broadstbull), and it may be answered in a future edition.