The Flyers’ Precocious Success is Exciting, but How Can They Continue to Add to it?
Photo Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Thanks to Head Coach John Tortorella, the Flyers are once again an entertaining team to watch. If you look back all the way to the team’s inception into the NHL, the Philadelphia Flyers were always thought of as being one of the most challenging teams to line up against. From the Bullies’ brazen style of play that literally saw them beat their opponents into submission in the late ’60s all the way up to the ’80s to the highly talented teams of the ’90s and early ’00s led by the Legion of Doom Line. The Flyers were always considered to be a perennial playoff team. And, because of their many years of success, the Flyers still find themselves seventh all-time in wins to this day. That’s right, outside of the original six teams (who have over 2,600 more games played than them), the Flyers have won more games than any other expansion team.
But sadly, during the Giroux era, the Flyers seemed to lose their identity. They no longer played with the grit and tenacity that we all came to love and expect from this team. They slowly grew into a club that became less and less physical. They began not to finish their checks. They no longer stood up for one another when a dirty hit occurred. They lacked hustle and, over time, became lazy, choosing to dump and chase the puck instead of skating it into the zone and trying to set something up. Because of all this, the team lost its edge; its opponents no longer feared them, and their players appeared to become comfortable with losing.
That all changed when the Flyers chose to hire John Tortorella as their Head Coach. In just two seasons’ time (with the help of Keith Jones and Danny Briere this year), this former Jack Adams Award winner has been able to come in and revitalize this franchise. Through hard work in training camp and intense film study. John has been able to correct these players’ bad habits and rid the locker room of its bad apples, making sure to replace them with true professionals who play the game the right way.
With a decision to play the franchises youth, you can see on a nightly basis that this team is now outskating, outshooting, and, most nights, outscoring their opponents. They are no longer taking shifts off and are not willingly turning the puck over to make a change like Flyers teams of recent memory. They now play up on their skates and have the talent and speed to execute a run-and-gun offense, which has created so many more scoring chances for them.
So much so that the Flyers are now leading the league in shots and have become defensively responsible by choosing to leave their goalies no longer hung out to dry. In fact, it has become the complete opposite to the point where they now find themselves among the league leaders in killing penalties.
For fans, this has been refreshing, to say the least, but I assure you it is more than just Torts taking it back to basics in practice and now holding players accountable for the way they play the game that has willed this team to win. Credit should also go to management, who were able to bring in the right veteran players to act as both on and off-ice coaches to this team’s youthful core.
The unrestricted free agent signing of penalty-killing specialist Garnet Hathaway has obviously paid dividends this season. In addition to that, both defensemen Sean Walker and Marc Staal have clearly helped to sure up a once struggling defensive core.
But now that the Flyers are playing well and once again looking like a team that is destined to be in playoff contention, a question must be asked. Should Philadelphia change gears and now look to bring in players who can further help them complete their transformation from a lazy dump-and-chase team to one who plays a more lethal run-and-gun style?
Well, with the recent addition of the much-needed first-pairing right-hand shot defender, Jamie Drysdale from the Anaheim Ducks, the Flyers might have already begun to do just that. Overnight, this 21-year-old defender was able to come in and bring an all-but-deceased Flyer’s power play unit back to life. From his unreal skating ability to his incredible saucer-like passes, Drysdale seems like the missing cog that has unlocked this team’s offense. But sadly, regardless of how wide open this team’s offense has become, with them now leading the league in shots on goal, their ability to cash in on those chances hasn’t entirely caught up as they rank just 18th in the league in total goals scored.
That’s why I thought it wise to take a look at some other players, like potential impending free agents the Flyers could both possibly look to acquire for a playoff push or bring in this upcoming offseason who play a similar style to theirs. This roster, although it has already gone through some changes, is proving that it still has some transitioning left to do. Some players left over from the Ron Hextall and Chuck Fletcher eras still need to find the door, in my opinion, in order to complete this current coaching and administration staff’s vision for how they want this team to play moving forward.
And with players like Jamie Drysdale and a young Egor Zamula now solidifying their roles on the back end with the team, approaching free agent blue liners like 29-year-old defenseman Sean Walker and 30-year-old Nick Seeler should now be considered trade bait that could bring back some much-needed draft compensation after the lose of Cutter Gauthier.
In addition to those players, 37-year-old player/coach Marc Staal is due to come off the books as well after this season, thus creating the opportunity to bring multiple other players next season.
