What The Flyers Have Learned So Far In 2022-23
Lots of things have happened so far in the 55th season of Philadelphia Flyers hockey. That’s obvious. But this Flyers season is different than almost any that has come before it. It doesn’t really matter if the Flyers win. It doesn’t really matter if the Flyers lose. The team almost certainly isn’t going to the Stanley Cup Playoffs; they are incredibly flawed on paper and in reality and with sub-10% odds on almost every model. The team almost certainly isn’t going to finish with top lottery odds; the Flyers are 10 points clear of being one of the league’s five-worst teams.
This team’s story isn’t about riding a 7-3-2 start. Nor is it about the ten-game losing streak that immediately preceded it weighing them down. But important things are happening during the 2022-23 Flyers campaign. The standings just aren’t the place to look for them. This Flyers season has been all about discovery. General manager Chuck Fletcher knows there’s lots of work to be done to turn the franchise around. So, this season has become a chance for the Flyers to pin down their evaluations of some key players and decide what role, if any, they should play in the organization going forward.
Things could change over the last two months, especially as some of the team’s top prospects begin to knock on the NHL door. But the first 51 games of this unspectacular season have contained some important revelations. Here are a few of them, and what they mean for the team going forward.
Konecny, Hart Could Be Pieces to Build Around
Little if anything is more damning about where the organization was than its lack of high-end talent. With Claude Giroux gone and Sean Couturier out with injury since Dec. 2021, the Flyers don’t have a single player who has ever been nominated for a major award in their lineup. Their dismal 2021-22 campaign did reward them with the No. 5 pick in the draft, which the Flyers turned into promising forward Cutter Gauthier (22 points in 20 games for Boston College). But the Flyers are going to need more than one lottery ticket hitting to have any shot of turning things around.
Fortunately, a pair of under-26 Flyers are showing they can be key long-term contributors. A franchise defined for decades by its lack of a stable goaltender appears to have at least solved that problem. After two very challenging seasons, Carter Hart is back to looking like a clear-cut above-average NHL starting goaltender. While he isn’t stopping everything that moves anymore as he did in the season’s first month, Hart is enjoying a fantastic season.
In a year where scoring has skyrocketed and save percentages are way down as a result, Hart’s .911 save percentage is very solid. And when you account for the team’s play in front of him, Hart grades out even better, ranking ninth in the league with 14.4 goals saved above expected, per Moneypuck.com. Also important: Hart is on pace to shatter his previous career-high of 43 games played, currently on pace for about 60 appearances. Being able to shoulder such a large workload is no small feat. Between Hart and a mix of solid goalie prospects, the Flyers don’t have much to worry about their crease for a while.
Yet Hart’s strong play has been a bit overshadowed by the leap taken by Travis Konecny. The last two seasons have overshadowed the fact that Konecny led the team in goals in with 24 in just 66 games in 2019-20. Over the last two years, however, Konecny combined to score just 27 times in 129 contests. But through 45 games, Konecny has tied that mark and is scoring at an 89-point pace. He’s also added another arrow to his quiver by scoring three short-handed goals in his first extended stint as an NHL penalty-killer. If you look under the hood, there are some concerns. Konecny’s scoring spike is at least somewhat explainable by an increase in ice time and a slight shooting percentage bender. More concerning, Konecny has the team’s third-worst expected goals percentage (43.31%) driven largely by defensive concerns at 5-on-5.
Still, Konecny is on pace to have the most points for a Flyer since 2017-18. Konecny may never be a franchise-carrying offensive force, but he’s got clear-cut top-line talent for any roster. Konecny is almost certainly never going to be the type of player to truly carry a first line; his skillset isn’t quite elite offensively or well-rounded to drive a championship-caliber top line. But this season has shown Konecny has another level than we’ve ever seen from him. That’s a positive development no matter how you slice it.
Young Players Taking Big Steps
Despite the growth of Hart and Konecny, the Flyer who’s improved the most since the start of the season might just be Cam York. The club’s 2019 first-round pick (No. 14 overall) floundered in training camp, resulting in a surprising demotion to the AHL after he looked like a clear-cut NHLer in the second half of 2021-22. Since returning to the show, York has looked even better. His eleven points in 24 games are solid, but his overall play is the real story. York ranks 40th out of 199 defensemen (min. 300 5v5 minutes) with a 54.15% expected goals share that unsurprisingly leads the team. Some other defenders have certainly struggled (more on some of them later), but York is doing more than just putting the AHL in the rearview mirror — he’s showing some truly exciting potential.
York will need more than just a good two months to solidify himself as a high-end NHLer, but he’s trending in the right direction. While his emergence has come recently, Owen Tippett has been a bright spot for most of the year. One of the key pieces of the Giroux trade, Tippett is delivering a much-needed breakthrough campaign. He’s already well above his career-high scoring totals, playing at a 25-goal, 50-point pace over 82 games. Tippett showed some flashes last year, but his struggles to finish from Florida were still apparent. This year, he has been able to beat goaltenders clean consistently, which was his main calling card as a prospect. Unlike Konecny, he’s driving play relative to his teammates with a respectable 49.47% expected goals mark. At the very least, Tippett looks like a solid second-liner going forward.
