Grading The Flyers At The Break

We have arrived at the NHL All-Star break and it’s time to dish out our report card for the Flyers. We are 50 games into the 1st year of the rebuild and it’s time to sit back and give out the grades. At the break, the Flyers are 25-19-6 56 points they are 3rd in the Metropolitan Division and 5th in the Eastern Conference. That means if the season were to end today the Flyers would face the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.

Not too shabby for the 1st year of a rebuild that also saw the team replace its General Manager and President of Hockey Operations. Danny Briere and Kieth Jones have had their hands full with both on-the-ice and off-the-ice issues. All wrapped up in trying to rebuild a team and a franchise. I think it’s appropriate to start with them.

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Front Office

The 2023 NHL trade deadline marked the final nail in the coffin of Flyers’ former President of Hockey Operations/ General Manager Chuck Fletcher. His inability to trade James Van Riemsdyk for anything coupled with the fact that everything that Fletcher had done up to that point had seemingly failed meant the end for Fletcher on March 13th, 2023, 9 days after the deadline. He was the first victim of a fan base that had seen enough. Danny Briere was named interim General Manager.

Briere, who had been serving as the team’s assistant GM for the past 2 seasons under Fletcher ushered in a breath of fresh air when he publicly stated that the Flyers were in fact in a rebuild. That simple acknowledgement sent waves of optimism through the fan base that finally the Flyers were being honest with themselves. A few months later Comcast/ Spectator CEO and governor of the Flyers Dave Scott retired Dan Hilferty was named as his successor.

The Flyers announced that they would be splitting the positions of General Manager and President of Hockey Operations and the search for both of those positions would begin immediately. Former Flyer, broadcaster, and local sports talk radio host Kieth Jones would land the position of President of Hockey Operations and Danny Briere would be named the new General Manager.

The task at hand was not only to continue to improve the product on the ice but also the product off the ice. The Flyers had fallen from the heavens of elite NHL franchises through terrible relations with their fans, and alumni, and a complete lack of respect for the team’s past. A New Era of Orange began in South Philadelphia in the summer of 2023.

Through changing the prime color of the Flyers back to burnt orange and restoring the dual Flyers logos to the center ice of the Wells Fargo Center. The Flyers began to repair their relationship with the fans. A renewed sense of honoring the Flyers’ past was next on the agenda. The Flyers emphasized honoring the team’s founder and owner, the late Ed Snider as well as reorganizing Alumni Weekend to provide the proper respect for the Flyers heroes of the past. On the ice, the continued development and search for the right players was also ongoing. Kevin Hayes and Ivan Provrov.

The Flyers focused on youth as second-year Flyers coach John Tortorella remarked at the end of the 2022-23 season. “I hope we are younger next year”. Former Flyers top prospect Cutter Gauthier expressed his desire not to play for the Flyers. The team responded by kindly sending him to the Anaheim Ducks for right-handed defenseman Jamie Dysdale along with a 2025 2nd-round pick. Right before the all-star break Flyers starting goalie Carter Hart requested a leave of absence from the team citing personal reasons. Hart is implicated in the 2018 Team Canada World Junior Championship sex abuse scandal.

With all the off-the-ice issues surrounding the Flyers this year the fact that they have been so consistent and winning is a testament to the team, and the new blood in the front office. The Flyers are the 2nd youngest team in the NHL. There is still a lot of work to be done and it is unclear if Briere and Jones will be here when this team finally returns to dominance but the early returns on the rebuilding of the Flyers foundation are very good.  Grade: A  

Coaching

John Tortorella entering his second year with the Flyers has had to endure a complete turnover of the front office and make some tough decisions to move on from popular Flyers players. He has had to return to his roots of team building, both talent and character and most importantly he has had to get complete buy-in from his players. The Flyers are still without a captain as Tortorella continues to evaluate who the leader in the clubhouse is. He has had to put together lines of veteran and youth, while also keeping one eye tuned to the Lehigh Valley to monitor the development of a handful of Flyers prospects.

Torts is an in-your-face coach who will pull no punches he demands the same from his players. Playing is a privilege not a right on a John Tortorella team and so far, he has gotten complete buy-in from his squad. The Flyers are one the hardest teams to play against in the NHL. Tortorella does have a shelf life that is well documented. Right now, he has his team playing day one fresh and the results are hard to overlook. Grade: A

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Offense

This is the area of the team that is the most underdeveloped. Through 50 games the Flyers have scored 144 goals which averages 2.8 per game. They are averaging less than 3 goals a game which is not going to cut in the NHL. On the flip side the Flyers have registered 1685 shots on net that’s 33.7 per game. This shows the lack of scoring is not due to a lack of offense. The lack of scoring is due to a lack of finishing. The Flyers lack true offensive power both star and supporting.