However, one player who could help the Flyers sooner rather than later for a potential playoff push (depending on the price) is Anthony Duclair. Now, hear me out. The Flyers desperately need a finisher. They are dead last in the league in terms of the power play for a reason. Duclair could be an affordable upgrade that could step in on day one and help to fix this problem. Let’s face it. A lot of time has passed since Torts and Duclair had it out in Columbus (some six seasons ago). Both are now older and wiser and don’t make all the same mistakes that they once did. So, this now 28-year-old winger who still possesses the same fantastic speed and finishing ability that he always did might just be willing to now listen to his former coach this time around for the chance to play for a contender. Duclair, who has struggled to find a home over the years, is currently playing for the Western Conference’s last-place team, the San Jose Sharks, and should be made available in the coming weeks since he is an impending free agent.
Furthermore, I don’t even think it would cost the Flyers a lot to acquire him, considering Anthony has never really appeared to have settled into San Jose, where he has been forced to play with a less-than-stellar supporting cast. To date, Duclair (who is making three million dollars this season) has scored just eight goals and eight assists for 16 points this year. These stats are a far cry from the season he had back in Florida a couple of years ago, where he was able to score 31 goals and 27 assists for 58 points. But here is the kicker. The only reason the Panthers did not bring him back was because he suffered a season-ending Achilles injury that required him to have surgery that included an extensive recovery time. But that’s behind him now; Duclair has proven post-injury that he still has the speed that would allow him to return to the 30-goal scorer he once was, especially if he got the chance to play here in Philly with guys like Konecny, Farabee, Tippett, Foerster, and Frost who all would be able to skate stride for stride with him on an odd-man rush.
Now, whether Torts would be willing to give this talented competitor another chance to play in his offense is yet to be seen. But it’s something the two of them would have time to work out if the team made a trade for him come the deadline. In my mind, it has the possibility of being a low-risk, high-reward type situation. And for that, I think the Flyers would be crazy not to try at least and acquire this former 30-goal scorer if they are still in the race come March 8th.
Another name that comes to mind as an impending free agent that may have the Flyers drooling after this season’s completion is Nashville’s Yakov Trenin. This 27-year-old feisty Russian forward, who stands at 6’2 and 201 pounds, has been invaluable to the Predators over the years. From his unrelenting hustle to his physical play and tenacious forecheck, this veteran forward appears as though he was all but born to play in a John Tortorella-style offense. And if those traits weren’t enough for Flyers fans to make him an instant fan favorite, if acquired, Trenin’s fearlessness is. Yakov is amongst the league leaders every year in hits, and he has shown a willingness to drop the gloves with anyone! This includes Zdeno Chara, who he almost brought to his knees a few years back, as you can see in the video provided below.
But the fist to cuffs is not all those hands are suitable for. Trenin is also known to be able to play up and down the lineup when needed, where he is able to use his speed to create fast breaks for himself as well as set up his awaiting teammates. Yakov has set a career-high of 17 goals for himself during his five-year tenure with the Predators and may now be looking for a slightly more significant role elsewhere this off-season. Currently, Trenin is making a very affordable $1.7 million this year, and if signed, he would prove to be a much-needed upgrade to the Flyers bottom six forward group next season.
Lastly, with the Flyers potentially losing all those blueliners (mentioned above) next season to free agency, I would suggest they then take a look at replacing them with a 6’6 225 pound 31-year-old defenseman in Jani Hakanpaa who currently plays for the Dallas Stars. This towering defenseman, who is making just $1.5 million this season, plays the game exactly how the Flyers thought Rasmus Ristolainen would when they traded for him a few seasons ago. Hakanpaa is a stay-at-home right-hand shot defender who would pair perfectly with a young, offensively driven Cam York.
Although not offensively minded, Hakanpaa still provides his employer with a lot for their money. In any given season, you can expect Jani to dish out somewhere around 225 hits, as well as tally up over 100 blocked shots. This behemoth has shown he is more capable of moving distractions out from in front of his goalie net, as well as being more than willing to drop the gloves when needed to come to the defense of a fellow teammate. Best of all, though, unlike Ristolainen, who is a career -180, Jani is a career-plus player.
Signing Hakanpaa to say a one-year deal for next season would give the team a better option for the present time and not stunt the progression of other defensemen who are currently progressing through the team’s system already, like Emil Andre, Helge Grans, and Oliver Bonk.
Combining these suggested moves along with management continuing to emphasize making intelligent decisions on draft day, this team just may return to the perennial playoff contender they were for decades at a time, a lot sooner than expected.
I’m a lifelong Flyers fan who has been playing the sport of Ice Hockey we all know and love competitively for over 30 years now. I grew up playing in-between the pipes where I was able to take in the whole game and analysis just what the team needed to do to help us win. Over the years I always enjoyed reading and gaining as much knowledge as possible about this great sport, but always thought it lacked something. A players prospective!