Let’s face it: the Philadelphia Flyers have lacked an elite offensive talent for some time now. Think back. When was the last time the Flyers had a 50-goal scorer? I’ll give you a hint: the team just hired him as a special advisor to Hockey Operations. If you guessed John LeClair, you were right. It was over 25 years ago that LeClair last reached that plateau (in three consecutive seasons, mind you) when he posted 51 goals during the ’97-’98 season. And, for that matter, it has been over five years since they last had a player total 100 points or more in a single season; Claude Giroux last did it when he finished the ’17-’18 campaign with 102 tallies on the score sheet.
Now, as nice as the Flyers farm system may look on paper, with first-round picks like Tyson Foerster, Cutter Gauthier, and Matvei Michkov all being taken over the last couple of years. The reality is the Flyers are still at least a year or two away before any of them truly becomes a dominant force in the NHL. I mean, Foerster is the only one even signed by the Flyers currently.
This leaves us, the fans, forced to endure yet another season where the Flyers will be hard-pressed to score goals. Disagree? Well, ponder this. Last season, the Flyers finished the year having only scored 220 goals. That’s an average of only 2.68 goals per game, ranking them 29th in the league. In comparison, the league leading Edmonton Oilers, scored 325 regular season goals. That equates to them netting, on average, 3.96 goals per game last year, which, if you do the math, means the Flyers were something like 105 goals off the pace.
And to further prove my point, we here in the tri-state area think Travis Konecny did big things last year by setting a new career high in goals with 31. But when you compare his goal totals to the rest of the league, they fail in comparison, as 45 other players from around the NHL were able to net more goals than him. In fact, to add insult to injury, the league leader, Connor McDavid, finished with an incredible 64 lamp lighters. This means that even if TK could match his career high of 31 goals again this upcoming season, the sum of both last year and this season would still not add up to what McDavid was able to produce in the ’22-’23 campaign.
Still not convinced our offense needs work? Let us look at point totals. Konecny finished last season on top of anyone else wearing the orange and black jersey in that category, as well. He tied his previous career best of 61 points (a feat he first achieved back in 2020). But those 61 points Travis managed to accrue last season only amounted to him being ranked a messily 91st in the league. To compare. McDavid was once again the league leader in this category last year, with him compiling 153 points. This means Konecny finished last year a staggering 92 points off of the league leader’s pace!
Now, none of the above was meant to be a rip on Konecny. After all, he did set new career highs last year. So, of course, I don’t expect him to stack up to one of the best players of our lifetime. Instead, this was meant to be a way to show you just how bad collectively this team’s offense really was last year compared to the rest of the league, where even our best offensive player couldn’t even manage to come close to the kind of point production most other teams have in their arsenals.
And, if you’re reading this and planning to put all your faith into the return of a 12-year veteran like Sean Couturier, who has had multiple back surgeries since he last played a game on Dec. 18th of 2021, some 644 days ago. Or a 34-year-old Cam Atkinson, who did not play at all last season because he had to undergo a serious neck surgery to turn this team around. You, sir or ma’am, have more trust than me. Of course, I hope they come back 100% and do well, but let me remind you that even if both of those players stay healthy all season long, the team also chose not to sign back unrestricted free agent James van Riemsdyk (who led the team in scoring in the ’21-’22 season with 24 goals), as well as them trading away their lone All-Star selection from last season, Kevin Hayes to the St. Louis Blues this past offseason. So, while I consider both of those decisions to be wise, given the direction of the team, if either Coots or Atkinson sustains even a minor setback, the team very well could be worse off offensively than they were last season.
So, how can this team endure the onslaught of offensive juggernauts like the Oilers until the likes of Gauthier and Michkov arrive to carry this offense? Easy, they can focus on solidifying their defense. The Flyers last season were among the worst in a lot of categories, but possibly their biggest downfall was their penalty-killing unit. That was ranked 26th in the league last year because they only managed to stop the opposition 74.68% of the time.
Since then, the Flyers’ new General Manager Danny Briere has been working hard to strengthen this defensive core. He, of course, traded minute eater Ivan Provorov (and his career -28 average), who may have been a little overrated during his time here because we had no one better. He bought out Tony DeAngelo, who finished the season a -27, and chose to let the aging 36-year-old Justin Braun ride off into the sunset that is retirement by not offering him a contract extension.
Briere chose to replace them by trading for veteran Sean Walker and signing NHL journeyman Marc Staal, who helped the Florida Panthers reach the Stanley Cup Finals. But just bringing in a pair of wisely old veterans to stand on the blueline won’t be enough to help this team’s goaltenders put forth the kind of numbers they are capable of.
Carter Hart and the newly acquired Cal Petersen have each shown, at times, the makings of what could be a franchise goaltender, but the supporting cast in front of them has often left them high and dry.
Both have career goals against averages that are coming in just shy of three goals a game and save percentages that are barely hovering above .900, but when wearing their country’s colors while playing in the world championships when they have a defense core in front of them worth a shit, they both went undefeated and posted a goals-against-average under a goal a game while managing to maintain a save percentage at or above .955%
So, in saying that, the man who is currently cracking the whip at training camp, John Tortorella, has to be willing to at least give a long look at guys like Emil Andrae, Adam Ginning, Helge Grans, Ronnie Attard, and Yegor Zamula to potentially make the team out of camp over guys like Nick Seeler who while he may not do anything to hurt the team while out on the ice, he certainly does not do much to help it either. For you never know, one of these young players could join the likes of York and Bonk as future staples on the backend for this team. But you’ll never be able to find that out if you keep blocking their development by bringing back roster fillers like Seeler.
Lastly, what the Flyers should look to do to help them become more defensively sound like the Boston Bruins, the Carolina Hurricanes, or the Dallas Stars is to revisit switching Morgan Frost to wing and allow Scott Laughton to play his rightful position of center. While I can appreciate Frost’s growth last year, I think he benefited from playing top-line minutes because of Coots’ injury and Hayes being in Torts’ doghouse for much of the season. Now that the Selke Trophy-winning Sean Couturier is back, Morgan’s ice time and chance to play on the Power Play will decrease significantly. Leaving Frost most likely unable to achieve the same kind of point production he was able to last season. Plus, Laughton not only has a much better career faceoff win percentage but also commits fewer turnovers, is more defensive-minded, and excels in the art of forechecking.
I don’t know about you, but when you look around the league, I think you would be hard-pressed to find an opening night roster with a better group of shutdown centers than Sean Couturier, Scott Laughton, Noah Cates, and Ryan Poehling.
Under the direction of President of Hockey Operations Keith Jones and General Manager Danny Briere, there’s no doubt things are moving in the right direction here in Philly. But even with all the trades, signings, and behind-the-scenes staffing changes, this team is still a few years away from actual contention. That’s why, given what the Flyers have currently, I think it best they make these moves, that is, until the reinforcements arrive, and the Flyers can then reascend to their rightful place atop the Eastern Division.