The supporting power has much potential. Players like Travis Konecky, Owen Tippett, Joel Farabee, and Tyson Forrester, are the up-and-coming new supporting stars. This group has 66 goals, 76 assists, and a plus 13. The Flyers lack true offensive super stardom which is reason number 1 for this group’s low goal output. Until they get that star power less than 3 goals a game is the order of the day. Grade: C  

Defense

If zone plays with a tendency to collapse your guys to force blocked shots and a quick transitioning offense into the neutral zone is your thing then the Flyers are for you. John Tortorella hates man defense and he rarely plays it. He relies on blocked shots, turnovers, and quick transitioning from defense to offense. The Flyers excel at it right now.

Whether it is the lack of true defensive talent or the desire to have an offensive defenseman the Flyers are completely bought into Tort’s style. Through 50 games the Flyers have blocked 900 shots as a team that’s 18 blocked shots a game average. They have also only allowed 1413 shots on the net for a 28-shot average. They have forced 311 takeaways 6.2 per game and have given the puck away 253 times 5.1 per game.

The addition of Drysdale to the blueline is an investment for the future. The former 6th overall selection in the draft brings superior lateral movement and puck control to the special teams as well as superb catch-up speed. “The Drysdale-type defensemen” is what the Flyers have in high supply very offensively minded. When paired with the right offense they should facilitate an electric attack. Just don’t ask them to win many battles in front of the net.  Grade: B

Special Teams

Power Play or should I say Powerless Play. Through 50 games this season the Flyers are terrible with the extra man. The Flyers are 21 for 157 on the power play 13.4%. That is an improvement from earlier in January. On January 7th the Flyers power play was operating at a 9.7 % effective rate. The acquisition of Jamie Drysdale has helped this group and should continue to help them. But without true offensive power (refer to the offense paragraph) I don’t see much more from this group. Since the 2021-22 season the Flyers are 84 for 610 13.8% do you see a trend here?

Penalty Kill or should I say Penalty Kill with extreme prejudice. Through 50 games the Flyers are 2nd in the NHL on the kill. They have been shorthanded 156 times and have killed 134 of them 85.9%. They have also netted 10 short-handed goals near the top of the NHL.

The extreme differences between the power play and penalty kill are very confusing. I do not ever remember seeing that in my lifetime following this team. This I believe is a direct result of the coach’s style and the style of player he uses. Grade: C     

Goalie

This is once again thrust to the forefront of the Flyers issues. Since the untimely death of Pellie Lindbergh in 1986 the Flyers have been searching for that true number 1 goalie. Through the first 45 games of the season, the tandem of Hart and Ersson were effective. 24-13-6, 2.70 GAA, 9.02 save %. With 4 games remaining until the break Carter Hart took his leave of absence and now his future with the Flyers and the NHL is uncertain.

Since Ersson was given number 1 status he has been less than stellar. 0-4, 15 goals on 83 shots for an average of 3 goals and 22 shots per game. There are a lot of questions about what the Flyers can do here at this point in the season. Cal Peterson who was called up from the Valley to provide immediate backup to Ersson is not an NHL backup.   

Felix Sandstrom could be called up, but I believe he is best served in Leigh where he continues to get the starting reps. The Flyers do have 7 goalies in the system who are currently playing in various leagues around the world. Among them are the Flyers second and third-round picks of the 2023 draft.

Carson Bjarnason who is in his third year with the Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL is the Flyers 2nd round pick in 2023. He is 15-9-3, with 3.22 GAA, and a .901 Save Percentage. He is 18 years old. Bjarnson has signed his entry-level contract, so he is under team control.

Yegor Zavragin is in his third year of the MHL in Russia. Overall, he has played 4 years of professional hockey in Russia. Zavragin was drafted by the Flyers in the 3rd round of the 2023 draft. 17-1-2, 1.57 GAA, .945 Save Percentage this season. Zavragin has also signed his entry-level contract and does not play in the KHL so obtaining him shouldn’t be that hard. He is also 18 years old.

Whether the Flyers go outside of the organization, within the organization, or stand pat the goalie crisis continues for this franchise. Cruse of Billy Penn anyone? Grade: INC

Matt Bednarczyk
Matt Bednarczyk

Matt Bednarczyk is your host of Talking Philly Sports With Matty B. He is a proud retired US Army Sergeant First Class, he is also a combat veteran with over 80 months served in Afganistan, and Iraq . Huge Hockey Fan. Matt is a lifelong 4 for 4 Philly sports fan. Born and raised on the Mayfair and Tacony neighborhood lines of Northeast Philly. He brings over 40 years of Philadelphia Sports passion and provides a realistic look at our Major Sports Teams and the most passionate sports fans on the planet. Look for his show live on Edge of Philly Sports.

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