Gauthier isn’t the only promising young center in the organization, either. Despite developing almost exclusively as a winger, Noah Cates is incredibly hanging in as essentially the team’s first-line center as a rookie. Per The Athletic’s Dom Luszczyszyn, Cates is in the 86th percentile defensively. If the offense comes along — Cates does have five points in his last five games — the Flyers could have a true diamond in the rough in the former fifth-rounder. And while a third of his points have come against the lowly Coyotes, Morgan Frost is proving he can be a solid NHL third-line center. It would be disappointing if the former first-round pick doesn’t reach loftier heights, but he needed to hit this benchmark to have a chance at that.
Provorov, DeAngelo Likely Not Long-Term Fits; Hayes a Question As Well
Of course, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows in Philadelphia; if it were, the Flyers wouldn’t have lost 30 of their 51 games this season (yes, they’ve lost 30 games, no matter how many points the NHL gives out for some of them). And you don’t need to look further than the Flyers’ top pair from the start of the season: Tony DeAngelo and Ivan Provorov.
In theory, DeAngelo has done what he was brought in to do: put up points. He’s scored 30 in 46 games, the highest point-per-game mark by a Flyers defenseman since Shayne Gostisbehere in 2017-18. But there are two problems. First, DeAngelo unsurprisingly hasn’t been able to turn the Flyers’ power play around. It’s hard for any defenseman, even a truly elite one, to have that much of an impact on a team’s power-play, simply because they’re rarely venturing from their point spot, which isn’t where teams consistently score from on the PP. The Flyers’ power play has only improved from dead last to 29th in the league, hardly enough to make a difference.
But even more troubling is the bad still largely outweighs the good with DeAngelo. Only two defensemen out of 199 (min. 300 5v5 minutes) have been on the ice for more expected goals against per 60 minutes than DeAngelo. He’s struggled to find chemistry with anyone else on the Flyers’ blue line. Given that he’s a UFA next summer, DeAngelo may soon run out of time to do so.
The Flyers were hoping DeAngelo’s offensive prowess would be enough to bring Ivan Provorov back to early career form. Not only has DeAngelo struggled, but Provorov has as well. The confidence Provorov played with as a youngster is rarely on display. He’s no longer getting power-play duties as well. There have also been reports that Provorov isn’t exactly well-liked in the locker room — and that was before his controversial boycott of the team’s Pride Night-themed warm-up jerseys. John Tortorella hasn’t consistently praised his game either. Provorov still has two more seasons on his contract after this one, so there’s no rush to move him. But it does seem like his days in Philadelphia could be numbered.
That also may be the case for Kevin Hayes, another player Tortorella has expressed frustration over. That may seem weird at first glance. After all, Hayes is having a career year offensively, scoring at a 74-point pace (for reference, his career-high is 55). Luszczyszyn’s model has him in just the 10th percentile defensively. Tortorella is so displeased with Hayes’ own-zone play that he’s been moved to the wing for the first extended stretch in his career. The 30-year-old’s $7.14 million contract, which has three years left, could be tough to move. A buyout doesn’t make a ton of sense, but it’s possible, and retaining salary is an option as well. None of these players will probably move this season. But they don’t seem likely to be around by opening night 2024.
Tortorella Doing Well, But Needs More Help
If high-end talent is the most important thing for the Flyers’ future, Tortorella’s effectiveness is a close second. Through his first 51 games behind the bench in Philadelphia, two things are abundantly clear. First, Tortorella is indeed a very good coach. You may not agree with his blink-and-you’ll-miss-it press conferences or bluntness in describing his team’s performance. But Tortorella always does more with less, and his time in Philadelphia has been no exception. That a team with almost its entire defense underperforming, no clear-cut top-six NHL centers, and a lack of depth is within shouting distance of a playoff spot is impressive.
However, Tortorella’s best efforts can’t change what this team is. Tortorella and the players have acknowledged on multiple occasions that the team is simply out-talented on a semi-regular basis. The Flyers have proven they can beat bad and even ok teams. They can even hand good teams like the Jets and Devils the occasional loss if everything is clicking. But against truly elite teams like Boston or Toronto, the Flyers just don’t really have a shot. Their players, at least in the roles they are now, simply cannot keep up with those teams.
This season has probably offered a bit more hope than most were expecting. However, that has also reminded everyone of just how far the Flyers are from being truly relevant. Maybe they can make a run at doing that in the final 31 games of this season. But in all likelihood, it’s going to take a lot longer.
All Advanced Stats are 5v5 and via Natural Stat Trick unless otherwise stated